Frontiers in Biochar: Supporting Microbial soil carbon sequestration

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ARTi
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Biochar enhances soil health and reduces atmospheric CO2 levels. It can also be a friend to soil microbes, enhancing carbon sequestration in agroecosystems, contributing to climate change mitigation and sustainable agriculture.

Regardless of what else might be in discussion, the quest for reliable and viable carbon sequestration is one of the defining pursuits of our time. One major area where this is going on is in sustainable agriculture. While this is a big topic that encompasses many subtopics, we will take a look at just one territory where biochar can make a compelling and positive impact. It is in the integration of biochar with soil microbial communities to enhance soil carbon sequestration. Biochar, a stable form of carbon-rich material produced from organic matter, not only improves soil health but also offers a promising avenue for reducing atmospheric CO2 levels. This synergy between biochar and soil microbes, including beneficial bacteria, mycorrhizal fungi, and microalgae, plays a crucial role in capturing and storing carbon in the soil. By understanding and leveraging these microbial mechanisms, we can enhance the capacity of agroecosystems to sequester carbon, thus contributing to climate change mitigation and sustainable agriculture.

Agroecosystems could aid in carbon sequestration by capturing and storing atmospheric CO2 through various biological processes. Plants absorb CO2 during photosynthesis and transfer it to the soil via roots and organic matter, where it can be stored as soil organic carbon. This is also one of the fundamentals of biochar where residual plant matter can be turned to carbon and then to soil carbon as well. Practices such as cover cropping, reduced tillage, and the application of organic amendments like compost and biochar can further enhance the sequestration process. By maintaining healthy soil and promoting diverse plant and microbial communities, agroecosystems can significantly mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to climate change mitigation and sustainable agriculture. 

 

Magnified view of biochar detailing its intricate porous structure that enhances soil aeration, water retention and providing safe havens for microbes.

 

The combined impacts of biochar and soil microorganisms create a potent combination for increasing soil carbon sequestration. Biochar creates a stable, carbon-rich environment for a wide variety of microbial species, including beneficial bacteria, mycorrhizal fungi, and microalgae. These bacteria, in turn, help to break down organic matter, stabilize soil aggregates, and facilitate the shift of carbon to a more stable form. Biochar’s porous structure improves soil aeration and water retention, which promotes microbial activity and nutrient cycling. This synergy not only enhances soil health and fertility but also considerably boosts the soil’s potential to trap and store carbon, making it a promising method for reducing climate change and supporting sustainable agriculture practices. Microorganisms like fungi and bacteria are crucial in forming micro and macro aggregates in soil by binding soil particles with their secretions and biomass. Studies have shown that soil microbial communities influence soil carbon storage by contributing to soil aggregation. Fungi, arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi, and bacteria play key roles in this process. (Mason A.R.G.et al, 2023)

 

A view of the soil microbiome from ARTi’s corn + biochar trials. 

 

Inoculating soil with living microbes has gained interest due to its impact on soil systems and the need for sustainable agriculture. However, the focus has been on supporting plant health rather than on soil carbon. Understanding the role of soil microbes in carbon cycling is crucial for optimizing biochar’s potential for supporting their success. Various microorganisms like mycorrhizal fungi and plant growth-promoting bacteria have been identified as potential candidates for enhancing soil carbon sequestration. (Mason A.R.G.et al, 2023)

 

It’s not just soil, it’s a teaming micro-ecosystem.

 

Modern agricultural practices, including excessive use of agrichemicals, have caused landscape modification, environmental damage, and climate change. This has led to pollution run-off, soil degradation, and biodiversity loss, threatening the long-term sustainability of agricultural production systems. A shift towards regenerative agriculture aims to address these issues.

Practices like regenerative farming focus on maintaining and increasing soil organic carbon for sustainability.

Biochar can enhance the process of soil carbon sequestration by providing a stable, carbon-rich habitat that supports microbial diversity and activity.

Looking forward, there could be great potential in developing techniques to make the most out of the interaction between biochar and soil microbes with improved carbon sequestration and soil being the result. Future considerations include optimizing biochar production methods to maximize its benefits for different soil types, understanding the long-term impacts of biochar on soil microbial communities, and developing cost-effective strategies for large-scale application in agriculture. Additionally, integrating biochar use with other sustainable practices and exploring financial incentives, such as carbon credits, can further support its adoption and effectiveness in mitigating climate change. When you have really big problems such as carbon emissions and negatively impacted soil then maybe thinking really small could be a way to go. Small meaning soil microbes. But with so many of them in the soils of the Earth, cumulatively any positive effects could compound. 

References: 

Mason A.R.G.et al.(2023): Microbial solutions to soil carbon sequestration,
                                  Journal of Cleaner Production,
                                  Volume 417, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0959652623021510 

 

 

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