Application of hydrochar, digestate, and synthetic fertilizer to a miscanthus X giganteus crop: Implications for biomass and greenhouse gas emissions

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Miscanthus x giganteus (miscanthus), a perennial biomass crop, allocates more carbon belowground and typically has lower soil greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than conventional feedstock crops, but best practices for nutrient management that maximize yield while minimizing soil GHG emissions are still debated. This study evaluated the effects of four different fertilization treatments (digestate from a biodigester, synthetic fertilizer (urea), hydrochar from the hydrothermal carbonization of digestate, and a control) on soil GHG emissions and biomass yield of an established miscanthus stand grown on abandoned agricultural land. Soil GHG fluxes (including CH4, CO2, and N2O) were sampled in all treatments using the static chamber methodology. Average biomass yield varied from 20.2 Mg ha−1 to 23.5 Mg ha−1, but there were no significant differences among the four treatments (p > 0.05). The hydrochar treatment reduced mean CO2 emissions by 34% compared to the control treatment, but this difference was only statistically significant in one of the two sites tested. Applying digestate to miscanthus resulted in a CH4 efflux from the soil in one of two sites, while soils treated with urea and hydrochar acted as CH4 sinks in both sites. Overall, fertilization did not significantly improve biomass yield, but hydrochar as a soil amendment has potential for reducing soil GHG fluxes.