Abstract

There is a growing concern that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions during agricultural energy crop production might negate GHG emission savings which was not intended when promoting the use of renewable energy. Nitrous oxide (N2O) is a major GHG, and in addition, it is the most powerful ozone-depleting compound that is emitted by human activity. The use of N fertilizers and animal manures is the main anthropogenic source of N2O emissions. In spite of their high relevance, we still have limited understanding of the complex underlying microbial processes that consume or produce N2O and their interactions with soil types, fertilizers (rate and types), plants, and other environmental variables. In a 2-year field experiment, we compared two important biogas crops in two different agro-ecological regions of northern Germany for their productivity and GHG emissions, using the closed-chamber technique and high time-resolution sampling. Silage maize, which is currently the most widespread crop grown for biogas fermentation purposes in Germany, was compared with an alternative bioenergy crop at each site. The three forms of nitrogen fertilizers/manures were given: calcium ammonium nitrate, cattle/pig slurry, and biogas residue. The greatest N2O flux activity occurred in the period of May–July in all crops and at both sites. Flux patterns indicated pronounced effects of soil moisture-soil mineral-N interactions which were also seen as causation of the higher N2O fluxes in the bioenergy crop maize compared to the other tested energy crops. However, the N2O emission per unit methane production (specific N2O emission) was clearly lower in soils planted with maize due to significantly higher methane hectare yield of maize. Our data suggest a linear relationship between increasing N input and increases in N2O emission in both years at site with sandy loam texture where highest N2O fluxes were measured. At sandy loam site, the percentage of applied N being emitted as N2O was 1.9 and 1.1 % in soils cropped with maize and 0.9 and 0.8 % in soils cropped with wheat during the investigation period 2007–2008 and 2008–2009, respectively. In contrast, at site with sandy soil texture, the percentage of applied N emitted as N2O was only 0.6 and 0.7 % in maize soils and 0.4 and 0.3 % in grassland during 2007–2008 and 2008–2009 period, respectively. Higher daily and annual N2O emissions at the sandy loam site were attributed to the finer soil texture and higher denitrification activity. The present study provides a very good basis for the assessment of direct emissions of greenhouse gases from relevant biogas crops in North-West Europe.

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