The potential use of biochar to reduce nitrogen waste from farming systems in India

Joanne Smith* (Corresponding Author), Dali Nayak, Jagadeesh B. Yeluripati

*Corresponding author for this work

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The aim of this paper is to quantify the impact of incorporating biochar into soils on net nitrogen waste from farming systems in India. It assumes only crop residues that are currently burnt in the fields are used to produce biochar. It accounts for losses of nitrogen occurring during pyrolysis, and the potential savings due to capture of reactive nitrogen from other parts of the farming system and from industry and energy sectors. In 2020, this could have been used to capture up to 67% of the nitrogen lost as nitrogen oxides and ammonia from the energy, industry and farming sectors. This is equivalent to 31% of the nitrogen that was applied as fertilisers and so could be an important tool in efforts to meet the United Nations target to reduce nitrogen waste by 50% by 2030. However, if the rate of nitrogen capture is low, alternative uses
for crop residues are developed, or wasted nitrogen is successfully captured by other methods, the benefits of nitrogen capture on biochar could be much lower. Nevertheless, using biochar as a method to deliver wasted nitrogen to crops is likely to sequester more carbon than alternatives because pyrolyzed carbon is
highly recalcitrant. It is also likely to be a more reliable method of capturing nitrogen emissions and delivering nitrogen to crops because emissions of ammonia during storage and spreading of compost or bioslurry can be high. Therefore, even if alternative uses of crop residues are favoured by farmers, it is
recommended that nitrogen sorption on biochar should be part of the process, whether it is by direct capture of nitrogen from urine and industrial nitrogen oxide emissions, or by mixing of biochar with compost or the ammonium rich bioslurry produced by anaerobic digestion.
Original languageEnglish
Article number100224
Number of pages14
JournalCurrent Research in Environmental Sustainability
Early online date15 May 2023
Publication statusPublished - 15 May 2023

Bibliographical note

This work was supported by the Newton Bhabha project NEC 05724 (“Virtual Centre on Nitrogen Efficiency in Whole Cropping Systems” - NEWS), the DFID-NERC El Niño programme project NE P004830 (“Building Resilience in Ethiopia’s Awassa region to Drought” - BREAD), the ESRC NEXUS programme project IEAS/POO2501/1 (“Improving organic resource use in rural Ethiopia - IPORE)”, the GCRF project NE/S009019/1 (“South Asian Nitrogen Hub” - SANH) and the GCRF Networking grant GCRFNGR4_1352 (Biochar to Address Air Pollution, Climate Change, Food Security and Farmers' Income).

Data Availability Statement

Data availability
No data was used for the research described in the article.


  • Biochar
  • Nitrogen enrichment
  • Nitrogen waste
  • Pyrolisis
  • Nitrogen sorption
  • Crop residue burning


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