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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2023

Quantifying CO2 Emissions and Carbon Sequestration from Digestate-Amended Soil Using Natural 13C Abundance as a Tracer

Reuland, Gregory; Sleutel, Steven; Li, Haichao; Dekker, Harmen; Sigurnjak, Ivona; Meers, Erik


The untapped potential for carbon sequestration in agricultural soils represents one of the most cost-effective tools for climate change mitigation. Increasing soil organic matter also brings other agronomic benefits such as improved soil structure, enhanced water-and-nutrient-retention capacity, and biological activity. Broadly, soil organic carbon storage is achieved by increasing carbon inputs (plant residues and organic amendments) and reducing carbon outputs (soil loss mechanisms, decomposition). With a focus on carbon inputs—more specifically, organic amendments—as leverage to increase soil organic carbon, we compared the respiration rates and carbon storage of incubated soil cores amended with maize straw, manure, two digestates and the solid fraction of digestate. Using the variation in the natural 13C abundance found in C4 and C3 plants as a tracer, we were able to partition the CO2 emissions between the exogenous organic matter materials elaborated from maize (C4) and native soil organic carbon (C3). The addition of digestate resulted in an additional 65 to 77% of remaining organic carbon after 92 days. The digestate-derived CO2 was fitted to a second-order kinetic carbon model that accounts for the substrate C that is assimilated into the microbial biomass. The model predicted a carbon sequestration potential of 56 to 73% of the total applied organic carbon after one to two years. For the solid fraction, the results were higher, with 89% of the applied organic carbon after 92 days and a sequestration potential of 86%. The soil priming ranged from −19% to +136% in relation to the unamended control soil, highlighting a surprisingly wide spectrum of results that warrants the need for further research on soil–digestate interactions.


stable carbon isotope; priming effect; soil organic carbon; nitrates directive

Published in

2023, Volume: 13, number: 10, article number: 2501

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Soil Science

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