Contribution of above- and belowground bioenergy crop residues to soil carbon

Joao L.N. Carvalho, Tara W. Hudiburg, Henrique C.J. Franco, Evan H. DeLucia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


GHG mitigation by bioenergy crops depends on crop type, management practices, and the input of residue carbon (C) to the soil. Perennial grasses may increase soil C compared to annual crops because of more extensive root systems, but it is less clear how much soil C is derived from above- vs. belowground inputs. The objective of this study was to synthesize the existing knowledge regarding soil C inputs from above- and belowground crop residues in regions cultivated with sugarcane, corn, and miscanthus, and to predict the impact of residue removal and tillage on soil C stocks. The literature review showed that aboveground inputs to soil C (to 1-m depth) ranged from 70% to 81% for sugarcane and corn vs. 40% for miscanthus. Modeled aboveground C inputs (to 30 cm depth) ranged from 54% to 82% for sugarcane, but were 67% for miscanthus. Because 50% of observed miscanthus belowground biomass is below 30 cm depth, it may be necessary to increase the depth of modeled soil C dynamics to reconcile modeled belowground C inputs with measured. Modeled removal of aboveground corn residue (25–100%) resulted in C stock reduction in areas of corn–corn–soybean rotation under conventional tillage, while no-till management lessoned this impact. In sugarcane, soil C stocks were reduced when total aboveground residue was removed at one site, while partial removal of sugarcane residue did not reduce soil C stocks in either area. This study suggests that aboveground crop residues were the main C-residue source to the soil in the current bioethanol sector (corn and sugarcane) and the indiscriminate removal of crop residues to produce cellulosic biofuels can reduce soil C stocks and reduce the environmental benefits of bioenergy. Moreover, a switch to feedstocks such as miscanthus with more allocation to belowground C could increase soil C stocks at a much faster rate.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1333-1343
Number of pages11
JournalGCB Bioenergy
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2017


  • bioenergy
  • corn
  • miscanthus
  • root biomass
  • sugarcane

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Forestry
  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Waste Management and Disposal

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