Effects of anaerobic digestion on soil carbon and nitrogen turnover, N emissions, and soil biological activity. A review - Archive ouverte HAL Access content directly
Journal Articles Agronomy for Sustainable Development Year : 2015

Effects of anaerobic digestion on soil carbon and nitrogen turnover, N emissions, and soil biological activity. A review

Kurt Möller
  • Function : Correspondent author
  • PersonId : 977930

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Sustainability in agriculture means the inclusion of several aspects, as sustainable agriculture systems must not compromise not only their ability to satisfy future needs by undermining soil fertility and the natural resource base but also sustainable agriculture has had to address a range of other issues including energy use, efficient use, and recycling of nutrients, the effects on adjacent ecosystems including the effects on water bodies and climate change. Organic manures are an important factor to keep the soil fertility level of soils. However, their management is often related to large emissions. In this context, anaerobic digestion is—similarly to composting—a treatment option for stabilization of biogenic wastes leading to a residual product called digestates, enabling the sanitation and the recycling and use as fertilizer. It is also a means to obtain energy from wastes as well as from dedicated energy crops. Therefore, anaerobic digestion potentially addresses several aspects of agricultural sustainability. This review discusses the current state of knowledge on the effects of anaerobic digestion on organic compounds in digestates and the most important processes influencing N emissions in the field, as well as the possible long-term effects on soil microbial biomass and soil fertility. The main findings are that (1) the direct effects of anaerobic digestion on long-term sustainability in terms of soil fertility and environmental impact at the field level are of minor relevance. (2) The most relevant effects of anaerobic digestion on soil fertility as well as on N emissions will be expected from indirect effects related to cropping system changes such as changes in crop rotation, crop acreage, cover cropping, and total amounts of organic manures including digestates. Furthermore, (3) the remaining organic fraction after anaerobic digestion is much more recalcitrant than the input feedstocks leading to a stabilization of the organic matter and a lower organic matter degradation rate after field application, enabling a similar reproduction of the soil organic matter as obtained by direct application of the feedstock or by composting of the feedstock. (4) Regarding emissions, the main direct effect of anaerobic digestion on a farm level is the influence on gaseous emissions during manure or digestate treatment and handling, whereas the direct effects of anaerobic digestion on a field level on emissions (NH3− and N2O− emissions, NO3- leaching) are negligible or at least ambiguous. (5) The main direct effects of anaerobic digestion on the field level are short-term effects on soil microbial activity and changes in the soil microbial community. Therefore, in terms of the effects on agricultural sustainability, potential cropping system-based changes induced by introduction of biogas plants are probably much more relevant for the overall performance and sustainability of the cropping system than the direct effects triggered by application of digestates in comparison to the undigested feedstocks. Furthermore, to get the full potential advances from implementation of biogas plants in terms of improvement of the nutrient use efficiency and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, there is the need to introduce more sophisticated techniques to avoid counteracting effects by pollution swapping, e.g., by gas-tight closure of the digestate stores and direct soil incorporation of the field-applied digestates.
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hal-01284312 , version 1 (07-03-2016)



Kurt Möller. Effects of anaerobic digestion on soil carbon and nitrogen turnover, N emissions, and soil biological activity. A review. Agronomy for Sustainable Development, 2015, 35 (3), pp.1021-1041. ⟨10.1007/s13593-015-0284-3⟩. ⟨hal-01284312⟩
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