Biochar stability assessment by incubation and modelling: Methods, drawbacks and recommendations

Lijian Leng, Xinwei Xu, Liang Wei, Liangliang Fan, Huajun Huang, Jianan Li, Qian Lu, Jun Li, Wenguang Zhou

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

59 Scopus citations


Biochar produced from pyrolysis of biomass is a candidate with great potential for climate change mitigation by carbon sequestration and reduction of greenhouse gases (GHG) emission in soil. Its potential depends considerably on biochar properties. Biochar stability or biochar C recalcitrance is decisive to its carbon storage/sequestration potential in soil. Three groups of methods including: I) biochar C structure or composition analyses, II) biochar oxidation resistance determination, and III) biochar persistence assessment by incubation & modelling, have been developed for evaluation of biochar stability. Amongst, incubation & modelling is the most commonly used one and is the basis of the other two assessment methods. However, the strategies for incubation experiment designing and data modelling significantly influence the biochar stability results. Drastic differences were observed for stability results obtained from different studies partly because of the large flexibility of the incubation & modelling method. Biased biochar stability would be obtained if the method was used improperly. The present review aims to provide comprehensive information on method strategies used for incubation and modelling, followed by discussions on the key issues such as what kind of biochar to use, how the experiment should be designed, how to determine biochar C mineralization, how the mineralization data should be expressed, and what model should be used, for an accurate biochar stability evaluation. In general, incubating biochar at long-term duration, modelling incubation data with double-exponential model, using C isotopic technology for CO 2 evolution determination with C mineralization data express as percentage of total organic carbon mineralized, applying biochar in the field are favorable to biochar stability assessment. Other strategies such as the use of standard (reference) biochar materials may be effective to improve the assessment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)11-23
Number of pages13
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - May 10 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The study was supported by the Major Research and Development Program of Jiangxi, China (No. 20182ABC28006 ) and the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Nos. 51808278 and 21707056 ).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 Elsevier B.V.


  • Bio-char
  • Carbon dioxide
  • Charcoal
  • Mean residence time
  • Pyrogenic organic carbon
  • Soil organic matter


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