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Keywords:

  • carbon mitigation;
  • carbon sequestration;
  • energy crops;
  • Miscanthus;
  • natural abundance of 13C;
  • yield

Abstract

Biomass crops mitigate carbon emissions by both fossil fuel substitution and sequestration of carbon in the soil. We grew Miscanthus x giganteus for 16 years at a site in southern Ireland to (i) compare methods of propagation, (ii) compare response to fertilizer application and quantify nutrient offtakes, (iii) measure long-term annual biomass yields, (iv) estimate carbon sequestration to the soil and (v) quantify the carbon mitigation by the crop. There was no significant difference in the yield between plants established from rhizome cuttings or by micro-propagation. Annual off-takes of N and P were easily met by soil reserves, but soil K reserves were low in unfertilized plots. Potassium deficiency was associated with lower harvestable yield. Yields increased for 5 years following establishment but after 10 years showed some decline which could not be accounted for by the climate driven growth model MISCANMOD. Measured yields were normalized to estimate both autumn (at first frost) and spring harvests (15 March of the subsequent year). Average autumn and spring yields over the 15 harvest years were 13.4±1.1 and 9.0±0.7 t DW ha−1 yr−1 respectively. Below ground biomass in February 2002 was 20.6±4.6 t DW ha−1. Miscanthus derived soil organic carbon sequestration detected by a change in 13C signal was 8.9±2.4 t C ha−1 over 15 years. We estimate total carbon mitigation by this crop over 15 years ranged from 5.2 to 7.2 t C ha−1 yr−1 depending on the harvest time.