Nitrogen fertilizer risks cellulosic biofuel advantage

Published in ERW, 9 Aug 2016

The application of surplus nitrogen fertilizer to cellulosic biofuels can reduce the climate benefit of the crop nearly two-fold, according to a study by US scientists.

The study, which focused on the biofuel crop switchgrass, has shown that increasing application of nitrogen fertilizer leads to an exponential rise in nitrogen leaching and in the emission of the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide. Beyond a small level of fertilizer application, however, the benefit to the crop itself was minimal.

“We are not saying ‘Do not fertilize’,” said Philip Robertson of Michigan State University, US. “If the crop is responsive to nitrogen fertilizer, then it makes good sense to fertilize at rates that result in greater crop growth – but no more than that.” […]

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