Soil nitrous oxide flux following land‐use reversion from Miscanthus and SRC willow to perennial ryegrass

Jon McCalmont, Rebecca Rowe, Dafydd Elias, Whitaker Jeanette, Niall McNamara, Iain Donnison

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Decarbonization of the world’s energy supply is essential to meet the targets of the 2016 Paris climate change agreement. One promising opportunity is the utilization of second generation, low input bioenergy crops such as Miscanthus and Short Rotation Coppice (SRC) willow. Research has previously been carried out on the greenhouse gas (GHG) balance of growing these feedstocks and land-use changes involved in converting conventional cropland to their production; however, there is almost no body of work understanding the costs associated with their end of life transitions back to conventional crops. It is likely that it is during crop interventions and land-use transitions that significant GHG fluxes might occur. Therefore, in this study, we investigated soil GHG fluxes over 82 weeks during transition from Miscanthus and SRC willow into perennial rye grass in west Wales, UK. This study captured soil GHG fluxes at a weekly timestep, alongside monthly changes in soil nitrogen and labile carbon and reports the results of regression modelling of suspected drivers. Methane fluxes were typically trivial; however, nitrous oxide (N2O) fluxes were notably affected, reverted plots produced significantly more N2O than retained controls and Miscanthus produced significantly higher fluxes overall than willow plots. N2O costs of reversion appeared to be contained within the first year of reversion when the Miscanthus plots produced an average pre-grass flux of 0.13 mg N2O m-2 hr-1 while for willow this was 0.03 mg N2O m-2 hr-1. Total N2O emission from reversion increased the carbon cost over the lifetime of the Miscanthus from 1.78 to 5.19 Mg CO2 eq. ha-1 while for the willow this increase was from 2.62 to 3.43 Mg CO2 eq. ha-1. Despite these significant increases the carbon cost of energy production from these perennial crops remained at around one tenth of the equivalent energy if produced from coal.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)914-929
JournalGCB Bioenergy
Issue number12
Early online date12 Jul 2018
Publication statusPublished - 01 Dec 2018


  • Miscanthus
  • willow
  • perennial rye grass
  • energy crops
  • nitrous oxide
  • N2O
  • nutrients
  • greenhouse gas balance
  • land-use change
  • crop reversion


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