Incorporating energy cover crops for biogas production into agricultural systems - INRAE - Institut national de recherche pour l’agriculture, l’alimentation et l’environnement Access content directly
Journal Articles Agronomy for Sustainable Development Year : 2022

Incorporating energy cover crops for biogas production into agricultural systems


Some European countries are exploring the idea of replacing dedicated crops with energy cover crops for biogas production. Indeed, energy cover crops can generate consequential biomass without competing with food crops for land use. However, the potential benefits and impacts of this choice are not fully understood. Here, we review what is known about the consequences of energy cover crop usage by examining management regimes and digestate use, including impacts on the environment and cropping system performance. First, compared to cover crops, energy cover crops are intensively managed to produce more biomass (< 5 t DM/ha vs. up to 16 t DM/ha). Second, nitrogen is conserved during anaerobic digestion and is more readily available to crops in digestate than in cover crops residues. However, ammonia is lost via volatilization, which could reduce nitrogen use efficiency, depending on the storage conditions and application method. Third, 43–80% of the crops’ initial carbon is transformed into biogas. That said, levels of soil carbon storage may nonetheless resemble those obtained with cover crops left behind because carbon is stabilized during anaerobic digestion and the energy cover crops’ roots and stubble are left behind in the soil. Fourth, energy cover crops can act as multiservice cover crops, reducing nitrate leaching, improving soil microbial activity, and enhancing soil physical properties during the fallow period. Fifth, energy cover crop usage can have certain disservices, such as soil compaction, the need for additional inputs (e.g., irrigation, fertilization, pesticides), reduced groundwater recharge, and reduced following crop yield. In summary, expanding the usage of energy cover crops for biogas production does not seem to be an environmental threat. However, care must be taken to avoid the intensification of irrigation and lengthening growing periods to boost biomass, which could reduce food production.
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Dates and versions

hal-03701156 , version 1 (26-06-2023)





Camille Launay, Sabine Houot, Sylvain Frédéric, Romain Girault, Florent Levavasseur, et al.. Incorporating energy cover crops for biogas production into agricultural systems: benefits and environmental impacts. A review. Agronomy for Sustainable Development, 2022, 42 (4), pp.57. ⟨10.1007/s13593-022-00790-8⟩. ⟨hal-03701156⟩
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