What are these super rich, fertile and long lasting mystery soils of South America? Here is a little background; their name is “Terra Preta do Indioâ€ (Amazonian Dark Earths or Indian Black Earth). Named for their very dark color, they were discovered by the white guys during the late 1800’s. The theory is that they may have been created by pre- Columbian Indians 500 to 2500 years ago (a very wide range for any theory).
Another theory was that (TP) was naturally formed from some event related to the Andes volcanoes or a formation created by pond or lake sedimentation. All of these theories are conflicting and leave open the possibilities for new discussions.
These soils have an amazingly high organic matter content, with high levels of black carbon-charcoal in the mix (which may be the key). Terra Preta have very short fallow times, 6 months or less, (the fallow time is needed only because of the weed infestation- super fertile soil grows great weeds). Normal soil takes 8 to 10 years to naturally rejuvenate, without negative additives. It has been reported that these soils (TP) can be under continuous cultivation for at least 40 years, unheard of in the normal agricultural world. Terra Preta would be considered organic farming with no soil additives; the need for pesticides would have to be considered for the final classification (organic or conventional).
Now can these Dark Earths be a factor to reducing global warming? Maybe. The earth’s soil contains a large percentage of the carbon reserves in the world, but most soils are unstable and slowly release their carbon into the atmosphere and add to the CO2 and to the problem. But it seems the (TP) soils are very stable and hold the carbon in the soil and don’t release it into the atmosphere (or at least releases it very, very slowly). Can we create more of this (TP) and cover our farmlands with it?
Was TP a wonderful soil management project of the Ancients or a gift from the GODS (friendly Alien beings)? If so, of course this may have cost the indigenous folks a few sacrifices (Blood for Food Program), not much different for our present Blood/Oil for Food program.
Lastly, can we duplicate the process to make this (TP) soil without paying direct tribute to our Alien friends? Blood is not a just tribute in a moral world.
Sleep Tight – your Government is watching over you.
PS- I encourage you to do further study of (TP) on the Web.
The Lush World of (TP)
2 Replies to “Terra Preta — Soil and Solutions from the Gods (?)”
I thought the current news and links on Terra Preta soils and closed-loop pyrolysis would interest you
SCIAM Article May 15 07;
After many years of reviewing solutions to anthropogenic global warming (AGW) I believe this technology can manage Carbon for the greatest collective benefit at the lowest economic price, on vast scales. It just needs to be seen by ethical globally minded companies.
Could you please consider looking for a champion for this orphaned Terra Preta Carbon Soil Technology.
The main hurtle now is to change the current perspective held by the IPCC that the soil carbon cycle is a wash, to one in which soil can be used as a massive and ubiquitous Carbon sink via Charcoal. Below are the first concrete steps in that direction;
S.1884 â€“ The Salazar Harvesting Energy Act of 2007
A Summary of Biochar Provisions in S.1884:
Carbon-Negative Biomass Energy and Soil Quality Initiative
for the 2007 Farm Bill
Tackling Climate Change in the U.S.
Potential Carbon Emissions Reductions from Biomass by 2030by Ralph P. Overend, Ph.D. and Anelia Milbrandt
National Renewable Energy Laboratory
The organization 25×25 (see 25x’25 – Home) released it’s (first-ever, 55-page )”Action Plan” ; see; http://www.25×25.org/storage/25×25/documents/IP%20Documents/ActionPlanFinalWEB_04-19-07.pdf
On page 29 , as one of four foci for recommended RD&D, the plan lists: “The development of biochar, animal agriculture residues and other non-fossil fuel based fertilizers, toward the end of integrating energy production with enhanced soil quality and carbon sequestration.”
and on p 32, recommended as part of an expanded database aspect of infrastructure: “Information on the application of carbon as fertilizer and existing carbon credit trading systems.”
I feel 25×25 is now the premier US advocacy organization for all forms of renewable energy, but way out in front on biomass topics.
There are 24 billion tons of carbon controlled by man in his agriculture and waste stream, all that farm & cellulose waste which is now dumped to rot or digested or combusted and ultimately returned to the atmosphere as GHG should be returned to the Soil.
Even with all the big corporations coming to the GHG negotiation table, like Exxon, Alcoa, .etc, we still need to keep watch as the Democrats/Enviromentalist try to influence how carbon management is legislated in the USA. Carbon must have a fair price, that fair price and the changes in the view of how the soil carbon cycle now can be used as a massive sink verses it now being viewed as a wash, will be of particular value to farmers and a global cool breath of fresh air for us all.
If you have any other questions please feel free to call me or visit the TP web site I’ve been drafted to co-administer. http://terrapreta.bioenergylists.org/?q=node
It has been immensely gratifying to see all the major players join the mail list , Cornell folks, T. Beer of Kings Ford Charcoal (Clorox), Novozyne the M-Roots guys(fungus), chemical engineers, Dr. Danny Day of EPRIDA , Dr. Antal of U. of H., Virginia Tech folks and probably many others who’s back round I don’t know have joined.
Also Here is the Latest BIG Terra Preta Soil news;
The Honolulu Advertiser: â€œThe nation’s leading manufacturer of charcoal has licensed a University of Hawai’i process for turning green waste into barbecue briquets.â€
About a year ago I got Clorox interested in TP soils and Dr. Antal’s Plasma Carbonazation process.
ConocoPhillips Establishes $22.5 Million Pyrolysis Program at Iowa State 04/10/07
Here is my current Terra Preta posting which condenses the most important stories and links;
Terra Preta Soils Technology To Master the Carbon Cycle
Man has been controlling the carbon cycle , and there for the weather, since the invention of agriculture, all be it was as unintentional, as our current airliner contrails are in affecting global dimming. This unintentional warm stability in climate has over 10,000 years, allowed us to develop to the point that now we know what we did,………… and that now……… we are over doing it.
The prehistoric and historic records gives a logical thrust for soil carbon sequestration.
I wonder what the soil biome carbon concentration was REALLY like before the cutting and burning of the world’s forest, my guess is that now we see a severely diminished community, and that only very recent Ag practices like no-till and reforestation have started to help rebuild it. It makes implementing Terra Preta soil technology like an act of penitence, a returning of the misplaced carbon to where it belongs.
On the Scale of CO2 remediation:
It is my understanding that atmospheric CO2 stands at 379 PPM, to stabilize the climate we need to reduce it to 350 PPM by the removal of 230 Billion tons of carbon.
The best estimates I’ve found are that the total loss of forest and soil carbon (combined
pre-industrial and industrial) has been about 200-240 billion tons. Of
that, the soils are estimated to account for about 1/3, and the vegetation
the other 2/3.
Since man controls 24 billion tons in his agriculture then it seems we have plenty to work with in sequestering our fossil fuel CO2 emissions as stable charcoal in the soil.
As Dr. Lehmann at Cornell points out, “Closed-Loop Pyrolysis systems such as Dr. Danny Day’s are the only way to make a fuel that is actually carbon negative”. and that ” a strategy combining biochar with biofuels could ultimately offset 9.5 billion tons of carbon per year-an amount equal to the total current fossil fuel emissions! ”
Terra Preta Soils Carbon Negative Bio fuels, massive Carbon sequestration, 1/3 Lower CH4 & N2O soil emissions, and 3X FertilityToo
This some what orphaned new soil technology speaks to so many different interests and disciplines that it has not been embraced fully by any. I’m sure you will see both the potential of this system and the convergence needed for it’s implementation.
The integrated energy strategy offered by Charcoal based Terra Preta Soil technology may
provide the only path to sustain our agricultural and fossil fueled power
structure without climate degradation, other than nuclear power.
The economics look good, and truly great if we had CO2 cap & trade or a Carbon tax in place.
.Nature article, Aug 06: Putting the carbon back Black is the new green:
Here’s the Cornell page for an over view:
University of Beyreuth TP Program, Germany http://terrapreta.bioenergylists.org/?q=taxonomy/term/118
This Earth Science Forum thread on these soils contains further links, and has been viewed by 19,000 self-selected folks. ( I post everything I find on Amazon Dark Soils, ADS here):
There is an ecology going on in these soils that is not completely understood, and if replicated and applied at scale would have multiple benefits for farmers and environmentalist.
Terra Preta creates a terrestrial carbon reef at a microscopic level. These nanoscale structures provide safe haven to the microbes and fungus that facilitate fertile soil creation, while sequestering carbon for many hundred if not thousands of years. The combination of these two forms of sequestration would also increase the growth rate and natural sequestration effort of growing plants.
Glomalin, the recently discovered soil protien, may be the secret to to TP soils productivity http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/pr/2003/030205.htm
The reason TP has elicited such interest on the Agricultural/horticultural side of it’s benefits is this one static:
One gram of charcoal cooked to 650 C Has a surface area of 400 m2 (for soil microbes & fungus to live on), now for conversion fun:
One ton of charcoal has a surface area of 400,000 Acres!! which is equal to 625 square miles!! Rockingham Co. VA. , where I live, is only 851 Sq. miles
Now at a middle of the road application rate of 2 lbs/sq ft (which equals 1000 sqft/ton) or 43 tons/acre yields 26,000 Sq miles of surface area per Acre. VA is 39,594 Sq miles.
What this suggest to me is a potential of sequestering virgin forest amounts of carbon just in the soil alone, without counting the forest on top.
To take just one fairly representative example, in the classic Rothampstead experiments in England where arable land was allowed to revert to deciduous temperate woodland, soil organic carbon increased 300-400% from around 20 t/ha to 60-80 t/ha (or about 20-40 tons per acre) in less than a century (Jenkinson & Rayner 1977). The rapidity with which organic carbon can build up in soils is also indicated by examples of buried steppe soils formed during short-lived interstadial phases in Russia and Ukraine. Even though such warm, relatively moist phases usually lasted only a few hundred years, and started out from the skeletal loess desert/semi-desert soils of glacial conditions (with which they are inter-leaved), these buried steppe soils have all the rich organic content of a present-day chernozem soil that has had many thousands of years to build up its carbon (E. Zelikson, Russian Academy of Sciences, pers. comm., May 1994). http://www.esd.ornl.gov/projects/qen/carbon1.html
All the Bio-Char Companies and equipment manufactures I’ve found:
Eprida: Sustainable Solutions for Global Concerns
BEST Pyrolysis, Inc. | Slow Pyrolysis – Biomass – Clean Energy – Renewable Ene
Dynamotive Energy Systems | The Evolution of Energy
Ensyn – Environmentally Friendly Energy and Chemicals
Agri-Therm, developing bio oils from agricultural waste
Advanced BioRefinery Inc.
Technology Review: Turning Slash into Cash
The International Agrichar Initiative (IAI) conference held at Terrigal, NSW, Australia in 2007. ( http://iaiconference.org/home.html ) ( The papers from this conference are now being posted at their home page)
If pre-Columbian Kayopo Indians could produce these soils up to 6 feet deep over 15% of the Amazon basin using “Slash & CHAR” verses “Slash & Burn”, it seems that our energy and agricultural industries could also product them at scale.
Harnessing the work of this vast number of microbes and fungi changes the whole equation of energy return over energy input (EROEI) for food and Bio fuels. I see this as the only sustainable agricultural strategy if we no longer have cheap fossil fuels for fertilizer.
We need this super community of wee beasties to work in concert with us by populating them into their proper Soil horizon Carbon Condos.
Erich J. Knight
1047 Dave Berry Rd.
McGaheysville, VA. 22840
You want to know all the secrets about biochar ?
This book will help !
Here practice and theory merge under a single cover of “The Biochar Revolution” and reveals hidden secrets of science called Biochar