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Amazonian TERRA PRETA Can Transform Poor Soil Into Fertile

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Author Topic: Amazonian TERRA PRETA Can Transform Poor Soil Into Fertile  (Read 2547 times)
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« Reply #15 on: December 03, 2008, 10:19:11 pm »

Scientists and researchers are just now starting to unlock the mysteries of terra preta. The key ingredient, it seems, is charcoal - or more specifically, activated carbon. Activated carbon has a such complex, spongelike molecular structure that a single gram can have a surface area of 500 to 1,500 square meters (or about the equivalent of one to three basketball courts)4. This char material in the soil has several beneficial effects, including about a 20% increase in water retention, increased mineral retention, increased mineral availability to plant roots, and increased microbial activity. It has been shown to be particularly beneficial to arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi, which form a symbiotic relationship with plant root fibers, allowing for greater nutrient uptake by plants. There is speculation that the mycorrhizal fungi may play a part in terra preta’s ability to seemingly regenerate itself.

Biochar (sometimes called agrichar) is charcoal made from crop residue, such as corn cobs or spent sugar canes. The research into the benefits and the ultimate potential of biochar as a soil additive are being conducted around the world, in tropical, temperate, humid, and arid climates. It has been studied by institutions including Cornell University, the University of Bayreuth, Germany, and the US Department of Energy. It has been reported on in journals and publications such as Nature, Scientific American, and Discover Magazine.

It’s important to remember that biochar doesn’t necessarily add nutrients so much as retain nutrients, and make existing nutrients more available to plants. The most significant crop yield increases were found when mineral fertilizers were added to poor soil in conjunction with the biochar. However, it does appear that the more char material added, the bigger the beneficial effects. The effective saturation point is not yet known. It’s also important to note that the benefits may be lost when certain modern agricultural techniques are used. Mycorrhizal fungi and other soil organisms are sensitive to many agricultural chemicals, and the yields may not be as dramatic with heavily tilled soil.
« Last Edit: December 03, 2008, 10:27:13 pm by Bianca » Report Spam   Logged

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« Reply #16 on: December 03, 2008, 10:28:43 pm »

Going Carbon Negative

More char material in the soil may mean less carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The carbon sequestration potential of biochar is enormous. By one estimate, biochar-amended soil can contain at least two-and-a-half times the carbon of typical soil. In the Amazon’s poor soil, terra preta soil has eighteen times more carbon.5 Unlike most soil-based carbon (organic matter), the charred matter is essentially permanently sequestered.

How much carbon can be sequestered in this manner? The limits have not yet been determined, but one estimate amounts to 150 metric tons per hectare, or, put another way, over 42,000 tons of carbon per square mile. Bruno Glaser, a researcher with the University of Bayreuth, Germany, believes that by the end of this century, terra preta schemes in combination with biofuels could store up over one billion tons of carbon - more than the total of all carbon emitted by fossil fuels today.6

Of course, the danger of this kind of discovery, if it turns out to hold up well under further scientific scrutiny, is irresponsible implementation. Clearcutting forests to sequester carbon doesn’t seem like a practical tradeoff. And creating excessive air pollution through low-tech charring of plant material might create more problems than it solves.

However, there is so much promise, so much potential, and so many global problems that could be helped with this knowledge, that extensive trials are certainly warranted. Terra preta could provide us with:

A way to slow, or even halt deforestation of the Amazon basin

A way to dramatically increase crop yields, even while moving away from chemically-dependent agriculture

A way to mitigate soil depletion problems around the globe

A way to retain more moisture in soils, reducing the need for irrigation

A way to reduce nutrient leaching into waterways, which in turn can reduce the “dead zone” problems such as the one found near the Mississippi delta

A way to create energy sustainably, even on a back yard scale

A way to permanently and dramatically reduce carbon concentration in the earth’s atmosphere

A way to do all of these things, with apparently time-tested, stone-age technologies.
« Last Edit: December 03, 2008, 10:41:12 pm by Bianca » Report Spam   Logged

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« Reply #17 on: December 03, 2008, 10:30:17 pm »

There’s even a small chance that particulate from creating char could temporarily re-strengthen the global dimming effect, which might slow global warming.

Too good to be true? It’s hard to say. But with all of these potential benefits, it’s hard not to be hopeful. Especially since, with a little thought and creativity, it seems like much of this could be done on a homestead scale.

Sure it would be hard for a back yard hobbyist to capture, store, and use hydrogen gas. And anything involving fire and smoke would need to be thought through. The ideal situation might be an “appliance” of some sort that could filter pollutants, or even make use of the gases the way Eprida’s prototype apparently does.

Even without such complexities, if the pollution question can be addressed, the potential is huge. Could it be that anyone with the motivation could dramatically improve their soil and sequester carbon in their own back yard? After all, char material can be made using little more than a steel drum with some holes in it. If you are willing to create something only slightly more complex than a drum with a perforated lid, you might even be able to take advantage of that flammable exhaust stream and increase the burn efficiency.

There are plenty of things to do with the heat generated during the charring process. Why not use it to heat your water? Or cook your food? (Ever heard of a pit barbecue?) The heat could be used to warm a greenhouse in winter, or possibly even supplement home heating.

Maybe this was how it all started. We don’t know their motives or methods, but perhaps the ancient inhabitants of the Amazon were just trying to cook their dinners or warm their water, only to stumble on one of Mother Nature’s best kept secrets. Perhaps heavy rains made open fires impractical. Maybe the lack of abundant stone made pit fires the only logical choice. Or was it just that local fish tasted best when slow-cooked?

Whatever the case, it seems they discovered something magical. Five hundred years later, many are starting to believe that this “magic” could be a new hope for resolving both food shortage problems and environmental degradation.
« Last Edit: December 03, 2008, 10:31:20 pm by Bianca » Report Spam   Logged

Your mind understands what you have been taught; your heart what is true.
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