Terra Preta do Indio is ON

I have a college president who has extended me the, metaphorical at least, blank check.

Now I just have to coordinate with the relevant parties, develop the program, coordinate the effort, and exercise the leadership.


But, of course, argh.  Nothing with a payoff that high comes for free.

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  1. blackpine

     /  August 16, 2008

    What program is this?

  2. Erich J. Knight

     /  August 16, 2008

    A good article by Charles Mann in September National Geographic

    Biochar, the modern version of an ancient Amazonian agricultural practice called Terra Preta (black earth), is gaining widespread credibility as a way to address world hunger, climate change, rural poverty, deforestation, and energy shortages… SIMULTANEOUSLY!

    This technology represents the most comprehensive, low cost, and productive approach to long term stewardship and sustainability.Terra Preta Soils a process for Carbon Negative Bio fuels, massive Carbon sequestration, 10X Lower Methane & N2O soil emissions, and 3X Fertility Too. Every 1 ton of Biomass yields 1/3 ton Charcoal for soil Sequestration.

    Indeed, Dr. James Hansen, NASA’s top Atmospheric authority, is now placing it in the center stage of pro-active solutions for the climate crisis.


    I hope you will come to share my passion in getting the word out on the wonderful solutions provided by TP soils.
    I’m sort of the TP list (and data base at REPP-CREST) cub reporter, most all my list postings, under shengar@aol.com, are news items, collaborative work, lobbying efforts with government, writers and journals.

    The new Yahoo Biochar discussion group;


    Thanks for your interest


  3. a) Take craploads of downed brush
    b) Get student labor to grind and charcoal it
    c) Mix with castoff fish
    d) Do experiments
    e) Profit?

  4. Mike

     /  August 16, 2008

    Sounds fun. Are explosions involved or are we doing the non-kinetic route?

  5. Alex

     /  August 16, 2008

    I’m willing to contribute some routine chemical analysis if you feel its necessary to prove the point. Likewise I’m willing to help direct you to the necessary funding agencies if you feel you need to write a proposal to get additional funding for the work.

    We’ve talked about this before, and since I do fire/combustion science for a living I have more than a passing interest in this. Your call of course since you’re the PI.

  6. I may take you up on both. Simply have to do some contact work to start setting things up.

  7. Alex

     /  August 16, 2008

    I think you know how to get in touch with me, so whenever you are ready let me know.

  8. celogo

     /  August 16, 2008

    What kind/how much brush required?

  9. Celogo, first I have to obtain a kiln and probably some sort of shredder/grinder. That’s the twitchy part, to begin with, as not any old trash can will do, sadly.

  10. Alex

     /  August 17, 2008

    If you’re making charcoal – make sure the kiln has controls on the amount of ventilation. You want an oxygen starved fire/smolder, not a well ventilated one. Of course, if you’re doing the historical archeology thing here, I guess you want to look at the specific conditions under which the charcoal was generated.

  11. Well, yeah, Alex… that’s why it’s not just a case of “stick it in a trash barrel and go.” Precise conditions won’t be necessary for what we’re going to do, I think.

  12. Alex

     /  August 17, 2008

    After reading a bit more about this on Wikipedia (assuming that those facts are correct) you may just want to create your charcoal with a crapload of wet leaves added to your brush piles. The water content should keep the heat level down enough to create the necessary smolder conditions and then you don’t even need a kiln. An open pit should do the trick just fine.

  13. Hrm… wet paper. I’ve got SHITLOADS of paper that need to go… and if you’re using brush, then you shouldn’t need to grind it up so much, either.

  14. Alex

     /  August 18, 2008

    You could try it with paper, but remember the paper has been processed and it relatively chemically pure cellulose compared to typical “native” plant matter. Leaves and other plant matter is loaded with tannins and other polyphenolics which may convert to charcoal a lot easier than processed cellulose, which burns relatively cleanly and higher temperature. Still – it’s experimentation so proving which materials exactly can be used is worth pursuing.

  15. We certainly have plenty of both (in a couple months, once the leaves start coming down, the back yard will be completely covered in leaves).

  16. Alex

     /  August 18, 2008

    I had another thought – since in the sites where they find this type of soil they also find broken pottery and other aspects of living, do you suppose that these sites are trash incineration pits? A way to get rid of plant and animal matter that would rot in the heat that would instead be good compost/soil for later? If so, you may want to even start saving kitchen scraps to see if that contributes anything to the mix.
    Of course, I’m assuming your neighbors won’t mind and you don’t have any local ordinances about trash/leaf burning.

  17. convivialdingo

     /  August 18, 2008

    As always – mi casa es su casa. Large controlled burns are fairly common out here – so if you have a need let us know.

  18. Convivial: it certainly sounds like a good excuse for a get-together…

  19. Heck yeah 🙂


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