German Company Unlocks Ancient Secrets of Amazon "Dark Soil"

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The new joint venture Palaterra GmbH&Co.KG is building the world\'s first production facility for Amazonian terra preta or

The world’s first demonstration facility for the large scale production of Amazonian “dark soil” is under construction in Hengstbacherhof, Germany.  Dark soil, also known as terra preta, is a manmade, ultra-fertile soil that was first developed thousands of years ago in Amazon communities. The buzz about terra preta is its potential as a carbon sink, so a widespread revival of this ancient formula could help resolve the most modern problem in history: how to slow, stop, and even reverse the world’s growing carbon imbalance.


The new joint venture PalaterraGmbH&Co.KG plans to use its Terra Preta prototype production facility as a springboard for a commercial-scale plant to be constructed next year at the Morbach Energy Landscape, which is home to sustainable energy operations including wind, solar, and biogas.  As part of its feedstock, the terra preta plant could recycle tons of biomass byproduct left over from the Morbach biogas facility.

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Origins of Terra Preta

The origins of terra preta (a Portuguese phrase meaning “black earth”) were shrouded in mystery at first, because pockets of the incredibly rich soil seemed to occur spontaneously within regions of very poor soil.  Researchers eventually determined that terra preta was indeed manmade and used in pre-Columbian agriculture.  Numerous pottery shards are typically found in deposits of terra preta, which is composed primarily of charcoal, bone, and manure.

Benefits of Terra Preta

The new joint venture was formed by the sustainable energy company juwi and areal GmbH, a specialist in natural sewage and stormwater management.  Among the benefits claimed by the new company for its Terra Preta is a high level of naturally occurring nutrients, which improves productivity while reducing the need for chemical fertilizers.  Terra Preta also retains water very efficiently.  As for carbon, Tera Preta is a humus (a soil high in organic matter) that can remove carbon from the atmosphere and bind it in the soil, potentially trapping more than its production creates. In another sustainable twist, the company anticipates recycling the liquid byproduct from its Terra Preta facility, treat it, and use it to irrigate biofuel crops.

Terra Preta on a Small Scale

The company claims that it is the first to commercialize a formula for terra preta production, tapping into a potential global market.  If the financials work out, it’s also possible that small scale, local production of terra preta-type soils could provide more communites with an economical, and more sustainable, means of disposing and recycling household waste.

Image: NASA World Wind satellite via wikimedia commons.

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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