Who We Are

We are a group of MTU students currently exploring the feasibility of establishing the Terra Preta @ MTU Project as an Enterprise team or affiliating it with existing campus projects and initiatives. The impetus and commitment remain that the project is a reciprocal project with the local community, with shared access to resources, planning, and participation.

We currently think of terra preta, or terra preta de indio as a framework for exploring the historical, archeological, anthropological, scientific, and indigenous aspects of “dark earth.” We think of biochar as a process and product that may be used as a soil amendment; that it may help increase soil fertility dramatically; and that it may help mitigate climate change via its carbon-negative sequestration qualities.

Our Team…
team-photo-2

Current Research

Science Team Research Plan

  • What local biomass is appropriate for our use to burn and to convert into biochar?
  • Can we replicate national and international pyrolysis trials?
  • What plants — and in what conditions — should we prioritize for trials?
    (soybean, potatoes, maize, wheat, peas, beets, rice , legumes?)
  • What role can stamp sand play in bio-remediation/biochar initiatives?

Contextualizing 880%

The number that tends to attract attention, inspire both optimism and skepticism, and send us all to our libraries, labs, and greenhouses is the preliminary data provided by Christoph Steiner:


That research is reported in Amazonian Dark Earths: Explorations in Space and Time (2004; p. 191) and more recently, in Slash and Char as Alternative to Slash and Burn (2007; p. 61). If you’re on or near the Michigan Tech campus, a copy of Slash and Char is available for review in 112 Walker Arts & Humanities.

As the Terra Preta @ MTU Working Group uses the fall semester to develop a mission and a research scope, and to build local community alliances, we focus on data and hypothesis such as Steiner’s to help frame a series of questions and projects:

  • How should we contextualize that research for local and regional community members, farmers, and gardeners?
  • How should we contextualize it as a way to learn about soil characteristics in the Upper Peninsula, regionally, and globally?
  • How should we contextualize it for Michigan Tech faculty and graduate students in soil science, chemistry, environmental engineering, forestry, and humanities as a way to develop collective expertise?
  • How should we contextualize it for possible fundraising and grant opportunities?
  • What role can the working group play in local and regional efforts to understand terra preta (broadly) and biochar (specifically)?
  • Where does terra preta fit in environmental, social, cultural, and manufacturing notions of “sustainability”?
  • And on particularly reflective and socially aware days: what is the relationship between hip-hop culture, sustainability, and the environment?

We currently think of terra preta, or terra preta de indio as a framework for exploring the historical, archeological, anthropological, scientific, and indigenous aspects of “dark earth.” We think of biochar as a process and product that may be used as a soil amendment; that it may help increase soil fertility dramatically; and that it may help mitigate climate change via its carbon-negative sequestration qualities.

Current Projects

The Terra Preta Working Group has researched many different sources and has found, through research, that Biochar can greatly increase the growth and development of a plant.  We are planning on growing soybeans this semester to compare with our research from the last semester.

The reason we chose soybeans is because of its history of being grown in South American countries, where the soil Terra Preta de Indio, and biochar originally formed.  The soybean will be beneficial for us to use because it is a small plant that can be easy contained.  Also, it does not require much watering, and grows quickly.