Carbon removal and remineralization of degraded soils – Understanding the potential of silica rock powder for Brazil

In the beginning of November our COO Niklas participated in the 4th national conference on the use of rock powder in Brazil. A wide range of renowned researchers ranging from geology, biology and agronomy stressed the outstanding potential for basically all agricultural areas in the country. Rock powder is the base material needed for a process referred to as enhanced weathering. This process enables the removal of carbon from the air through the formation of carbonates, naturally locking up carbon for many thousand years in geologic formations. In the following we want to point out the key learnings from the conference:

  1. The infrastructure to produce and source rock powder is in most cases already set up. Quarries currently producing sands, gravel stones and construction materials can provide the base material for remineralization. In addition various residues from other mining activities were identified as suitable for remineralization and carbon removal, posing an especially cheap source of rock powder.

  2. Using rock powder for the remineralization of soils has a wide range of co-benefits in addition to removing carbon from the air. Of special interest are here the more efficient use of fertilizers and the long term provisioning of crucial nutrients for plant growth, in restorative as well as conventional agriculture. In the long run this will also allow for the reduction of chemical fertilizers.

  3. Remineralization through rock powder has been studied for many years but has gotten out of focus through conventional chemical fertilization. For example, the German researcher Julius Hensel proposed fertilization with rock powder already in the 1850s. The interest in the topic is facing a revival in science, but practical applications on a big scale are in need of development.

Map showing the potential for silica rock application throughout Brazilian territory.

After the conference we had the honor to talk to Professor Antonio Azevedo from the São Paulo School of Agriculture, ESALQUE, one of the key figures in research regarding the use of rock powder as well as João Ieda, researcher and geologist of the “Grupo Pesquisa Mineralogia do Solo” (GPEMSO). During the interview we discussed our three key learnings and the necessary mechanisms which must be developed to make the use of rock powder mainstream. We were especially happy when he offered us to be an adviser for our work. Together with him we will be putting the application of rock powder on a solid scientific base.

To deep dive we recommend reading this article from Yale on the potential of rock powder in agriculture as well as this paper, describing the relevance and economics of rock weathering for carbon sequestration on a global scale

If you want to learn more about enhanced weathering and the application of rock powder to remove carbon and restore soils and landscapes, get in touch. 

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