New forest product making soils better

Trees that decompose return nutrients to soils and benefit future plants, but that takes decades.

What if something can be made in, say, days that would enhance the soil every bit as much as plant decomposition? Maybe better?

Cool Terra® is a new product made by Cool Planet, a venture start-up company that is building a facility at the Central Louisiana Regional Port in Alexandria. It is the first of what the company hopes to be several agricultural products that will also store carbon that might otherwise be released into the atmosphere.

Cool Terra® starts with biochar, made through a proprietary pyrolysis process using wood chips in Louisiana. At present a pilot unit is being used to make the biochar that is shipped to California for final processing.

The soil-enhancement material Cool Terra® already is a component of a lawn-care product, but it wasn’t exactly the company’s first intention when it was established in 2009. Cool Planet’s work primarily was to produce biofuel products.

“When ground was first broken at the Carbon Technology Production Center at the Central Louisiana Regional Port, Cool Planet anticipated utilizing the site for the development and production of both technologies,” said Cool Planet President and CEO Jim Loar.

Through research and development, however, Cool Planet discovered an engineered biocarbon that when mixed into the soil made a good dwelling place for microbes that the company says improves characteristics that makes the soil better.

Loar said the company shifted its focus from biofuel technology “to focus entirely on carbon-based agricultural and green industry technologies due to the exciting discoveries and innovations we made.”

One of those discoveries, Cool Terra®, improves soil structure for the microbes. It also optimizes moisture and the efficiency of the nutrients microbes need, which altogether improves the soil’s capacity to grow crops.

“It’s about soil health,” said Steve Davison, site manager for Cool Planet’s facility at the Central Louisiana Regional Port. “It helps soil maintain more moisture and a stronger microbial activity for plants.”

Brent Phillip, director of marketing for Cool Planet, said Cool Terra® acts like a coral reef does for the ocean, providing an organism structure and resources for life, in this case microbial life.

Wanting to determine the effectiveness of Cool Terra®, the company sought third-party testing, many of which were handled by universities.

“It is extremely important for us to develop a product that is science-based,” Phillip said. “We need to provide reliable, tested solutions to this global concern to soil degradation.”

More than a hundred trials were performed at more than 50 research units and used with more than 40 kinds of crops, said Phillip. Basically the practices used to grow the crops remained consistent, with the exception that some plots added Cool Terra®.