Transforming Agriculture with Rock Dust


minute read

Transforming agriculture with rock dust to combat climate change: an interview with our co-founder and COO, Niklas Kluger

InPlanet was recently featured on the biggest news channel in Brazil. In an interview with G1, from the media giant Globo, our COO and Co-Founder, Niklas Kluger, shared insights on the groundbreaking benefits of using rock dust in agriculture and its role in fighting climate change.

The original interview can be read in Portuguese on G1’s page. To make this valuable content more accessible to our international audience, we have translated the interview here.

Niklas Kluger passionately discusses how rock dust, a byproduct of mining, can rejuvenate soils, reduce reliance on imported fertilizers, and sequester CO2 from the atmosphere.

In the following translation, you’ll discover:

The Science Behind Weathering: Understanding how rock dust releases essential nutrients into the soil.

Benefits for Farmers: How this method improves soil structure, increases water retention, and corrects pH levels, leading to higher productivity.

Economic and Environmental Impact: How Enhanced Weathering can fortify Brazil’s agricultural economy while contributing to global carbon reduction efforts.

Brazil’s Unique Potential: Why Brazil’s tropical soils and mining industry make it an ideal location for implementing this technology on a large scale.

Join us in exploring how InPlanet is pioneering a sustainable future for agriculture, accelerating a natural process to enhance agricultural productivity and combat climate change. Read on to learn more about the innovative intersection of agriculture, environmental sustainability, and economic resilience.

Original Article:

‘Fábrica’ de solo: Startup usa de pó de rochas na agricultura como opção a fertilizantes importados e combate às mudanças climáticas | Piracicaba e Região | G1

Rock Powder being scooped out of a plastic bag
Photo by Denise Guimarães/Esalq/USP for InPlanet

‘Soil Factory’: Startup Uses Rock Dust in Agriculture to Replace Imported Fertilizers and Combat Climate Change

A European company, with operations in Brazil and active in the carbon market, is proposing the use of rock dust as a method for removing CO2 from the atmosphere.

Soil is a vital natural resource essential for food production, ecosystem maintenance, water resources, and climate regulation. Environmental engineer Niklas Kluger, originally from Germany, has understood this since childhood. He chose Brazil to implement regenerative agricultural solutions through the process of weathering.

Do you know what weathering is? – It is essentially the process of rock degradation. But how can rock dust benefit farming and help fight climate change? Learn more in the article below.

In addition to helping combat climate change, Kluger sees the use of rock dust as a viable solution to reduce Brazil’s dependence on imported fertilizers, especially from Russia, which is a significant vulnerability in the agricultural sector.

He works with farmers to restore their soils and assist them in transitioning to sustainable, low-carbon, nature-based agriculture.

tractor pulling a load of rock powder and spreading it on farmland
Photo: Alexander Moskow for InPlanet

‘Soil Factory’

The startup, co-founded by Niklas Kluger, is a European company engaged in the carbon market and is fully operating in Brazil. It uses rock dust in agriculture to remove CO2 from the atmosphere.

Speaking to g1, Kluger describes the startup as a ‘soil factory.’ In his words:

“You can think of us as a life factory, a fresh soil factory. By applying rocks and minerals, we create new, living soil that provides nutrients, supports valuable agricultural production, and can sequester CO2 from the atmosphere, which is a major responsibility left to us by previous generations,” he says.

Research and innovation activities take place at Esalqtec, while the startup’s commercial side operates in Germany.

“Brazil has ideal conditions, with tropical soils, and the use of rock dust in agricultural lands here shows the greatest potential for carbon removal worldwide,” Niklas adds.

Photo by Denise Guimarães/Esalq/USP for InPlanet

Como tudo começou?

Influenced by his grandfather, Kluger has always been passionate about farming and dreamed of working with regenerative agriculture.

“My goal was to work on soil restoration, finding sustainable alternative solutions for agricultural management. I have always been particularly passionate about agroforestry systems,” he recalls.

In 2013, Kluger first came to Brazil to work in youth centers for an NGO in São Paulo. He returned during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021, this time as a project manager in the Northeast for the same organization, focusing on restoration and family farming.

Niklas moved to São Paulo at the beginning of 2022 to complete his master’s degree and stayed for an exchange program at the Luiz de Queiroz College of Agriculture at the University of São Paulo (USP) campus in Piracicaba (São Paulo).

Through his connection with professors and researchers at the institution, he achieved his goal. “My aim was to work on both continents, South America and Europe, this time investing in the carbon market,” he says.

truck spreading rock powder
Photo: Alexander Moskow for InPlanet

InPlanet has headquarters in Brazil and Germany and has been associated with the Esalqtec Technology Incubator at USP in Piracicaba since 2023.

“Brazil already had existing legislation in this area, and with the war in Ukraine, the need to find alternative ways to reduce dependence on fertilizers from Russia increased,” he emphasizes.

📝 In this article, you will learn:

– What is weathering?

– How are nutrients utilized by the soil during the weathering process?

– What are the benefits for Brazilian soil and agriculture?

– What is Brazil’s potential in this area and the impact of weathering techniques if adopted on a large scale?

– Is investment necessary?

– What is needed for large-scale application in Brazil?

What is weathering?

Weathering is the natural process of breaking down and decomposing rock materials through physical, chemical, and biological actions. Silicate rock weathering is essentially the dissolution or disintegration of rock, explains Niklas Kluger.

“It is the key process in soil formation. Every soil on the planet today was formed through weathering. Thus, it is a natural process of soil formation and, consequently, the formation of terrestrial life – which has been happening on our planet since the beginning, as long as there are rocks, water, and CO2 in our atmosphere,” he explains.

“In addition to forming soil, or during the rock dissolution process, CO2 is also sequestered from the atmosphere,” he highlights.

“All water in our environment contains a small amount of carbonic acid. This diluted carbonic acid reacts with the rock. Rain is the medium that makes the atmosphere interact with the rock. Rain carries CO2 with it and forms this carbonic acid, a mild acid that attacks the rock and begins to dissolve it. At this moment, rock dissolution, or weathering, occurs,” he explains.

How are nutrients utilized by the soil during the weathering process?

“When a nutrient is released, such as a molecule of calcium, magnesium, or potassium, a bicarbonate is also formed because the cation needs an anion. And the anion, in this case, is bicarbonate. The cation is calcium, magnesium, potassium – the nutrients that farmers need. Additionally, what remains from this process are clays, the secondary minerals that farmers highly value because they help create a living soil full of nutrients,” he notes.

Landscape of a farm with green fields and blue skies, a truck is crossing the field spreading rock powder

What are the benefits for Brazilian soil and agriculture?

“There are ‘co-benefits,’ as carbon researchers say, including nutrient release, improved soil structure, increased water retention, pH correction, new clay formation creating a more fertile environment, and consequently increased farmer productivity,” Kluger states.

What is Brazil’s potential in this area and the impact of weathering techniques if adopted on a large scale?

Researcher Niklas Kluger, co-founder of InPlanet, emphasizes that Brazil’s potential lies in being a mining and agricultural powerhouse.

“These are the two strong aspects. The backbone of Brazil’s economy is mining and agriculture. This shows that, in addition to the benefits of being a tropical country with weathered soils, everything favors more efficient, faster weathering. We are a country of agriculture and mining. These are exactly the two sectors we need for this technology to make sense, starting with investment,” he notes.

Would this be a solution to the dilemma of fertilizer imports?

“Yes. This dilemma of having a strong agricultural production but heavily importing high-value fertilizers keeps Brazil from being fully comparable to the world’s top economies.”

hands playing with soil
Photo: Alexander Moskow for InPlanet

Does it need a huge investment?

“The interesting thing about this technology is that the investment can be relatively low to scale it up because logistics are already in place to transport rocks. Farmers already have the equipment to spread rock dust,” says the specialist.

“Mining operations already exist and are grinding rocks, producing aggregate for the construction sector. It doesn’t need to be anything more than an additional sieve in mining. Perhaps a stronger grinder can produce more rock dust, but the basic system is already there. It’s not rocket science, you know? To produce rock dust. The foundation is already in place. The infrastructure almost already exists,” he adds.

What is needed for large-scale application?

“We need to invest in research, gaining more understanding, and creating more scientific evidence that these inputs truly have all these impacts. There is already substantial scientific evidence, but we need to produce even more to establish it as a scientifically proven technology.”

Which sector needs more incentives?

The researcher and startup founder points out that incentives are also needed for the mining sector “to produce these inputs on a large scale, in large quantities. And then, the carbon market comes in,” he notes.

“This is a growing global demand, becoming increasingly clear. There are more and more demands for environmental compensation. […] Nowadays, we have millions of tons of waste from mining operations in this country that can be utilized for this technology,” he highlights.

“What we propose not only provides an environmental solution but also delivers most of the benefits to the farmer, reducing Brazil’s dependence on imports and making our food healthier,” he concludes.

Dr Philipp Swoboda and Dr Jessica Ferrarezi at InPlanet's lab — Photo: Alexander Moskow for InPlanet
Dr Philipp Swoboda and Dr Jessica Ferrarezi at InPlanet’s lab — Photo: Alexander Moskow for InPlanet