3rd Asia Pacific Biochar Conference (October 2016)

Members of the B4SS Scientific Panel, Johannes Lehmann, Stephen Joseph, Lukas van Zwieten and Ruy Anaya de la Rosa, attended the 3rd Asia Pacific Biochar Conference (APBC) 2016 A Shifting Paradigm towards Advanced Materials and Energy/Environment Research that was held in Chuncheon, Gangwon Province, Korea.

Prof Johannes Lehmann gave a plenary speech on biochar-microbe Interactions. Application of biochar to soil has often resulted in an increase in microbial biomass and scientists are trying to understand why. Recent studies at Cornell University and elsewhere confirm that biological nitrogen fixation in soil can be enhanced in the presence of some biochars. Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi has been significantly promoted by biochar application, which has also resulted in greater phosphorous uptake. Some biochars have been found to enhance survival and infection of beans with rhizobia after repeated drying events. Prof Lehmann suggests that another field in which biochar is ready for wider commercialisation is the design of inoculant carriers based on biochar properties that enhance survival of beneficial microorganisms during storage and even after soil application.

Prof Stephen Joseph’s plenary speech was about the commercialisation of biochar for green agriculture in the Asian Pacific Region – a history of innovation over the past 10 years. Prof Joseph talked about the history of charcoal production from using simple traditional kilns and ovens to large scale modern pyrolysis plants. In the last five years, the number of pyrolysis companies and biochar-based products has increased probably due to government support and advances in research and development. Production of biochar in the Asian Pacific region now should be above 100,000 tonnes and there are over 40 companies selling technology and products. While there are many biochar-based fertilisers available (mainly in China), few studies have determined whether a return on investment would be made from using these products. Prof Joseph presented some case studies in which the return on the investment of the production of biochar-based organic and inorganic fertilisers was very attractive to farmers. He also discussed some other opportunities for investment and innovation to drive economic and environmental sustainability for the producers and users of the biochar-based products.

Prof Lukas van Zwieten gave two keynote speeches on 1) a field evaluation of biochars with contrasting properties: greenhouse gas emissions and soil functional change, and 2) can pyrolysis cookstoves improve (indoor) air quality and produce agronomically beneficial biochar? The research work of his second presentation began years ago when Brenton Ladd, coordinator of the B4SS project in Peru, contacted Prof van Zwieten to evaluate the feasibility of using biochar-making stoves for reducing deforestation and air pollution currently caused by burning wood in 3 stones cookstoves in the Amazons. A biochar stove that was developed in Vietnam (together with TNUS, our B4SS partners in Thai Nguyen) was transferred to Peru and further adjusted as per local conditions. Several challenges were found during the biochar-making stoves pilot project evaluated in that Amazon region in Peru and recommendations were made for identifying barriers at the early stage of project development. Prof Lukas’ keynote speech was basically the only presentation at the APBC 2016 that focussed on biochar-making stoves in developing countries.

Most of the research work presented at the APBC 2016 evaluated the adsorbent potential of biochar for its use in nutrient dynamics alteration, soil remediation, heavy metal immobilisation, phytostabilisation of mine wastes, and wastewaster treatment. Some of the effects of biochar on soil organic matter and soil biota were also presented as well as the persistence of biochar in soils. In the Asian Pacific region, the paradigm is actually shifting fast towards the engineering of biochar-based products for specific applications in energy production and environmental remediation.