Late one Monday night in October I hopped on a plane from Brisbane Airport headed for South Korea to attend the 3rd Asia Pacific Biochar Conference. It had been 25 years since I had been to Asia so it was with much trepidation that I endured the first 8 hour leg to Taiwan Airport without much sleep. Once there, I transferred to the other side of the Airport (what seemed like a small city in itself) and my first take on the language barrier to get a connecting 3 hour flight to Incheon Airport about half hour from Seoul, South Korea. From there it was a winding 2 hour bus trip up into the hills of the beautiful Gangwon Province in all it’s Autumn splendour to the smaller city of Chuncheon. From there, a short taxi ride to the Hotel.
Comfortable enough once I’d worked out all the differences in a foreign country (they don’t have the same electric powerpoint fittings), I started to enjoy myself with internet access to communicate to home. Next day Wednesday was Registration day and I arrived at Kangwon University as if I was in a dream with huge Gingko Trees in golden form and the red and oranges of maples and ashes. The University was like it’s own Eco Village and it was quite peaceful just to be in it’s surrounds. Once registration was done, I arranged to get 50 double sided colour copies of our ANZBC17 promotional flyer to be placed on the registration table as people came in.
Day 1 and I enjoyed hearing a morning of plenary speakers (30 mins each) including Johannes Lehmann from Cornell University present on “Biochar-Microbe interactions”, Yakov Kuzyakov from Martin-Luther University, Germany on “Biochar Stability in Soils” and Stephen Joseph, UNSW on “The Commercialisation of Biochar for Green Agriculture in the Asian Pacific Region. A History of Innovation over the Past 10 Years”. I was particularly chuffed to see him share Doug Pow’s Biochar Method using Cows and Dung Beetles to take Biochar down into subsoil which has now created much interest all around the World and birthed at Bio-charfest Mullumbimby 2014!!
Off to lunch and met some wonderful new people and on return introduced myself to Johannes Lehmann who had already agreed to present at ANZBC17 via Skype from Berlin. We worked through the time differences and other logisitics and he has agreed to present at an evening session of ANZBC17 on “The Contentious Nature of Soil Organic Matter”. In my mind this reaffirms the important role Biochar will play in building soil carbon and water filtration. I therefore achieved what I went there for on Day 1 lunchtime so it was all downhill from here!!
Day 2 covered a morning of plenary speakers this time on Biochar as a Soil Remediator including presentations from Min Hong Wong from the Hong Kong Institute of Education on the topic “Ecological Restoration of Man-made Habitats: The Role of Organic Amendments, with Emphasis on Biochar”, Nanthi Bolana, University of Newcastle on “Biochar-nutrient Interactions in Soil”, Scott Chang, University of Alberta on “Biochar for Reducing Soil Greenhouse Gas Emissions” & the American contingency of Mark G. Johnsona & Jeffery Novakb of USDA on “Recognizing Critical Mine Spoil Health Characteristics to Design Biochars for Site Improvement to Promote Stabilizing Plant Growth”. However, the highlight for me of this day was a short 10 Min Abstract submission from ex-pat Jessica Shepherd of Edinburgh University who presented on “Phosphorus Recovery and Re-use from Wastewater. Using sewerage sludge derived Biochar”. This was based on work by Thames Water who are successfully carbonizing bio-solids and using it as a soil conditioner that is going to last much longer than green and brown carbon. I have a particular interest in closing the loop on humanure. If we can derive energy and create biochar from our sewerage sludge then we have gone a long way to repairing the Carbon and Nitrogen Cycles in my mind. Our current Zero Emissions Report by 2020 in the Byron Shire does not even include Human Waste in its figures. To me this is a big oversight as we continue to overpopulate the earth.
Day 3 I enjoyed a half day of presentations on Rice Husk Biochar from Japan’s Yoshiyuki Shinogi, Ajit Sarmah, The University of Auckland on Biochar Composite materials, John McDonald -Wharry, The University of Whaikato on “The Use of Biomass‐derived Chars in Construction and Composite Materials”, Kua Harn Wei on “Biochar as Construction Material”. This is another particular interest in mine, using Biochar as a building material in conjunction with 3D Printing Technology, my mission in life is to facilitate or at least showcase work done in this area and I’m happy to report that all 3 speakers have either started or will now start to test the use of Biochar as a building material using 3D printers. Particularly happy for the Kiwi contacts who will more than likely attend and or present at ANZBC17. Imagine the amount of carbon we could capture in our homes and it just turns out to be a wonderful material to live in with it’s humidity regulation, thermal and fire retardant qualities!! But finally, I was blown away by 2 young gentlemen from Ghana who have discovered that extracting Potassium salts from seaweed and selling it as a by-product before then pyrolyzing it to make a great Biochar is a viable business model!! Patrick Boakye presented on “Extraction of Potassium Salts from Kelp Seaweed Biomass and Biochar” so look out for this as a feed stock in the future.
In the afternoon of Day 3 we went on a tour of the Countryside visiting the Ssangyong Dam where we caught a Ferry across the waters to walk up through the beautiful Autumn coloured mountains to a Buddhist Temple. Then onto some of the more Iconic sites of Chuncheon City on sunset and out to dinner with new friends representing Australia, US & Korea, Poland, N.Z, and Spain to try the traditional dish of Gukgalbi (basically char grilled chicken & veges cooked in front of you). Got a taste of a Korean Cocktail/Karaoke Bar and partied the night away till dawn.
Day 4 was supposed to be a technical tour of Laboratories and field trials but it never happened and was the only downside to the Conference. Next morning, I hopped on the early bus back to Incheon Airport and said goodbye to Korea and then an 11 Hour wait in Taiwan Airport to catch up on work to then have an over nighter back into Brisbane, then a 3 hour Byron Easy Bus back to Bangalow, N.S.W.
Now home and in reflection of my trip I feel richer for the experience and have learnt more about where the Biochar Industry is, where it’s going and how I fit into it. A small working group is coming together to plan ANZBC17 in early August next year in the Tweed Shire and our aim is to create a platform in which we can bring Scientific Breakthrough to Growers, Rehabilitators & the Construction Industry. We would like to unite all the different Biochar Groups in Australia & New Zealand to collaborate as we work together towards a common goal of drawing down carbon and repairing the Nitrogen Cycle disrupted by fossil fuel mining and commercial agriculture. For more info or to get involved visit our interim page at http://www.byronbiochar.com.au/anzbconference-2017/