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A Trip to the Japan Biochar Association Meetings

By Daniel Chapman, IBI Membership Coordinator

It’s hard to believe it was already over a month ago, but after I finished work on Thursday June 12, I hopped onto a train bound for Kyoto eager to hear about the latest biochar research in Japan and also to meet some other biochar enthusiasts and researchers from around the country.

I headed to the annual conference put on jointly by the Japan Wood Carbonisation Society and the Japan Biochar Association (JBA). What is the difference? The Wood Carbonization Society is more interested in non-agricultural uses of charcoal, such as cooking, water/ air filtration, and therapeutic uses. The JBA is more focused on agricultural uses for biochar. Although both groups see different end uses for the material, much of their research and many of their needs overlap so it’s a good fit for a joint conference.

I made it in time for an evening event on Thursday and was introduced to several researchers by Shibata Sensei, Vice President of the JBA, and one of the conference organizers. We all swapped stories about how we got interested in biochar and discussed where we see it going.

Although I missed most of the daytime talks on Thursday from the Wood Carbonisation Society, I was in attendance for the Friday sessions from the JBA presenters (the details of these talks will be covered in a post on IBI’s website in the next month). The highlights for me were presentations on the effects of adding biochar to compost; the continued success and challenges of the Cool Vege project and convincing consumers to purchase premium food grown with biochar; and a talk about the current state of the biochar industry. I also got to attend my first JBA general meeting, which was scheduled during one of the breaks in the conference.

After the end of proceedings on Friday we headed out to Kameoka by train and spent the night at a beautiful Onsen (hot springs) hotel. We had a full dinner with interesting conversations focusing almost entirely on biochar.

On Saturday morning, we got up bright and early for a bath in the hot spring, then piled onto a bus for a day of touring around Kameoka. We first visited a composting facility which was mixing up batches of biochar and compost for use in the Cool Vege farms. This experience is very difficult to describe, as the facility was a huge shed full of enormous piles of fresh and composting animal manure. The aroma will be burnt into my memory until the end of my days. The smell aside, I was a little jealous at how much good quality compost they were producing. I would have loved to have brought some home, but I think the other passengers on the train would not have been impressed.

We next traveled to some Cool Vege experimental farms, which were growing tomatoes and other vegetables in side by side plots, some with biochar and some without. It was only early in the season at that time so we couldn’t do any reliable size comparisons between the two trials, but it was impressive to see the size and scope of them. After the farms, we went to a supermarket in Kameoka city which sells Cool Vege vegetables, and we looked at how they were advertising and setting them apart from the other vegetables.

In the afternoon, we traveled into the mountains to a research station that is conducting experiments with traditional bottom lit pit style char manufacture. We saw a massive pit with a chimney connected to the bottom to both remove the smoke from the pyrolysis and to bring in fresh air through the upper layers of the feedstock to keep the pyrolysis going.

I was completely exhausted by the time I dragged myself onto the train on Saturday afternoon, but it was a great couple of days where I was able to meet fantastic people, learn many new things about biochar, and see innovative farming and biochar projects.

I am already looking forward to next year’s event.