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Report from the First International Biochar Summer School

group photoThe 1st International Biochar Summer School “bio: char crossroads” took place in Potsdam, Germany on September 9-16, 2012. The event was organized by the Leibniz Institute for Agricultural Engineering (ATB) and was supported by PEARLS - Potsdam Research Network and Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg. The goal of this summer school was to enhance biochar research worldwide and to contribute to the sustainable development of this research field.

The intensive week offered twenty-three young scientists and young researchers from all over the world a unique platform for training, information sharing and networking. The participants were PhD Students that came from Germany, Spain, Denmark, United Kingdom, Italy, Norway, China, India, and Malaysia. Over twenty international and local experts presented the latest results of different research fields and discussed future research needs, among them Bruno Glaser from the Department of Soil Biogeochemistry of the University of Halle, Germany; Claudia Kammann  from the Institute for Plant Ecology, University of Giessen, Germany; Peter Kuikman from Alterra, Wageningen University, Netherlands; Hermann Lotze-Campen from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), Germany; David Wayne, Board member of the International Biochar Initiative, UK; Heike Knicker from the Institute of Natural Resources and Agrobiology of Sevilla, Spain; Ellen Graber from the Volcani Center of the Agricultural Research Organization, Israel; and many others.

The week started with a keynote on the Amazonian Dark Earths by the renowned Terra Preta researcher Wenceslau Teixeiera from EMBRAPA International Brazil, and also included lectures on biochar research from Bruno Glaser, Claudia Kamman and Jürgen Kern. After an excursion to the research facilities of the ATB, participants had a chance to present posters with their research topics and discuss each subject more intensely.

The following three days were dedicated to major topics in biochar research and development including biochar production, feedstock availability, system integration and biochar characterization as well as soil and biota effects of biochar.

Students first focused on biochar production and feedstock which included sessions on pyrolysis, hydrothermal carbonization, and other alternative carbonization technologies on industrial and community scales. The feedstock topic was addressed during an interactive workshop highlighting the life cycle of biochar and lectures on suitable waste streams for biochar production, as well as controversial issues of biochar and bioenergy in the light of climate change mitigation and feedstock competition.

After the production/feedstock sessions, students focused on system integration and biochar characterization. This included sessions on production and application of chars from sewer sludge and biogas digestate in integrated waste-nutrient streams. The characterization of biochar involved comparing results from studies of biochar effects, method development, and standardization on European and international levels.

Students next examined recent results on biochar and soil effects as well as response of plants and invertebrates on biochar applications in laboratory and field trials.

During the week, Paul Anderson held workshops on low-tech construction of different-sized TLUD (Top-lit updraft gasifier) stoves and production of biochar for communities with little infrastructure. The participants spent time in the lab setting up and evaluating simple and “repeatable-at-home” biochar experiments. Every participant brought a biochar sample from his or her home country to perform experiments which were combined into a biochar race, comparing the performance of biochars in germination tests, earthworm avoidance tests, and water holding capacity tests. The winners of the race received a “Biochar Trophy”.

Participants also worked together on developing a road map for future biochar research in the framework of the open space method. The day brought about tangible ideas on future collaboration within Europe and in Africa.

On Saturday the whole group visited the ATB biochar field trials in Berge, where diverse mixes of biochar, hydrochar, and biogas digestate are being investigated. They also visited a well-known urban gardening project in Berlin called the “Prinzessinengarten” which is utilizing biochar and terra preta-like substrates.

The integrated evaluation of the summer school, which took part every day and to a larger extent in the end of the week, showed that the participants acquired a great deal of new information and skills.

For more information on the event, please see:

More photos are available at:

Group photo courtesy of the summer school organizers