The International Conference BCD in Bari, Italy: 17.-20.10.2013

I have written the report about the BCD conference in English and in Slovene – this is the English version and the Slovene is (coming soon …)

It took me almost two weeks to sit down and start writing about the conference; I had to do some presentations and speeches right after coming back home from Bari, and I don`t like to do things half-way. So it took some time – but now here it is :)

The International Conference BCD 2013 (Biochar, Composts, Digestates) took place in Bari, Italy and was held from 17th till 20th of October. I planned to write about the happenings immediately during the conference. But after a long day, full of new info, people and experiences, and after having a nice late dinner and a conversation in a restaurant in the old part of Bari, I was usually so tired that after coming back to the hotel I had just one goal – arrange my impressions and thoughts, settle down and have a nice and long rest …

I had mixed feelings about going to the conference – I have been to several conferences already (although none so far about biochar) and not all of them were worth the investment. Bari is 1040 km from Zaplana, so plane was the only reasonable option. Living in a small country has many advantages – one of them is that foreign countries are never far away :) But this conference definitely was a good choice.

The conference was very well organised. The organization was led by Conference President Prof. Nicola Senesi from University of Bari “Aldo Moro” and made possible by many members of Local Organizing Committee and International Scientific Committee: http://www.bcd2013.eu/committee/. I liked the fact that the speeches were only 15 minutes long and that the leaders took the time table very seriously. The conference took place at the old Post office of Bari, an imposant and very beautiful building almost 100 years old with high ceilings and marble walls.

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Good morning to you, Bari: on the way to the conference. The best part was that everything was “in walking distance”.
Bari is a very beautiful and vibrant Italian city and the locals are very nice – I had no problem finding someone to help me find the right way.

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The weather was beautiful and quite warm, 21 to 24 °C.

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The University is placed next to a large park.

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Palm trees and a blooming oleander.

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The main entrance to the University building.

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The Old Post is now a part of the University buildings. The conference was held in here.

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There were about 220 attendants coming from more than 40 countries from all of the continents. 80 attendants were from Italy, many of them were students. So many people, so much knowledge … My only regret is that we arrived late in the evening of the first day so I missed the first afternoon of the conference. And that I didn`t have a chance to speak to more people than I did. The ones I managed to get acquainted to, were very interesting and I am glad we had a chance to exchange our views.

There were three topics at the conference: biochar, composts and digestates. I know a lot about biochar and compost, but haven`t been well informed about digestates. It was interesting to meet people who knew much about digestates but never heard about biochar before … And when they heard the presentations and started to talk about biochar,  wanted to learn more.

It would be impossible to write about everything I have heard and learned and this blog is not meant to be a resume of all of the presentations.

In short, the impression I got from the conference is that:

  1. There is still so much to be learned and there are many more researches to be made (almost all of the presentations ended in the same way: “our future researches will be about this or that …”)
  2. The researches were mostly made from a single point of view – for instance, how does the biochar retain Zn in soil. So as a result there were very many particular views of the impacts, correlations, causes. I had a feeling that about some facts, that I think are of great importance – like the fact that using inoculated biochar in contrary to using a “raw” one or the impact of temperature of the pyrolisis and if it is a fast or a slow process – the researches didn`t have the same standards about. These facts can impact immensely the final results. So – there is still much to be done.
  3. The conference themes (biochar, composts, digestates) were cleverly chosen – all of them can be well combined. I understand the narrow point of view of the researchers (most of the speakers had a PhD) but the holistic point of view is somehow closer to my way of thinking than the separate one. I like to observe matters as a whole instead of taking just one small part and observe it separately. It usually blurs the real cause of the matter, the real cause of the phenomenon. It is the same with human`s health, soil`s health or Gaia`s health, if I may say so. Observing only a part of the phenomenon usually looses the interconnections that exist in the matter as a whole and are it`s vital parts. But – of course – you have to start somewhere …
  4. There was little (as far as I can tell) importance placed upon the ecological or organic agricultural production at the conference. That was interesting to me, because I always saw a strong correlation between biochar (made and used in a sustainable way) and permaculture (or any other sustainable agricultural method). I became interested in biochar because of my interest in permaculture – but biochar can be viewed from so many different points of view, as the conference proved to me. That is really amazing.
  5. After the conference I must say that I regret not being able to attend the UK Biochar conference that was held in June this year and hope to be able to attend when it`s being held the next time. There were really many people in Bari from UK, although not all of them came because of biochar :)
  6. The amount of knowledge that 220 attendants of the conference brought to Bari and speakers presented to us was immense. I was impressed by that fact and I am sure that human race could solve the problems we are facing today. No doubt about that. It`s only as Bill Mollison said when he was asked: Will the humans survive? He said: They will, if they want to, otherwise not :)
  7. Things are never as complicated, nor as simple, as they seem to be; or as we, people, would like them to be. And if we don`t know how something works, it doesn`t mean, that it doesn`t work or won`t work until we will be able to understand it`s logic. That fact goes for everything, as well as for biochar. I know for sure, that only life can produce new life; I have been making soil in my garden for the last few years and during this time the poor, lifeless soil became rich, dark and full of life. I did it with the help of biochar – even though I didn`t know as much as I do now about it, when the experiment started.

Some highlights of the conference:

  • Mexico: the objective of the on-farm study was to determine the removal efficiency of organic matter, nutrients and faecal coliforms of wastewater large pig farms by anaerobic digester. A very interesting topic. Presentation was made by Wilbert Trejo-Lizama.
  • Japan: a study Effect of varying concentrations of biochar on CH4 emission and methanogenic community in paddy ecosystem (one of the conclusions of the study was that “Biochar application had positive impact on plant variables such as shoot weight, panicle number and weight of panicles.”). Study was presented by Singla Ankit from Chiba University – Matsubo, Japan.
  • UK: Use of anaerobic digestates in the grass-turfs industry: a long-term (2 year) field experiment. The study was presented by Mark Pawlett, Cranfield University – Cranfield, UK.
  • Czech Republic: Properties of biochar prepared from contaminated biomass, presented by Brendová Katerina – Czech University Of Life Sciences Prague.
  • UK – Uganda: a study that demonstrated the practical functionality of anaerobic digestion in the treatment of organic waste to provide energy and a source of organic nutrients for soil in Uganda. Their next step in the research project will include the production and implementation of biochar. Presentation was made by Jo Smith from the University of Aberdeen.
  • Switzerland: Characterization of wood waste biochars for micro pollutant adsorption properties: the results highlight a large potential of the experimented biochars for micro pollutants adsorption applications. They also highlight the need for normalised tests of organic pollutants adsorption, and the cross dependence of biochars size and biochars properties in that field. The study was presented by Fabienne Favre Boivin – HES-SO / EIA-Fr – Civil Engineering – Fribourg, Switzerland.

And what about Slovenia?

I didn`t have a presentation in Bari and I regret not having time to make a poster – maybe next time. Nevertheless: more and more people in Slovenia, for now mostly gardeners, know about biochar and use it. They use GroChar products (Biochar soil improver and Composts with biochar) or make their own biochar in a TLUD Biochar stove. At the 26th of November a seminar about biochar will be held in Slovenia at the ZRS Bistra Ptuj and I am very glad that this time, one of the presentations will be mine.

I will write more about the efforts people are making with biochar all over the world in later blogs.

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A PP presentation of one of the speeches

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Besides presentations there were many posters as well.

I found this one very interesting, so I made some photos:

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After the conference ended, we`ve spent a nice Sunday afternoon in Bari:

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A pomegranate tree with some fruits – in late October.

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That`s how Bari used to be (photographs are from our hotel Adria).

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The old Bari – full of sun on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

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An iron horse.

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A view from the restaurant. The best creamy risotto con i gamberi I had in long time :)

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The narrow streets of the old Bari.

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Streets are paved with smooth old stones and the plants, even small trees, have to grow in large garden pots.

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Pigeons love fountains everywhere in the world.

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Reminds me of Romeo and Juliette.

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Finally coming to the Adriatic sea.

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The End – arrivederci Bari!

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8 thoughts on “The International Conference BCD in Bari, Italy: 17.-20.10.2013

  1. What a thoughtful & interesting summary Bojca! As I read your blog, I was comparing it to my impressions from the North American Biochar Symposium. There were many similarities such as the tendency for research to be a bit siloed versus holistic. Also we too had an almost overwhelming amount of knowledge and information. (We attempted to make as much of it as possible available to those that were not able to attend via the website.)

    I had a few conversations that echoed your comment about biochar research standards not being well, standard. This lack of a consistency in biochar research makes any type of mega-analysis much less useful. But overall it is exciting to see all of the research and market activity that is going on.

    • Dear Kathleen, thank you for your comment! I am glad that you felt the same way about these issues. Biochar can be viewed and/or used in so many different ways that it is sometimes difficult to decide which way to go … Such an amazing little piece of black stuff.

      I watched some of the presentations that were held at the UK Biochar conference in June and found them very interesting: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLddRfvph7URS07EBYCfneE8WBNMjLtjeW. It is always great to be able to attend the event in person, but such a way is better than none. Are the presentations from the North American Biochar Symposium accessible on-line as well?

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