Thursday, December 27, 2007

The "browning" of Africa - is China or India being colonial?

This article appeared in the New Straits Times of Kuala Lumpur, today.........and worth a read by many players interested in development issues.

OPINION: East is the way to go for Africa’s students
27 December, 2007

More and more Africans are turning to China and India to acquire technological skills and know-how in a tectonic shift that some analysts feel may well have shattering implications, writes G. PASCAL ZACHARY

FORGET Massachusetts Institute of technology. Hello, Tsing Hua University. For Clothilde Tingiri, a hot young programmer at Rwanda’s top software company, dreams of Beijing, not Cambridge, animate her ambitions. Desperate for more education, this autumn she plans to attend graduate school for computer science — in China, not America.The Chinese are no strangers to Rwanda. Near Tingiri’s office, Rwanda’s largest telecoms company, Rwandatel, is installing new wireless telephony equipment made by Huawei of Shenzen. Africa boasts the world’s fastest-growing market for wireless telephony, and Huawei — with offices in 14 African countries — is running away with the business, sending scores of engineers into the bush to bring a new generation of low-cost technology to some of the planet’s poorest people.Motivated by profit and market share rather than philanthropy, Huawei is outpacing American and European rivals through lower prices, faster action, and a greater willingness to work in difficult environments.

According to Chris Lundh, the American chief of Rwandatel, “That’s the way things work in Africa now. The Chinese do it all.”Well, not quite. Across sub-Saharan Africa, engineers from India — armed with appropriate technologies honed in their home market — are also making their mark. India supplies Africa with computer-education courses, the most reliable water pumps, low-cost rice-milling equipment, and dozens of other technologies.

The sudden influx of Chinese and Indian technologies represents the “browning” of African technology, which has long been the domain of "white” Americans and Europeans who want to apply their saving hand to African problems.“It is a tectonic shift to the East with shattering implications,” says Calestous Juma, a Kenyan professor at Harvard University who advises the African Union on technology policy.One big change is in education. There are roughly 2,000 African students in China, most of whom are pursuing engineering and science courses. According to Juma, that number is expected to double over the next two years, making China “Africa’s leading destination for science and engineering education".

The “browning” of technology in Africa is only in its infancy, but the shift is likely to accelerate.

Chinese and Indian engineers hail from places that have much more in common with nitty-gritty Africa than comfortable Silicon Valley or Cambridge. Africa also offers a testing ground for Asian-designed technologies that are not yet ready for North American or European markets.

A good example is a solar-powered cooking stove from India, which has experimented with such stoves for decades. Wood-burning stoves are responsible for much of Africa’s deforestation, and, in many African cities, where wood is the commonest and most widely used cooking fuel, its price is soaring. The Indian stove is clearly a work-in-progress; it is too bulky and not durable enough to survive the rigours of an African village. But with India’s vast internal market, many designers have an incentive to improve it. How many designers in America or Europe can say the same?

Of course, technology transfer from China and India could be a mere smokescreen for a new “brown imperialism” aimed at exploiting African oil, food, and minerals.

In recent years, China’s government alone has invested billions of dollars in African infrastructure and resource extraction, such as oil exploration ventures in Sudan, raising speculation that a new scramble for Africa is under way. But Africans genuinely need foreign technology, and the Chinese, in particular, are pushing hard — even flamboyantly — to fill the gap.

This year, Nigeria’s government bought a Chinese-made satellite, and even paid the Chinese to launch it into space in May. China was so eager to provide space technology to Africa’s most populous country that it beat out 21 other bidders for a contract worth US$300 million (RM1.05 billion). China’s technology inroads are usually less dramatic, but no less telling.

In African medicine, Chinese herbs and pharmaceuticals are quietly gaining share. For example, the Chinese-made anti-malarial drug artesunate has become part of the standard treatment within just a few years.

Likewise, Chinese mastery over ultra-small, cheap “micro-hydro” dams, which can generate tiny amounts of electricity from mere trickles of water, appeals to power-short, river-rich Africans. Tens of thousands of micro-hydro systems operate in China, and nearly none in Africa.

American do-gooders like Nicholas Negroponte, with his US$100 laptop, have identified the right problem: Africa is way behind technologically and rapid leap-frogging is possible. But Chinese and Indian scientists argue that Africa can benefit from a changing of the technological guard.

They may be right. — Project Syndicate

G. Pascal Zachary is the author of Diversity Advantage: Multicultural Identity in the New World Economy and a fellow of The German Marshall Fund.

This should be a wake up for many to actually open their eyes to Africa. It is a vast market, and from an agricultural viewpoint, Australia has a lot to offer - but are we?

Recently an ABC reporter from Darwin spent some time in East Africa reporting on rural issues under a scholarship from the Crawford Fund. Can we do more? What are the opportunities to both do more and also gain a long term benefit?

In the 1970s and 80s Australians were well represented in the staff of many leading institutes in Africa, but there are few now. Why?

In tropical Australia we have much to gain from interaction with Africa and South America, yet we do little to foster this type of relationship. Not being aware will be detrimental to the agriculture industries of the north.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Real Benefits from Turf

Is the great Aussie lawn an anachronistic hangover from the 20th Century, which has absolutely no place in a water challenged 21st Century? Or even as several Australian politicians have claimed that the "front lawn" has to go - for all sorts of reasons, including a need for greater suburban density.

Many pundits in Australia decry having a lawn.........afterall, it needs water, but there are some real and very tangible benefits from turf areas.

Turf and ornamentals are essential to a clean environment, are aesthetically pleasing, increase appeal and property value, provide a safe, cushioned play surface for children, and instill a sense of community and pride in our surroundings.

A recent Gallup poll showed that the top five benefits of a well-maintained lawn and landscape are:

A property that helps beautify the neighbourhood.
A place of beauty and relaxation for family, employees or visitors.

A property that reflects positively on its owner.
A comfortable place to entertain, work at or visit.
A property that has increased real estate market value.

Turf -- An Environmental Hero?

There are millions of hectares of lawns that provide environmental benefits such as:

Oxygen production. - 58 square metres of lawn provide enough oxygen for one person for an entire day.
Temperature modification.- On a block of eight average houses, front lawns have the cooling effect of 70 tonnes of air conditioning.

Noise absorption - soft surfaces including turf absorb sound and reduce noise in the environment due to the absorption of noise from vehicles, factories and parties. Hard areas - even pebble landscaping, cannot absorb noise, but tend to bounce sound around an area.

Allergy control. - Turf controls dust, in addition to pollen from plants that can cause serious health problems for some individuals.

Pollutant absorption.- Turfgrasses absorb gaseous pollutants such as carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide, converting them to oxygen.

Particulate entrapment. - Turfgrasses trap an estimated 12 million tonnes of dust and dirt released annually into the atmosphere.

Fire retardation. - Grass around buildings helps retard the spread of fire.

Water quality. - Reducing runoff, turfgrass filters the water that helps to recharge groundwater supplies. Because of its filtering capability, turf has been used for years between agricultural fields as a buffer to prevent pesticide runoff. According to a US Environmental Protection Agency's publication Healthy Lawn, Healthy Environment, "Healthy grass provides feeding ground for birds, who find it a rich source of insects, worms, and other food. Thick grass prevents soil erosion, filters contaminants from rainwater, and absorbs many types of airborne pollutants, like dust and soot. Grass is also highly efficient at converting carbon dioxide to oxygen, a process that helps clean the air."

Economic Impact

Given the number of households and lawns, the economic impact of such a large service industry is considerable. In the US alone, turfgrass as an industry is considered to well exceed the $25 billion mark. Additionally, it is estimated that more than 500,000 people make their living directly from the care and maintenance of turfgrass across the country. The sale of lawn care products is estimated to total more than $4 billion a year, which represents nearly one-third of all money spent on gardening in the country. These figures have been on the rise for the past several years and are expected to continue a steady climb. Data is similar for Australia, except much less due to our smaller population.

A Gallup poll concluded that a well-maintained lawn has real monetary value.

According to respondents, attractive lawns offer an appeal, which prompt potential homebuyers to visit the inside of the home. Another study indicated that homeowners realise a 15 percent increase in home value or selling price when the property was complemented by an attractive landscape.
Grass is perennial, so lawns are very durable investments.


Lawns provide important benefits to our environment and community. Many papers have been written on the subject and a summary of the key benefits noted follow.

Environment Benefits

Lawns assist in cooling cities and reduce the use of air conditioners
Lawns reduce the runoff of urban pollutants
Watering lawns also waters adjacent trees and shrubs

Carbon capture and thus greenhouse gas reduction

Social Benefits

Lawns provide a safe, high quality, play area for children
Lawns provide exercise opportunities to all ages (gardening is the second most popular form of exercise – walking is the first)
Lawns are a functional part of the family home
Lawns reduce noise and glare
Lawns diminish dust and disease
Low growing turf dissuades intruders
Lawns provide an exercise area for pets
Lawns provide beauty and relaxation to homeowners and the community

Economic Benefits

Lawns and gardens have a major impact of house prices
Soil moisture is necessary to reduce building cracking
As it grows your lawn is silently contributes to a healthier environment.

References: 1. “The Role of Turfgrass in Environmental Protection and Their Benefits to Humans” Dr James B. Beard and Robert L. Green2.
“Water in Lawns – During any period of tighter water restrictions, lawns should be treated the same as any other plant area"

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Biodiesel Chocolate Truck - Off to Timbuktu

Willie Wonka and the Chocolate (biodiesel) Truck


Two men left England last Friday on their way to Timbuktu in a truck powered by chocolate.

For the sake of accuracy, the truck is powered with biodiesel fuel made from “waste chocolate” (I never knew there was such a thing as waste chocolate!).

Leaving from England on a ferry across the English channel, the team of Andy Pag and John Grimshaw plan to make their 4.500 mile journey in approximately three weeks.

Using cocoa butter extracted from a confectioner’s misshapen chocolate “rejects”, the truck will carry 454 gallons of biodiesel fuel. The Ford Iveco Cargo truck is carrying two smaller vehicles for the final hard slog across the Sahara desert, all powered with standard engines fueled with biodiesel. The final cost of the fuel is calculated at about $1.16 per gallon.

Carbon Neutral All the Way to Timbuktu

The trip is billed as the first carbon neutral journey across the Sahara desert. To achieve that neutrality, the pair will offset the carbon produced from the journey by delivering a biofuel processing unit built upon their arrival in Mali. The device is built by Ecotek in the UK, the same company that designed the process to convert the chocolate bits to biofuel.

The processing unit will be delivered directly to Mali-Folkecenter (MFC), a charity organization that works with developing enterprise in rural and under served communities through environmental and renewable energy projects. The biodiesel processor will be used by local woman to convert waste cooking oil into fuel, bring in some supplemental income, employ two technicians, and provide low carbon fuel for local vehicles.

Ostensibly, the purpose of the trip is to encourage Peg and Grimshaw’s fellow Britons to use biofuels as an alternative to fossil fuel.

I don’t believe all biofuels are “created equal” or are a panacea or total solution to our dependence on fossil fuel (see my earlier post on the subject), but developing a process that converts waste chocolate into fuel serves as another example of how innovative thinking can help pave the way to viable alternative solutions to fossil fuel use. The road to good ideas sometimes leads to unexpected places, powered by creative thinking and, well, chocolate!

Follow the team’s progress at and keep on trucking

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A Wet Summer and Monsoon Season in Australia 2007/2008?

The 30-day running average for the southern oscillation index (SOI) has continued its current upwards surge. It reached +11.08 at the start of this week.

The Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) says a SOI consistently above +6 for two months indicates an above-average probability of above-normal rainfall during this summer and autumn, in most parts of eastern Australia. It confirms the arrival of a La Nina (wet) period for the year ahead.

The current SOI figure has been maintained above +6 since the last two weeks in October.
So it's now reaching the critical two-months qualification period, as we enter December and the start of summer. The SOI plunged below zero in April last year, signifying last year's temperate zone drought. It stayed there until the last week of May this year, when it rose back above zero.
But, after just a month in positive territory, it plunged below zero again - which coincided with the failure of follow-up rains this autumn and winter, after an encouraging start for this year's winter crop.

BOM says a consistently negative SOI pattern (less than about minus 6 over a two month period) is related to a high probability of below median rainfall for many areas of Australia at certain times of the year.

At the end of August, the SOI lifted back above zero again, indicating that the El Nino (dry) phase of the climate cycle might be ending. But first it spent two months timidly hovering between zero and +5, without going anywhere higher. Then, during the last half of October and throughout November, the SOI has accelerated confidently upwards.

The SOI is calculated from the monthly or seasonal fluctuations in the air pressure difference between Tahiti and Darwin. This rising value for the SOI has contributed to the encouraging Bureau of Meteorology's (BOM) latest rainfall forecasts for summer and autumn in most parts of eastern Australia.

For the NT region, cloudiness over the past several months, around the near-equatorial dateline and further east in the Pacific has mostly been less than normal, corresponding to cooler than average sea-surface temperatures of that region. Cool anomalies in subsurface water of the near-equatorial eastern and central Pacific have also existed for much of the year. Trade-winds in the near-equatorial Pacific have generally been stronger than normal and the Maritime Continent region [including tropical north-Australia] and the north-Indian Ocean has seen above average cloudiness.

La Nina events are generally associated with increased rainfall over much of northern Australia, but the response to this event has not been entirely typical. This may in part be due to these sea-surface temperatures of seas about the north Australian coast, which have been cooler than would typically be expected in La Nina events.

How the tropical climate system responds in coming months may be determined by the evolution of this sea-surface temperature pattern, which has shown some warming in recent weeks.

The influence of the recent active rainfall phase seems to be waning over the longitudes of northern Australia and there is a reasonable expectation of a suppressing effect on tropical weather from late November to the middle part of December.

Note though that the uncertain prognosis regarding the broader scale influence of La Nina conditions to this region introduces uncertainty regarding such an outlook. However, active conditions would be seen developing over northern Australia some time during the second half of December and as early as the middle of December.

At this time of year, development of an active MJO phase often shortly precedes monsoon development.

So, in summary over the next few weeks, we could have less rain, followed up by a potential improvement in mid to late December.......maybe even some monsoon conditions!

Low Level Biodiesel Blends DO Reduce Greenhouse Gas

A new CSIRO report shows a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from biodiesels, even with a low 2pc biodiesel blend. Every little bit does count!

Biodiesel is a diesel substitute made from renewable materials such as tallow and vegetable oils which typically is blended into diesel at ratios of 2, 5 and 20pc here in Australia, depending on the type of customer.

Caltex in australia is a significant supplier of these blended biodiesel fuels, and CEO, Des King, says, "Biodiesel blends also reduce emissions of very fine particles from diesel vehicle exhausts, while reducing greenhouse gas." “Every litre of diesel supplied from Caltex's Newcastle terminal is New Generation Diesel containing 2pc biodiesel." "The supply of our biodiesel blends from Newcastle saves our customers about 20 thousand tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions each year.

In addition, Caltex supplies 5 and 20pc blends to commercial customers in various locations.

According the recent CSIRO report, a 2% biodiesel blend can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 1.5% compared with the effect of unblended diesel, assuming the biodiesel is made from tallow. The reduction for a 5% biodiesel blend is 3.7pc and the reduction for a 20% is 15%.

Caltex has not purchased imported palm oil based biodiesel and will not, unless it can be shown to be sustainable, to the satisfaction of key stakeholders in the countries where it is produced.
Biodiesel made from palm oil sourced from existing plantations, offers similar greenhouse gas emission savings to tallow-based biodiesel. However, imported palm oil sourced from cleared rainforest or peat swamps would greatly increase greenhouse gas emissions.

Caltex commissioned CSIRO to conduct the research on the greenhouse gas benefits of biodiesel blends to support development of renewable fuels, and to provide updated, authoritative information for our customers and everyone with an interest in biodiesel.

"Caltex supports development of biofuels in Australia," says the CEO. "We achieved our volume target for 2006 under the former government’s Biofuels Action Plan and have already achieved our target for 2007. "We advocate continuation of this plan under the new Labor government.

“We also see the need for the government to prepare a comprehensive plan for biofuels in Australia through to 2020, including consideration of some pressing short term regulatory and financial issues including the biodiesel blend standard and the longer term transition to non-food biofuels feedstocks."

* The report on greenhouse and air quality emissions of biodiesel blends in Australia, can be downloaded at or

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Four Potatoes Species NOT Seven

"One potato, two potato, three potato, four" turns out to be exactly right--when classifying cultivated potatoes, that is.

Scientists at the United States Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and the International Potato Center (CIP) in Peru [the country considered the centre of origin of potato species] have used morphology--the outward appearance of a plant--in combination with molecular markers to revise the number of potato species from seven to four.

Until recently, potato species designations have been based primarily on morphological characteristics and estimates--often incorrect--of how many chromosome sets they possessed.
Botanist David Spooner works in the ARS Vegetable Crops Research Unit, Madison, Wis. His initial research with CIP colleagues indicated that morphological variations [the commonly used botanical tool] among cultivated potatoes were not reliable indicators of a particular species.

They then examined DNA molecular markers from 742 cultivated potato varieties and eight wild relatives of potatoes. Based on results from this study and previous studies, Spooner and CIP lead scientist Marc Ghislain concluded that cultivated potato varieties could most accurately be assigned to one of four species - not the seven currently used.

They refined the species designations by checking each potato variety for the presence of one particular DNA mutation. This characteristic mutation distinguishes between potatoes from the Chilean lowlands and potatoes from the high Andes.

The domestic potato, Solanum tuberosum--the type eaten around most of the world--is one of the four recognized species. This is by far the most common potato species and has from two to four sets of chromosomes. The less common potato species--S. ajanhuiri, S. juzepczukii and S. curtilobum--have two, three and five sets of chromosomes, respectively. These can often be distinguished from each other by morphological data.

This new system of species classification eliminates much of the guesswork that previously served as the foundation for the potato classification system. Potato breeders will benefit greatly from a classification system that groups related collections by combining traditional morphological with modern molecular methods.

A paper reporting the results of this study was published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

While it may not seem much, successful breeding of new varieties does rely significnantly on understanding the genetics of the material being used. It does become more complex with widely used cultivated plants, due to the enormous influence of man [and sometimes serendipity] on developing varieties over the centuries. Knowing what you are working with allows better planned breeding programs.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Compadre Zoysia - a great turf in the tropics

Compadre zoysia can create a fantastic turfed area from seed, at a much lower cost than using sod, and achieve excellent cover in around 16 weeks [above]. With zoysia sod of other varieties from local turf sod growers costing around $20 per sq m plus laying costs, the seed option can be very effective, with excellent cover achieved within a reasonable period.

A recent case history study has shown that even from a dry season sowing [late May 2007] it is possible to achieve a superb domestic turf even though growth was slowed considerably in the cooler dry season months.

By around sixteen weeks, cover was almost complete, with growth accelerating from late August, as warmer days and nights, and longer daylight became effective. By October, excellent turf was in place.

Photo at 20 weeks......

More recent sowings from September and October show excellent early development, as a result of quicker germination and establishment due to warmer conditions, although a few more weeds are present, partially due to the common use of silty and weedier topsoils. But they are all doing very well so far. More on that story soon……..

Once established, Compadre zoysia requires less water, less mowing, less fertiliser than most other turf types, yet still is a great lawn and with high aesthetic appeal. A great appearance at the right cost.
See close up..........a great Compadre turf area
Compadre zoysia is an obvious choice…………..great lawn, modest costs!

Contact -
Above Capricorn Technologies
PO Box 736
Nightcliff NT 0814

e-mail -

Seed is readily available; we will ship worldwide.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Whitefly Management - An online tool

While the following material has been developed for US use, it has considerable relevance for all of the tropics, including Australia.

On line tools provide a FREE and well documented information source, so get good use from it!

Whiteflies have become a significant pest in north Australia, in recent years, and are difficult to manage.

New Online Help for Managing Whiteflies

USDA-ARS. Washington, D.C. (August 22, 2007)

Tiny, sap-sucking whiteflies--and the diseases they often spread--cause some of the world's worst crop problems and are responsible for enormous losses every year. Now an online resource has been developed to help growers afflicted by the pests.

Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists in the agency's Subtropical Insects Research Unit (SIRU), including entomologist Cindy McKenzie--in collaboration with the University of Florida, the University of California, the University of Georgia, Texas A & M University and Cornell University, and endorsed by industry groups such as the Society of American Florists, American Nursery & Landscape Association and the IR-4 Project--have developed a website with extensive information about whitefly management. SIRU is part of ARS' U.S. Horticultural Research Laboratory in Fort Pierce, Fla.

Whiteflies are found throughout the tropics and subtropics, but can be troublesome in greenhouses and other growing environments as well. Both immature and adult stages ingest plant sap and cause damage directly, by feeding and transmitting plant viruses, or indirectly, by excreting a sticky substance called honeydew onto leaves and fruit. Sooty mold fungi colonize the contaminated surfaces, further interfering with photosynthesis and ultimately resulting in reduced quality of fruit and fiber. In addition to ornamentals, whiteflies attack cassava, cotton, sweet potato, legumes and many other vegetables grown in mixed or annual cropping systems.

Called “Management Program for Whiteflies on Propagated Ornamentals With an Emphasis on the Q-biotype," the comprehensive online resource can be accessed at

Among the many topics covered at the website are the importance of crop hygiene, pre- and post-planting practices and insecticide recommendations. Also stressed is the need to control whiteflies early, before they spread to neighbouring fields.

Proper use of insecticides is important for whitefly management, particularly with respect to avoiding development of insecticide resistance in whiteflies. The online guide recommends that insecticides be rotated between chemical classes and should be applied a minimum of two times, at a five- to seven-day interval, to allow for egg hatch between applications and ensure that adults, nymphs and newly hatched individuals are all killed.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Better toilets for all

The 2007 World Toilet Summit has opened in the Indian capital, Delhi, with more than 40 countries taking part.

The four-day meeting will examine solutions and technologies that can be used to provide a basic need for nearly half the world's population.

According to estimates, 2.6 billion people around the world lack access to a hygienic toilet. The U.N. hopes to halve this figure by 2015 as part of its millennium development goals. In India alone, more than 700 million people have no access to proper waste disposal systems.

While hygienic toilet facilities are seen as a normal facility in developed countries, anyone who has worked or lived in developing regions knows of many horror stories about using a toilet. After the event, it may become a funny story.........but the reality is that it is really not a joke!

With a wide range of composting, low water use, waterless, biological, sewered, and various other toilet facilities available at modest cost, a major improvement in poor country facilities is needed. The effect that improved hygiene has on overall well being of the population is enormous, but seems to have often been forgotten or ignored.


Sunday, October 14, 2007

Did farming originate with the need for fibre NOT food?

The development of farming in prehistory is commonly believed to be driven by the domestication of plants for food, thought to have taken place in the fertile triangle of the Middle East. Plant domestication has also occurred in other areas, especially if one looks outside the traditional cereal crops. Some argue that facts do not always fit the theory, and that other causes may have driven plant domestication.

A recent article argues very cogently that the need for fibre NOT food, brought the development of cropping / farming and plant domestication.

See and make your own conclusions.

People turned to farming to grow fibre for clothing, and not to provide food, says the author who challenges conventional ideas about the origins of agriculture.

Ian Gilligan, a postgraduate researcher from the Australian National University, says his theory also explains why Aboriginal Australians were not generally farmers. Gilligan says they did not need fibre for clothing, so had no reason to grow fibre crops like cotton. He argues his case in the current issue of the Bulletin of the Indo-Pacific Prehistory Association.

"Conventional thinking assumes that the transition to farming was related to people's need to find new ways of getting food," says Gilligan. "That doesn't really make sense for a number of reasons."

Gilligan says it doesn't explain why cultivating plants and domesticating animals only started 10,000 years ago in some areas of the world. He says a better explanation is climate. Cold winds, in the northern hemisphere during the last ice age when was 12-15ÂșC cooler than today, led hunters and gatherers to develop sophisticated forms of clothing.

This included tailored and multilayered clothes, including underclothes, to keep out the cold winds, says Gilligan. Animal hides and furs from hunted animals provided the most suitable warm clothing, he says. But once the climate warmed, humans wanted lighter and more breathable clothing. Textiles based on fibre crops such as cotton, linen and hemp and woolly animals like sheep and goats did the job. At the same time, says Gilligan, clothing became important as a form of display and decoration.

This issue has long been a consideration for those involved with agricultural science, especially in the areas of plant domestication, plant genetic conservation and related areas. The paper is a well argued thesis and does definitely pose some issues to consider. Even a few eminent agricultural scientists including Dr Lindsay Falvey [ ex Melbourne Uni Professor of Agriculture] tend to agree with the concept.

We will probably never know, but this paper certainly creates some new thinking, and opens up a range of options to reconsider.

Friday, October 12, 2007


Drought is slowly but surely killing temperate Australia. What is probably the worst drought in white settlement history has been strangling the rural sector in this country for 5- 7 years. In the north, it is not that noticeable........but as food prices now inexorably rise, we will all notice the effects. However, in the north of Australia we have our scourge investigation into developing northern Australia chaired by Senator Bill Heffernan.....but that is another story, still unfolding.

Aid from government to drought affected areas has been provided but the article here questions the effectiveness of the policy. But prudent farmers once again, seem to be discriminated against. Would not it be better giving the money to the farmers?

Provocative, interesting and maybe a bit off the mark in some areas, but essentially offers an alternate the $$ where it will most useful.
Prayers, cloud seeding, mystical chants.....................even visits by politicians ....all are welcome if it will bring rain!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Biofuels -will they impact on water?

Green energy, blue impacts:Biofuels aggravate water scarcity

In the biofuel discussion, water has not received the attention it deserves. It is high time it does.
Pursuing biofuels in water short countries turns green energy into a blue threat.

A recent scenario analysis by the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) indicates that biofuels will add to the strain on already stressed water resources.

Biofuel production will increase demand for land at the expense of nature.

It will also require large quantities of water, already a major constraint to agriculture in many parts of the world.

An estimated 40% of the world’s population lives in areas where water scarcity must be reckoned with. IWMI’s research under the Comprehensive Assessment of Water Mangement in Agriculture shows that at a global average, the biomass needed to produce one litre of biofuel evaporates between 1000 and 3,500 liters of water, under prevailing conversion techniques.

IWMI uses the WATERSIM model consisting of two integrated hydrological and economic modules to support its analysis. Using this model, IWMI has explored the water and land implications of increased biofuel production globally with a special focus on two countries : India and China. In India more than 60% of the cereals are irrigated. In China, more than 70%.

Almost all Indian sugarcane - the crop that India uses to produce ethanol - and about 45% of Chinese maize – China’s main biofuel crop - is irrigated. Both countries, responding to severe water shortages, initiated large projects to transfer water from water abundant to water short areas. These projects are controversial because of their costs, environmental impacts, and number of displaced people by big dams.

Charlotte de Fraiture, an IWMI scientist and lead author of the biofuels study says, “Biofuel production in China and India raises special concerns, because the crops to be used for biofuels—maize in China and sugarcane in India—would rely mainly on irrigation. “Even without increased biofuel production, water scarcity in these countries will worsen, as rising incomes and growing populations boost food demand.”

India and China have set ambitious goals for biofuel production to curb their rapidly growing appetites for fossil fuel imports.

Together, they account for almost 70pc of projected worldwide growth in oil demand between now and 2030.

Yet, the two countries are already struggling to find enough water to grow the food they need.

The survey also found, however, that at the global level, the rush to boost production of ethanol from crops like maize and sugarcane will most likely have only a modest impact on water use and food systems.

The report focuses on the many areas where water is already scarce, with special focus on China and India.

Unless other less water intensive alternatives are considered, the conclusion is that biofuels are not environmentally sustainable in India and China. Discussions on biofuel energy should put green energy into a blue context and take water issues into account.

While this may not be the same in other countries, particularly if crops are not irrigated, it is the outcome for these two countries where biofuel is being increased. India also has potential to develop other crops including Jatropha [ see this blog] that are labour intensive, but do not use valuable cropland or water.

The real issue is that energy use is likely to affect food production.

For more information

Also see :Linkages between Energy and Water Management for Agriculture in Developing Countries - Conference Papers (January 2007)

[partially sourced from IWMI]

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Reclaimed Water Grows Vines for Great Wines in South Australia

Reclaimed water produces the right bouquet in SA vines Australia
Monday, 1 October 2007

People may turn up their noses at the thought of using reclaimed water, but a study by the South Australian Research and Development Institute has found that it is not just an alternative source of water for crops, but may be more beneficial than mains water.

Dr Belinda Rawnsley, who led the three-year $350,000 study funded by the Grape and Wine Research Development Corporation, says the results are good news for vignerons and horticulturists looking for sustainable irrigation. "I think this is the way of the future, particularly for the viticulture industry, which is desperate for alternative water supplies," Dr Rawnsley said. Her work has focussed on a vineyard at McLaren Vale, which was established when reclaimed water first became available in the Willunga Basin region through the Willunga Basin Water Company in 1999. "This vineyard has used reclaimed water, from day one, in a trial specifically set up to compare mains and reclaimed water for irrigation of vines," she said.

Earlier and on-going studies by SARDI's Mike McCarthy have shown there is no difference in yield between vines irrigated with reclaimed or mains water. "My study was the first to look at the effect of using reclaimed water, if any, on soil biology," Dr Rawnsley said. "I fully expected to find that there would be more soil borne pathogens or diseases and higher levels of microbial activity. "However, there were actually less pathogens in the soil which is good, and there were indeed higher levels of microbial activity. "This is also a great finding because the higher levels of microbes improve nutrient transfer to the vine."

The Willunga Basin Water Company takes treated water from SA Water's Christies Beach Wastewater Treatment Plant, 10 kilometres north of the Willunga Basin, and pumps it via 70km of pipeline to more than 90 users whose properties cover more than 1500 hectares. The Christies Beach plant treats about 10,000 megalitres of wastewater a year and about a third of that is being used by the WBWC for irrigators. The remaining treated wastewater is pumped out to sea.

The WBWC will eventually have the capacity to take most of the wastewater from the plant.

This study adds to the pressure for improved use of reclaimed water for agricultural and horticultural use in many additional areas of Austraia, rather than wasting it!

In the Northern Territory it points to a definite potential for inceased reuse from a very low base.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Terra Preta soils - can the NT reach this level of improved soil carbon

Terra Preta: Black is the New Green

Carbon sequestration faces some major hurdles. Technical geosequestration methods could pump large amounts of CO2 deep underground but are still under development. On the other hand, natural methods that store carbon in living ecosystems, such as trees, may be possible in the short term but require huge swathes of land and are only as stable the ecosystems themselves. An ideal solution, however, would combine the quick fix of biological methods with the absolute potential of technical ones. Terra preta [sometimes seen as terra petra] may do just that, as a recent article in the journal Nature reveals. Soil sequestration of carbon has many proponents, incluidng a number of very experienced and knowledgeable scientists, in numerous countries. Australia has been slow to solidly examine this option, yet our soils - some of the oldest and most depleted on planet earth, could really get a kick start with higher soil carbon levels.

Amazonian Dark Earth, or "terra preta do indio", has mystified science for the last hundred years. Three times richer in nitrogen and phosphorous, and twenty times the carbon of normal soils, terra preta is the legacy of ancient Amazonians who predate Western civilization. Scientists who long debated the capacity of 'savages' to transform the virgin rainforest now generally agree that indigenous people transformed large regions of the Amazon into amazingly fertile black earth. The Amazonians' techniques remain an enigma but are believed to have used slash-and-smoulder to lock half of the carbon in burnt vegetation into a stable form of biochar instead of releasing the bulk of it into the atmosphere like typical slash-and-burn practices.

The difference between terra preta and ordinary soils is immense. A hectare of metre deep terra preta can contain 250 tonnes of carbon, as opposed to 100 tonnes in unimproved soils from similar parent material, according to Bruno Glaser, of the University of Bayreuth, Germany. To understand what this means, the difference in the carbon between these soils matches all of the vegetation on top of them. Furthermore, there is no clear limit to just how much biochar can be added to the soil.

Claims for biochar's capacity to capture carbon sound almost audacious. Johannes Lehmann, soil scientist and author of Amazonian Dark Earths: Origin, Properties, Management, believes that a strategy combining biochar with biofuels could ultimately offset 9.5 billion tons of carbon per year-an amount equal to the total current fossil fuel emissions!

Indeed, there is profit to be made in this black earth, for if green is the new black, then black could be the new green. Biofuels are touted as 'carbon neutral', but biofuels combined with biochar [ now generally referred to as agrichar] together promise to be 'carbon negative'. There are a number of competing technologies and some have fuel oil as a potential product, with agrichar the byproduct.

One technology - the Eprida technology uses agricultural waste biomass to produce hydrogen-rich bio-fuels and a new restorative high-carbon fertilizer (ECOSS) . Trials in tropical or depleted soils with ECOSS fertilizer sustainably improves soil fertility, water holding and plant yield far beyond what is possible with nitrogen fertilizers alone. The hydrogen produced from biomass can be used to make ethanol, or a Fischer-Troupsch gas-to-liquids diesel (BTL diesel), as well as the ammonia used to enrich the carbon to make ECOSS fertilizer. Ecocarbons from Australia have another system, with Dynamotive Energy Systems of Canada also in the mix.

Terra preta's full beauty appears in this closed loop. Unlike traditional sequestration rates that follow diminishing marginal returns-aquifers fill up, forests mature-practices based on terra preta see increasing returns. Terra preta doubles or even triples crop yields. More growth means more terra preta, begetting a virtuous cycle. While a global rollout of terra preta is still a long way off, it heralds yet another transformation of waste into resources.

Agricultural Carbon Wastes to Useful Industrial Carbon

New renewable industry may turn farm waste to commercially viable carbon

A pilot factory based in Gunnedah, NSW, and perhaps with a second unit in Toowoomba, Queensland, could spearhead the emergence of an industrial process able to turn farm wastes into charcoal beads, thereby providing a new source of renewable energy.

Eco-Carbons Pty Ltd's spokesman, Michael Neil, says the thrust of the process is to convert organic waste materials such as cereal grain 'seconds', husks, fruit stones, nut shells, and even straw, into carbon products suitable for industrial and domestic applications. "Our research and development programme has given us the confidence to trial carbonisation plants to produce, under controlled conditions, charcoal fuel beads for a range of applications in Australia," Mr Neil said. "The energy given off sustains the kiln itself, plus delivers surplus energy that can even be channelled into an electricity grid." Could this be a suitable application for the mountains of wasted, discarded "shells" of many agricultural products? Many have tried before, here in Australia and overseas, with the utilisation of rice husks a key issue in Asia, for example. Almost all have failed!

The plant's three-stage process involves milling, the formation of beads using natural binders, prior to churning out lightweight and highly porous carbon fuel beads. As a bonus the construction industry stands to benefit from a spin-off product, namely lightweight concrete, using these beads as an aggregrate substitute which should help reduce building costs.

Then there's the interesting possibility of providing horticultural industries with a product able to retain water and stimulate plant growth without suffering from high evaporation rates. Mr Neil says the associated benefits from the process also could see the provision of material with good insulation properties, plus improved soil properties since the end product is non-toxic. Australian soils are deficient in soil carbon, commonly in the form of organic matter, but there are soils elsewhere in the wolrd, notably the terra petra" soils of a few areas of the Amazon that do have a broadly similar carbon material in them.[ see other post]

Originally a Canadian initiative, the task now is to acquire venture capital to set up a fully operational site, with Gunnedah currently looking to be the most likely location.

* More information is available on:

Friday, September 14, 2007

Great Turf - Great Frontage .........Great Business!

Appearances do count but water is precious……… YOUR bit for the environment!

Peter Harrison –

Many businesses want their premises to look smart, neat and tidy, both inside and out. The old adage of “initial impressions count” might have been said with business in mind.

Effort and money goes into a neat, turfed street frontage at a business. In the NT, watering of the area is vital to maintain appearances, with most having some form of pop-up sprinklers. But they are often a cause of frustration.

In numerous areas, vandals or other incidents damage the sprinkler, they commonly over spray on to hard surfaces and with our intermittent power supply , suddenly the timer operates in the middle of the day, spraying customers. As well, many, if not all over irrigate or supply water in a fashion that does not provide a suitable soil moisture regime, which should be deeper watering, less frequently.

The modern solution is the Kapillary Irrigation Sub Surface System, or KISSS. Already widely used in eastern states to improve water efficiency it can be a great option here too. More information at This system is usually cost comparable with sprinklers, but with superior operational benefits.

· “Anytime” watering when plants need it most without interfering with business operations
· Wide area underground watering
· Extremely high water use efficiency – commonly save 50% over sprinkler use
· NO over spray on hard surfaces or roadways
· Reduced cost of irrigation, due to reduced water use and low pressure systems
· Lowered maintenance

Even without improved water use efficiencies, addressing issues of suitable species choice, adequate plant nutrition, weed management, thatch and mowing height and frequency can save you many dollars. Consider revisiting what you do in these areas; seek professional advice, do not rely on your mowing contractor – they make money by cutting more grass and selling more services. You want to reduce their costs, while maintaining or improving aesthetics.

As well as improved water use efficiency, many premises may wish to consider rainwater capture off the roof. This is a very practical option for business, as large roof areas of shed facilities used in conjunction with, for example 30 - 60KL of tank storage [above or below ground in many different forms] can provide adequate water for many on site uses, for around $5 - 7000. This water use includes toilet flushing, vehicle washdown and some irrigation. It reduces polluted stormwater flows, and improves the harbour water quality by reducing these inflows, for most stormwater ends up there. Yes…….there is a cost, but green businesses are often perceived as “good” businesses by customers.

With all of us needing to do more environmentally, these options are technically and financially feasible for the NT.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Sequestering Carbon in YOUR Soil - Are There $$ In It For Me?

Sequestering carbon in soil is not a new concept. It happens naturally, but can it be enhanced on farm and can it actually make some dollars for me, on my farm?

The NSW experience is worth examining in some detail, as a similar system could be useful in the tropics as well. There are a number of links with details on the scheme provides access, as well as several additional links, with more information.

Tropical regions also lose carbon, with fire the major problem. That may not be a significant issue on many horticulture, pasture and cropping areas, but it can be in native pasture areas where irregular burning occurs.

Annual horticulture will normally benefit from the additional carbon stored in soil, with superior moisture storage in the soil, plus improved nutrient retention, better soil tilth and a higher soil microbiological regime. And those characters may even add to yield and direct economic returns. The carbon can come from compost, mulch, green manure crops, plant residuals such as leaf drop and plant roots, but management must be directed to gain benefit from the carbon.

Benefits need to measured and a value attributed, but it does appear to show some promise. A note of caution though as one of the carbon trading schemes in NSW has appeared shaky.......and may cease.

We are interested in developing this system further and would welcome interaction with rural users in the tropics.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Agriculture and Environment Can Work Together to Benefit Both

International award for CSIRO sugar breakthrough
Australia Friday, 24 August 2007

Agriculture has often been seen as the enemy of the environment. Recent work in sugar cane shows that yields can be maintained while improving environment outcomes. It has been recognised that run off from predominantly sugarcane land has contributed to nutrient loads in the offshore areas, including the Barrier Reef. Work has been underway to addess this problem and CSIRO's new approach to reducing fertiliser run-off into the Great Barrier Reef has won best agriculture paper at an international conference on sugarcane.

The team of researchers, led by Dr Peter Thorburn, has developed the 'N Replacement' approach to nitrogen fertiliser management, which could have major environmental and economic benefits for sugarcane-growing regions.
"Our initial trials indicate that this approach may enable farmers to cut their nitrogen fertiliser use by an average of 30pc with very little affect on sugar yields," Dr Thorburn said. "That could translate to an estimated 80pc reduction in the amount of nitrogen that leaches out into waterways from sugarcane paddocks, which would be very good news for the Great Barrier Reef."

The International Society of Sugar Cane Technologists, representing scientists from 23 countries, presented Dr Thorburn and his co-authors with the award for best agricultural research paper at its triennial congress in Durban, South Africa earlier this month.

The winning study was titled 'Systems to Balance Production and Environmental Goals of Nitrogen Fertiliser Management' and sums up the results of three years of field trials in Queensland and NSW.

"It's a great honour to receive this award from our colleagues around the world," Dr Thorburn said. "The cooperation and advice we've received from local grower groups in northern NSW, Maryborough, Innisfail, Mulgrave, Mossman, and the Burdekin has been invaluable in shaping our ideas."

The paper also incorporates work done in cooperation with BSES Ltd on monitoring nitrogen levels in harvested cane using near infrared spectroscopy instruments (NIR) at the sugar mill to provide important information to help farmers to better manage fertiliser use in their crop.

Dr Thorburn says the N Replacement approach and NIR system are now at the 'proof of concept' stage, and more work is required before it can be rolled out across the industry.

"The Six-Easy Steps program developed by BSES Limited for soil-specific nutrient management practices in sugarcane production is currently the best technique widely available to growers, but we hope in a few years N Replacement will provide a new option for growers wanting to further reduce their nitrogen use and their environmental impact," he said.

The prize-winning research was funded by the Sugar Research and Development Corporation in partnership with CSIRO.

partially sourced: CSIRO

Monday, August 06, 2007

Kota Kinabalu Market

Even agricultural scientists go on holidays, but like many scientists…….often a sort of bus man’s holiday. Currently in Malaysia, and this post covers a local fruit market in Kota Kinabalu, on the waterfront.

It is August, late wet season. At the market you can find mangoes – similar to the late season Nam Dok Mai in shape, size and flesh texture. Few green mangoes were on sale. The green types are consumed locally in Malaysia as a fruit – similar texture to apple, as well as going into chutney, or similar prepared foods. Plenty of limes too.

Jak fruit [chempadek] are common and the flesh very sweet. Rambutans are coming into the market, but many a little bit immature. Buy and eat in a day or so. Langsat [duku] and longans are very plentiful. Lychees were not seen at all! Plus the local papaya, watermelon – red, and both orange and green fleshed rockmelons. BUT……..also some durians, but not as common as in the Malay Peninsula market areas. As almost always – durians are banned in virtually every hotel. If you have smelt them you will know why – the smell is off and it permeates the air conditioning – EVERY WHERE! But they still taste good – you either like or hate the taste. Bananas are not in massive abundance, with a modest supply of local smaller sized fruit, somewhere between lady finger and Cavendish types. Quality of the bananas is very ordinary, tending to be overripe, with little opportunity to keep for more than a day before being too ripe for ordinary ‘peel and eat” use.

Local mangosteens are abundant, but small. Did not test drive the mangosteens, but looked ok. Also available in the market are the local palm fruits from the salak palm. Have not seen a lot, but are readily bought by local buyers.

Surprisingly, not many tourists are buying the fruit which is a bit unnerving, especially when you are the only European chit chatting with the stall holders and buying the produce. The fruit is fresh………..really tasty, too, and a great option to use for a snack or even lunch. The market is a bit on the nose – worse very late in the evening – but not so in the late afternoon when most of the action occurs. I do not think much worse than any I have been to elsewhere in Asia, and better than many. Some local colour is added with the inevitable odd rat or two seen.

The local market operates daily, with most produce coming in around midday or even later, from areas outside of Kota Kinabalu, with the most active period later in the afternoon.

Good supplies of snake beans, plus bean sprouts, various Chinese green vegetables, okra, bitter gourd and kangkung are available. The kangkung is especially great to eat when chopped and quickly fried in a wok with garlic and chilli. Great stuff!! There are smaller volumes of European potatoes, sweet potato, carrot, and sweet corn. And of course – chillies……… various shapes and sizes. Mostly small [ read HOT], although supplies of the larger less fiery types, were also readily available.

A lot of local ginger, turmeric, lemon grass is also available. Lemon grass is very thick at the base, indicative of a good quality. Much of the vegetables material comes from the east of Kota Kinabalu where the slopes rise to over 1000m and are well watered, although kangkung is grown at lower altitudes.

The area is vibrant, colorful and a great place to visit, with most stall holders keen to engage in a bit of banter, and many have a smattering of English vocabulary.

The same market [or really separate, but adjacent] also has local fresh fish and sea food sales. Many are a bit small, but local fish are readily sold.

Friday, August 03, 2007

The Hottest Chilli in the World - Officially!

For a lighter theme try hot chillies.

Most parts of the tropics grow chillies and capsicums. Often to try and claim bragging rights about the hotness of the local chillies. BUT..........word is out, do your best, but the title goes to India.

There is always controversy over the hotness of chillis. But a recent examination has finally found a hot one - hotter than the standard ones thrown up as the hotties. And it is from India, as anyone can attest - there are some hotties there!

Recently tested at over 1 million Scoville units [used to measure hotness of chillies] the chilli comes from Assam, in NE India. Called the bhut jolokia or ghost chilli in the hills of the NE Indian areas. Eating it is like dying says one of the growers of this red hot chilli. Eating one will kill you......just nibble is enough to cause watering eyes and a runny nose. The smallest morsel can add enough "bite" to almost any dish.

Development is happening in the growing areas to try and meet demand from chilli afficionidaos around the world, but the small, thumb sized chilli is hard to transport, and the plants difficult to grow, as they are considered a bit fragile .

In Nagaland in the Assam state it is used in almost every meal.........but you might have to travel there to eat it. Or should that be "just try it"!

For a lot more information see for some great material on hot chillies.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Agroforestry Research Findings Vindicate Earlier Work on New Crops for the NT

African mahogany - high-value timber option for northern dry tropics

African mahogany could be a prime candidate for farm forestry in Australia's northern dry tropics, with dried and dressed timber potentially fetching prices around $3000 to $5500 per cubic metre, new research shows.

The findings result from a new study, African Mahogany Grown in Australia – wood quality and potential uses was launched on July 23, 2007 in Kununurra, WA, by RIRDC chairperson, Mary Boydell. Ms Boydell is visiting the Kununurra area as part of a series of field visits by the RIRDC Board to research projects in northern Australia.

"This project is an example of the contribution that we can make to Northern Australia through industry-focused R&D," Ms Boydell said. "The research will assist all those involved in growing African mahogany to maximise the value of the timber."

The research was funded by the Joint Venture Agroforestry Program, a collaborative initiative managed by the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation, with partners Land and Water Australia and the Forest and Wood Products Research and Development Corporation. The research was conducted in the Northern Territory by researchers from the Department of Primary Industry Fisheries and Mining, in collaboration with researchers from Queensland's Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries, at two research sites near Darwin; and its findings are relevant across the dry tropics.

African mahogany is a high quality, medium-weight hardwood that has been used for furniture, boat building, joinery, veneers, and a range of other purposes. "In Australia, the estimated gross value of production for the forestry sector is over $1600 million per annum, including around $800 million from hardwood species before processing," Ms Boydell said. "Farm forests and joint ventures currently make up 11pc of plantations, with a significant increase in farm planting since 1995. "However, new industries, like farm forestry, are risky. "They have basic information needs, like the potential impacts of disease, processing requirements, market information, and profitability. "High establishment costs and long times for a return on investment make tree crops especially risky. "This why R&D to meet these information needs is important to underpin investment and industry development."

This finding supports some of the very early work conducted by myself as part of a range of work on new economic crops for northern Australia, conducted in the early 1990s. Even then, demand for high quality timber for high value uses in furniture and cabinet making indicated a strong potential for a timber crop that filled the gap, as high quality timbers from overseas sources were both increasing in prices and declining in availability. Since then, R and D has added to the knowledge of this species. BUT......ask any local resident in Darwin or even Katherine or Kununurra, they already know how good the timber is, using product from trees planted 2o- 30 years ago.

For further reading see - Economic Plants for the Northern Territory by PG Harrison published by the NT Department of Primary Industry Fisheries and Mines in 1993

partially sourced from the RIRDC media release.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Biofuel from Exhausts

Like most scientists, I am a sceptic.........with a capital S. But I am also aware of work being done on the use of algae to capture carbon dioxide, and also to produce it may not be as far fetched as it seems. And it is NOT April Fool's Day either!

This is a serious news item today, 24 July here in watch this space! A major item on the ABC news

From Wales, a Box to Make Biofuel from Car Fumes

QUEENSFERRY, Wales -- The world's richest corporations and finest minds spend billions trying to solve the problem of carbon emissions, but three fishing buddies in North Wales believe they have cracked it.

They have developed a box which they say can be fixed underneath a car in place of the exhaust to trap the greenhouse gases blamed for global warming -- including carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide -- and emit mostly water vapour.

The captured gases can be processed to create a biofuel using genetically modified algae.
Dubbed "Greenbox", the technology developed by organic chemist Derek Palmer and engineers Ian Houston and John Jones could, they say, be used for cars, buses, lorries and eventually buildings and heavy industry, including power plants. "We've managed to develop a way to successfully capture a majority of the emissions from the dirtiest motor we could find," Palmer, who has consulted for organisations including the World Health Organisation and GlaxoSmithKline, told Reuters.

The three, who stumbled across the idea while experimenting with carbon dioxide to help boost algae growth for fish farming, have set up a company called Maes Anturio Limited, which translates from Welsh as Field Adventure.

With the backing of their local member of parliament they are now seeking extra risk capital either from government or industry: the only emissions they are not sure their box can handle are those from aviation.

Although the box the men currently use for demonstration is about the size of a bar stool, they say they can build one small enough to replace a car exhaust that will last for a full tank of petrol.

The crucial aspect of the technology is that the carbon dioxide is captured and held in a secure state, said Houston. Other carbon capture technologies are much more cumbersome or energy-intensive, for example using miles of pipeline to transport the gas. "The carbon dioxide, held in its safe, inert state, can be handled, transported and released into a controlled environment with ease and a minimal amount of energy required," Houston said at a demonstration using a diesel-powered generator at a certified UK Ministry of Transportation emissions test centre.

More than 130 tests carried out over two years at several testing centres have, the three say, yielded a capture rate between 85 and 95 percent. They showed the box to David Hansen, a Labour MP for Delyn, North Wales, who is now helping them. "Based on the information, there is a clear reduction in emissions," Hansen told Reuters. "As a result, I'm facilitating meetings with the appropriate UK government agencies, as we want to ensure that British ownership and manufacturing is maintained."

The men are also in contact with car-makers Toyota Motor Corp of Japan and General Motors Corp. of the United States. Houston said they have also received substantial offers from two unnamed Asian companies. Both Toyota and General Motors declined to comment.

If the system takes off, drivers with a Greenbox would replace it when they fill up their cars and it would go to a bioreactor to be emptied. Through a chemical reaction, the captured gases from the box would be fed to algae, which would then be crushed to produce a bio-oil. This extract can be converted to produce a biodiesel almost identical to normal diesel. This biodiesel can be fed back into a diesel engine, the emptied Greenbox can be affixed to the car and the cycle can begin again.

The process also yields methane gas and fertilizer, both of which can be captured separately. The algae required to capture all of Britain's auto emissions would take up around 1,000 acres (400 hectares). The three estimate that 10 facilities could be built across the UK to handle the carbon dioxide from the nearly 30 million cars on British roads.

The inventors say they have spent nearly 170,000 pounds ($348,500) over two years developing the "three distinct technologies" involved and are hoping to secure more funding for health and safety testing.

Not surprisingly, the trio won't show anyone -- not even their wives -- what's inside the box.

After every demonstration they hide its individual components in various locations across North Wales and the technology is divided into three parts, with each inventor being custodian of one section. "Our three minds hold the three keys and we can only unlock it together," said Houston.

partially sourced from Reuters

Friday, July 20, 2007

From Bananas to Paper - yes!

Clever country's banana paper plan

While the technology was developed a number of years ago, the up scaling from small, cottage industry scale to a serious larger scale option has taken a lot of time and effort, but it now seems to have overcome the issues that have held back commercialisation.

Unusually, as South Australia does not grow bananas, a local company has invested close to $2 million in advanced automation technology to manufacture paper from banana tree trunks.

Papyrus Australia has spent ten years developing its banana tree trunk (BTT) processing technology, which is able to produce a range of board and paper products. Listed on the Australian Stock Exchange since April 2005, the company has great international potential because of the wide availability and sustainability of BTT. There are thought to be more than 10 million hectares of bananas plantations worldwide, where every BTT is left to rot after the fruit is harvested.

Papyrus banana paper developer engaged the services of Australian systems integrator, Sage Automation to develop a fully automated commercial manufacturing line that could be licensed around the world. The line was commissioned in late April at Papyrus’s Lonsdale plant and is highly accurate, according to Chief Operating Officer, Grant Pigot. “The Papyrus commercial line employs state-of-the-art control and integration technology, provided by Sage. The intent of this technology is to maximise accuracy and precision available to Papyrus during the process of production trials. This will allow Papyrus to model all required modes in which field versions of the commercial line would be required to operate,” Pigot has advised in a recent media release. Papyrus has received substantial interest in its system from companies around the world, including Brazil, Venezuela, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Australia and the Solomon Islands.

With such far reaching applications likely, the commercial line has been designed to be robust, reliable, reproducible and to allow communication and error checking procedures to be conducted remotely. Managing director of Sage Automation, Andrew Downs, explained how technology was used to meet the requirements of the system. “Papyrus wanted a machine that would be highly configurable and would provide a platform for future expansion and development of the process. Another important consideration was that machines may be located in remote locations throughout the world, making ease of installation and production support a critical issue,” Downs advised. Sage selected the Rockwell Automation Control Logix integrated platform utilising Ethernet HMIs, distributed I/O and 16 Kinetix 7000 servo axes.

This system provides a single portal for remote support and will allow monitoring the production process in real time. This type of approach has been seen now in a number of world class Australian systems across various technical areas, allowing remote monitoring and high quality support in areas where availability of on site technical staff may be difficult.

Not only is the raw material for Papyrus’ paper products sustainable, the manufacturing process is much more ecologically friendly than traditional paper-making methods. Papyrus’ manufacturing technique does not require the pulping of raw material, and thus uses considerably less power, Pigot explained:“The Papyrus technology essentially ‘unwraps’ the banana tree trunk like a roll of paper. The banana tree trunk is comprised of a coarse outer layer, from which the board products are derived, and a fine, inner core, from which the paper products are produced,” Pigot said. According to Pigot the patented process reduces production costs by 60% compared to pulping methods. The Lonsdale manufacturing system will serve as the principal research and development line for ongoing product development. Papyrus plans to build additional lines for international customers within twelve months.

Maybe banana growing will even become a suitable option for sequestering carbon! is the site for more information.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Northern Development in Australia - Taskforce Starts Work

Following on from the announcement by the Federal Government, the taskforce has now officially started work, with a recent meeting in Canberra.

The group will soon call for expressions of interest and ideas for developing land and water in the country's Top End. The taskforce has already commissioned work on the Ord region in Western Australia and the Northern Territory.

Taskforce chairman, NSW Liberal Senator, Bill Heffernan, says the taskforce will investigate new ways of maximising land and water use in the Ord, with a focus on strong price signals for water which will lead to water efficient infrastructure and high-value crops. He says the taskforce will urge the Northern Territory and Western Australian Governments to "come to terms with GM technology" - believing the use of genetically modified cropping in the north will be the key to its future. Both goverments have completed extensive studies on GM cotton, and indications are favourable for its use........but the respective governments have not allowed any commercial scale operations only trial plots.

Senator Heffernan acknowledged there had been some criticism of the plans for the north from the conservation movement, but said the taskforce has clearly expressed its desire to look at sustainable development options "that in no way harm mother earth". "This is all about how we deal with climate change in Australia," Senator Heffernan said. "We need to be finding practical ways to address the impact climate change is going to have on our food and fibre production in the south. "If we are going to stay at the forefront of agricultural production over the next 50 years, we have to be looking north."

Senator Heffernan said the taskforce will be looking at the "Bradfield" proposal put forward by Queensland Premier, Peter Beattie, to turn parts of the Far North East Queensland catchments inland, predominantly to secure water for mining.

David Tollner the MP from the NT is on the group, which also includes Noel Pearson.

This is very early days, but input from the north is vital, as well as input from experienced local scientists.

[partially sourced from The Land newspaper]

Monday, July 02, 2007

Will You Have To Pay For Your Own Dam Water in The NT Too?

The trend has now set in it seems to charge landowners for water they collect in farm dams, and for groundwater as well. Western Australia has introduced charges for dam water use, and South Australia is moving to charge for both groundwater and dam water rumour seems to indicate.

Will it come to this in the NT? And as is rightly noted in the article below, will large users such as mining companies also face similar charges at the same rates as farmers? Will the NT goverment charge the Power and Water Corporation for the dam water in their dams?

Farmers to pay for dam water in WA. - Friday, 29 June 2007

Farmers who spent time and money building their own dams to store water for stock and domestic uses have been told by WA Water Resources Minister, John Kobelke, that they will have to pay for the water they collect.

He said the changes would bring farmers using water from their large dams in line with those who use bore water. But, WAFarmers Water Resources spokesman, Steve Dilley, says this decision by the government is all 'smoke and mirrors'. “We are bewildered and disappointed at the Minister’s lack of understanding of the impact this will have on the average fruit and veggie grower and the family farming operations in the state,” Mr Dilley said. They will be paying, on average, from $600 to $1200 or $1800 a year, yet the Minister can exempt licence fees for more than 2,700 domestic bores which is a is a real slap in the face.

“How could any government proceed with a fee structure that makes family farms pay $1.02 to $2.40 a megalitre of water licensed, yet water utilities, big water cooperatives and mining companies only pay 14c a megalitre.

“I'm staggered that the Minister did not at least make the most obvious change and charge everyone the average cost of $2.27 per megalitre — at least that would have gone some way to making the fee structure fairer.”