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 biofuel.............so 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 Australia..........so 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!

www.papyrusaustralia.com.au 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.”