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.