Friday, September 25, 2009

Wind Could Power Much of China

With Hu JinTao making assertions this week that China is serious about reducing its carbon emmissions, and effectively saying to watch for a major announcement coming soon, there have been studies that show wind power could be a large part of that move, along with increased use of nuclear power for electricity.

During the mid to late 1990s while working in China on development projects, it was noted there was a tremendous move to develop wind power, with mostly Spanish interests very active and also working with some of the same groups we were. Some of these projects were very substantial.

But it seems that there are plenty more options to consider, with the report summary below indicating that a high proportion of energy could come from renewable sources - wind.

This report, along with recent announcements, including some from US sources, does offer a glimpse of what might be possible to reduce carbon emissions, epecially if solar power [various types] are also added to the mix. To mix a metaphor - "the population is willing but the government is weak" - in relation to carbon reductions.

Pity about Australia needs to chop off a few coal mines that are used as fuel sources for electricity generation stations, and choose something a bit less carbon intensive. Do not forget, we have a lot of coal seam gas, maybe seen as a new and upcoming option for fuel.

However, with just 1% [ approx] of carbion emissions coming from Australia, remember our role is VERY puny in the overall picture!


China's energy needs are expected to double by 2030, but a study in the journal Science says the country could produce 30% less carbon dioxide if it uses wind power to meet them.

It is estimated China will need to increase its capacity by 800 gigawatts by 2030 to meet demand – roughly double its current capacity. The study, in the journal Science, proposed a way for wind power to make up most of that increase and, if it did, said China's emissions of carbon dioxide could be 30% lower.

Using meteorological data to assess the potential for wind power in China – the world's largest emitter of carbon dioxide – the researchers also say wind could theoretically supply all of the country's energy, though it only laid out the figures for meeting half its needs.

"The world is struggling with the question of how do you make the switch from carbon-rich fuels to something carbon-free," lead author Michael McElroy, a professor of environmental studies at Harvard's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, said. "The real question for the globe is: what alternatives does China have?"

Coal currently supplies 80% of China's electricity, and hundreds of coal-fired power plants are built every year to keep pace with demand, but Beijing is also investing heavily in renewable energy.

It plans to build seven large wind-power bases over the next decade, and already ranks fourth in the world in terms of installed capacity, at 12.2 gigawatts – about equal to the energy produced by two dozen average-sized coal-fired plants.

It trails only the US, Germany and Spain in installed capacity, but not all of those turbines are hooked up to the electricity grid. In fact, just 0.4% of China's electricity is supplied by wind – or around 3 gigawatts.

The researchers behind the Science study proposed that the country could produce 640 gigawatts from wind farms, assuming they ran at 30% average capacity – a measure of how much output can reasonably be expected from a wind turbine. Average capacity takes into account that wind is fickle, and calculates more or less how much of the time you can expect a turbine to be working at full capacity.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

GM Debate Continues - STILL

While I generally support using modern plant breeding techniques to enhance most crops, across a wide spectrum of types, not everyone is for those techniques such as genetic modification - GM.

Modern techniques do have opportunities to develop very significant advances across a wide range of areas from salt tolerance and disease resistance, to herbicide resistance - the latter the one that seems to ire many people. So does the ownership of the intellectual property embedded in the plants, or for that matter in animals too.

Many just rant and rave about it. Others are more subtle, but still oppose many modern breeding concepts very trenchantly.

This link connects to a piece opposing GM technology. It is worth reading. Not only for what it says, but how. And the comments are thoughtful, a bit provocative and useful.

This debate is far from settled, and both sides can do more to inform, rather than just squeal.

Plant breeding has much to contribute to agriculture. It has in the past and will continue to do so. The debate is about how...............but is the developed world being a bit cute, when the biggest gains are likely with modern techniques on crops and plants used in developing countries?

There are not many serious debates about using insecticide treated mosquito nets for mosquito control, or ivermectin as a region wide chemical taken by the population as a measure for treating river blindness, but there are qualms about GM technology to add disease resistance into bananas [ currently stressed and poor yielding due to disease] that are a food staple in east Africa. Is that logical??

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Vale - Norman Borlaug

The name might not mean much to many people, but to most agricultural scientists his name is synomous with the dramatic improvement in crop yields over the past 50 or so years...........commonly known as the Green Revolution. He received a Nobel prize in 1970.

He died after a long battle with cancer, at 95, a pretty good innings, and an active one until very recently.

The following article in New Scientist provides an excellent overview of his lifetime of work on crop genetics and related areas.

The article is headed - Norm Borlaug: the man who fed the world.
Written on 14 September 2009 by
Debora MacKenzie

As was said - They don't make 'em like Norm Borlaug anymore!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Nutritional value of Organic food Claimed to Be Superior

The Biological Farmers Association of Australia has isused a press release covering a French report on the nutritional value of organic foods.

While of interest, it does not address whether the claims actually mean anything in day to day use of the organic or conventional grown products. As one wag said - who you believe, the poms or the frogs, alluding to the British report that claimed there were no differences in quality.

One thing for sure though, only the wealthy countries can really afford the prices charged for at times, inferior quality organic products. For about 90% of the world, food quantity is still the dominant issue. Singapore has had a similiar debate recently over organic food, and this in a country that imports about 95% of its food.

Research verifies nutritional value of organic foods: BFA
15/09/2009 3:35:00 PM

A NEW report by the French Agency for Food Safety (AFSSA) has found that organic foods are more nutritious and contain less pesticides and nitrates, which have been linked to a range of health problems including diabetes and Alzheimer’s.

Shane Heaton, nutritionist for the Biological Farmers of Australia (BFA), says the research is a thorough and critical evaluation of the nutritional quality of organic food, and has found organic foods have higher levels of minerals and antioxidants as well as a raft of other benefits. “This is what an unbiased review of the available evidence reveals,” he says. “This review is contrary to another recently released review commissioned by the UK Food Standards Agency and widely reported in the media as showing organic food has no significant benefits over non-organic food.” "This review does the question justice by comparing not just a handful of nutrients but also dry matter content, antioxidant content, pesticide levels, and nitrate content." "Organic wins out over ordinary food in every respect.”

In 2001, AFSSA set up an expert working group to perform an exhaustive and critical evaluation of the nutritional and sanitary quality of organic food. The AFSSA says they aimed for the highest quality scientific standards during the evaluation. The selected papers referred to well-defined and certified organic agricultural practices, had the necessary information on design and follow-up, valid measured parameters and the appropriate sampling and statistical analyses.

After more than two years of work involving about 50 experts from different fields of organic agriculture research, a final consensus report was issued in the French language in 2003. The current study published in English in the peer reviewed scientific journal Agronomy for Sustainable Development is a summary of this report and the relevant studies that have been published since 2003.

The conclusions of this study challenge the findings of the recent UK Food Standards Agency study that was widely criticised by international experts for using flawed methodology and a conclusion that contradicted its own data.

The major points of The French Agency for Food Safety study are:
1. Organic plant products contain more dry matter (more nutrient dense).
2. Organic plant products have higher levels of minerals.
3. Organic plant products contain more anti-oxidants such as phenols and salicylic acid (known to protect against cancers, heart disease and many other health problems).
4. Carbohydrate, protein and vitamin levels are insufficiently documented.
5. 94–100pc of organic foods do not contain any pesticide residues.
6. Organic vegetables contain far less nitrates, about 50pc less (high nitrate levels are linked to a range of health problems including diabetes and Alzheimer’s).
7. Organic cereals contain similar levels of mycotoxins as conventional ones..
8. Organically-bred cattle have more lean meat and more polyunsaturated fatty acids than their conventional counterparts.
9. Organic chicken fillets contain 2–3 times less fat and are significantly higher in n–3 fatty acid content (with reported anti-cancer effects and other health benefits).


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Varroa Mites Might Get the Flick

One of the scourges of modern apiary production in many countries has been varroa mites. While not in Australia, they are very problematical in the US.

They have been also, at least it seems, partially implicated in Colony Collapse Disorder, which has wrecked many US apiarists and the availability of bees for pollination duty in horticultural production. This has been a plus for Australia, as new queen bees have been sold to the US. CCD is a complex issue, and there have been stories published that even these overseas queens are implicated in the disorder.

But on the varroa mite front some excellent news has recently been published from the US ARS.

Their media release is below


Honey bees are now fighting back aggressively against Varroa mites, thanks to Agricultural Research Service (ARS) efforts to develop bees with a genetic trait that allows them to more easily find the mites and toss them out of the broodnest.

The parasitic Varroa mite attacks the honey bee, Apis mellifera L., by feeding on its hemolymph, which is the combination of blood and fluid inside a bee. Colonies can be weakened or killed, depending on the severity of the infestation. Most colonies eventually die from varroa infestation if left untreated.

Varroa-sensitive hygiene (VSH) is a genetic trait of the honey bee that allows it to remove mite-infested pupae from the capped brood–developing bees that are sealed inside cells of the comb with a protective layer of wax. The mites are sometimes difficult for the bees to locate, since they attack the bee brood while these developing bees are inside the capped cells.

ARS scientists at the agency’s Honey Bee Breeding, Genetics and Physiology Research Unit in Baton Rouge, La., have developed honey bees with high expression of the VSH trait. Honey bees are naturally hygienic, and they often remove diseased brood from their nests. VSH is a specific form of nest cleaning focused on removing varroa-infested pupae. The VSH honey bees are quite aggressive in their pursuit of the mites. The bees gang up, chew and cut through the cap, lift out the infected brood and their mites, and discard them from the broodnest.

See this activity in the attached video link here:

This hygiene kills the frail mite offspring, which greatly reduces the lifetime reproductive output of the mother mite. The mother mite may survive the ordeal and try to reproduce in brood again, only to undergo similar treatment by the bees.

To test the varroa resistance of VSH bees, the Baton Rouge team conducted field trials using 40 colonies with varying levels of VSH. Mite population growth was significantly lower in VSH and hybrid colonies than in bee colonies without VSH. Hybrid colonies had half the VSH genes normally found in pure VSH bees, but they still retained significant varroa resistance. Simpler ways for bee breeders to measure VSH behavior in colonies were also developed in this study.

This research was published in the Journal of Apicultural Research and Bee World.
ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief intramural scientific research agency.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Hot News - Is Chilli the Cure for Poor Lifestyle Eating?

So hot chilli is now good for you. Many in the tropics would agree, and there is nothing like a great Indian, Malay, Indonesian or Sichuan Chinese meal well laced with chilli, and other spices.

Chilli could one day replace aspirin for the prevention and treatment of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, according to some University of Tasmania scientists who are looking at the way the spicy fruit affects the blood.

A research fellow at the university's school of life sciences, Kiran Ahuja, said the two active ingredients in chilli - capsaicin and dihydrocapsaicin - have the potential to lower blood glucose and insulin levels, reduce the formation of fatty deposits in artery walls and prevent blood clots.
Cardiovascular disease is one of the leading causes of death in developed countries.

''We have tested capsaicin and that shows an effect on platelet aggregation or the clotting of blood,'' Dr Ahuja said. She said her research, which used chilli paste to minimise seasonal or batch variation, had not come across any side-effects of chilli [so who is she kidding - ask someone who does not like chilli!!].

In fact, some studies had suggested chilli actually reduced damage caused by aspirin.

When it came to early-stage diabetes, when the pancreas over-produced insulin in an attempt to help the body absorb glucose, Dr Ahuja's research suggested consuming chilli resulted in the body producing less insulin, while the glucose was still used efficiently. ''It may actually delay or prevent the onset of diabetes,'' she said.

But for those wondering just how much chilli to add to their stir fry, Dr Ahuja said that was still to be established. ''It depends on how hot the chilli is, as the hotter it is, the more capsaicin it has.'' Dr Ahuja, has been working in the area since 2003, and has recently received a further $16,400 in funding to continue the work from the University of Tasmania.

As one wag has pondered...........

So could it be the high use of chilli in Asian diets that prevents heart disease and not the low meat/high vegetable status of these cuisines? The low cardiovascular pathologies in Asian cultures have been one of the anti-meat campaign's lynch pins. Just proves how hard it is to focus on just one dietary marker as cause and reason of good or bad health.

THAT is an interesting thought! Particularly now that red meat is being used more widely in many asian areas [with chilli of course].

Friday, September 04, 2009

Plant Based Lubricant Additives CAN Replace Petroleum Sources

Plants continue to amaze me with how adaptable the products from them can be, and how many functions they can contribute to, often replacing the petroleum based current generation of products.

Sustainable production of these plant materials seems a no brainer, if petroleum products continue to increase in price, as is expected. If peak oil is nigh, then NOW is the time to really investigate the substitution of oil based with plant based products.

This link

takes you a recent ARS publication where a few of these are discussed. Many will have heard of starch based "polystyrene" substitutes, which are fully biodegradeable, in fact mostly compostable. These are now becoming more mainstream in Australia, although the USA has much wider use. They are just one product among many options.

Oil additives for lubrication especially high end areas, are a developing field with opportunities to replace oil based products with plant substitutes.

While this is US work, it applies very much to Australia as well. While we do not always manufacture these products, it does open up opportunities to develop some new options.

And we do sure need that.........NOW.