Friday, November 26, 2010

Strategic Alliance to Build Carbon Management Reforms - Origin and Australian Carbon Trust

Origin Energy & Australian Carbon to work together on energy efficiency

Australian Carbon Trust and Origin Energy today signed an agreement to develop a strategic alliance for dedicated and more accessible financing, designed to accelerate the uptake of energy efficiency technologies and practices by Australian businesses.

To read the following release click here

This is an interesting follow up to the previous post.

Origin and its senior executives have long been strong advocates for a realistic carbon management system in australia, becoming increasingly but quietly vocal in most of the right places - where policy change happens. There are many statements on record to support that position.

This is an interesting development that should offer strong support to smaller businesses to also move to better carbon managment practices.

Bring it on!!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Clean Technology Is Still Thriving - BUT a Carbon Price Would Help

A recent report indicates that the US clean tech industries are still developing, despite a complete failure of policies to develop a carbon price or any real progress on climate change type in the US at national level.

Australia is not much better, given the current policy imbroglio here, after the failure of the prevous government attempts through an ETS - a cap and trade scheme.

But the US industry personnel are still pushing ahead, and many are very positive.

It is not if, but when, in their view, and they want to be around and active. Or they will operate elsewhere - Asia, Europe or maybe China.

This recent article offers some interesting views.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Composting in Australia - More Action Needed

Breaking down the benefits of composting
Tuesday, 16 November 2010

A press release worth reading.......

Increasing the use of organic compost to intensive agriculture industries such as citrus could save 30% of irrigation water and deliver millions of dollars of extra income through increased crop yields to regions such as the Riverina as well as providing significant carbon abatement and sequestration opportunities for the nation, according to the Waste Management Association of Australia (WMAA).

CEO of the WMAA, Val Southam. believes greater investment in the utilisation of organic materials in agriculture may be part of the solution to restoring health to the Murray-Darling Basin without jeopardising the livelihoods of farmers and regional communities.“The economic and environmental benefits of composting are enormous. In addition to improving water use efficiency, there are significant environmental benefits accrued through carbon abatement and sequestration.

Organic material diverted from landfill could abate 2 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent every year- approximately 461,893 cars off the road annually.

“Around 420,000 tonnes of compost is used in our intensive agricultural industries per year. Compost improves soil condition by adding organic matter, and a 5% increase in soil organic material will result in the quadrupling of a soil’s water holding capacity. It also suppresses weed growth thus reducing the need for chemicals.” Southam said composting also prevents the loss of valuable top soil and reduces the damaging effects of erosion - savings of between 2.3 and 17 tonnes per hectare of soil loss due to erosion can be achieved. “Our industry is calling on all levels of government to provide R&D funding to fully evaluate the economic and environmental benefits of composting and fund programs which promote awareness of the benefits of compost use in our agricultural industries and wider community,” she said.

Chair of Compost Australia (a division of WMAA), Peter Wadewitz believes there’s much more government, industry and the community can do to increase the use of compost. “At least 20 million tonnes of organic material is available for recycling through composting. Composting organic material such as cardboard and food scraps can reduce the amount of waste going to landfill by as much as 50%. “The Recycled Organics Industry is already processing over 5 million tonnes of organic material annually but the benefits to our environment and economy from increasing this amount are significant,” Wadewitz said. “In addition to increased R&D funding and raising awareness of the benefits of composting, one option may be to establish tax incentives for producers of recycled organic products in more sustainable agricultural production systems,” he added.

Compost for Soils reported that SARDI (South Australian Research and Development Institute) citrus trials (composted green organics, grape marc, animal manure) showed a positive return on the initial investment.An application of 40 m3ha-1 of composted green organics in Loxton North produced the highest benefit at 5.38 – that is, for every dollar invested around $5 is returned to the grower.


While this information is not new, in our current debate about carbon, and improved productivity in Australian agriculture, this is a very timely press release and should be heeded around the country.

There is so much wasted food and recyclable organics available. There is technology available to do a lot more, from very simple systmes to quite complex operations. Other countries see this as a valuable resource for agriculture, yet we in australia with relatively poor soils and low moisture holding capacity in soils, really do need this material to improve productivity of the land.

And that applies especially so in the tropics, with higher temperatures driving a faster turnover of the soil carbon as well as a faster soil moisture cycle........and even poorer soils in general.

There are structural issues, with local government [or their contractors] often the handler of organic wastes, yet it must have better leadership at State or National level to achieve serious change.

Yes, there are skilled people that could achieve more.........let there be some action along the lines proposed in terms of R and D!!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Erosion and Sediment Control with Recycled Organic Waste - Berms

The following is very pertinent to the Top End of the NT today, as we experience a major 100mm per hour storm across the Dariwn region.

Where is your soil going today??

Erosion and sediment control, particularly on civil construction sites often seems to start and end with using a silt fence.

While silt fences can be effective, to be so, they require correct installation, and ongoing maintenance. While there are machines to install silt fencing [yes, they do exist!] rarely have I seen one in Australia, and especially on smaller civil works sites, they are, as they say, as rare as hen’s teeth!

Installing a silt fence is a tedious job, particularly the preparation of the footings, in which a lower area is buried, as well as refilling the trench. Mostly, and somewhat sadly, it is often done poorly, and the silt fence is often relatively ineffective.

In Australia with high summer storm rains, and especially so in the tropics, it is quite common to see a silt fence struggle with high rainfall intensity, and they sometimes breach. There are other options that can be simple and easy to install, and repair if necessary.

Top among the options is using a mulch or compost berm or contour bank. Many regions have mulched green waste available, and creating a berm is relatively simple using readily available on site equipment such as a bobcat or small backhoe. Accessing the greenwaste is often through the local council, or sometimes even using on site available cleared green materials can be useful too.
Ideally, pasteurised mulch is the preferred material, with coarse materials suitable. Ground woody waste, even small woody branches are usable. However, where pasteurised mulch is NOT available, unpasteurised mulch can do, although there will be a need to spray and kill any weeds that emerge within the berm – glyphosate is the normal option. Plants developing from the pasteurised mulch are very slow to almost none, although a few plants might be expected from blown in seeds, after a while.

There are some excellent resources on line, but the simple plan is to develop several berms across a slope, on the contour. They should be lightly keyed into the ground, often by building on a ripped base area or similar simple disturbance. Unlike an earth bank, they are supposed to be porous........just that all the water does not flow through at once, and sediment is collected and deposited along the way.

More information here: from Georgia in the US; a sub tropical region of the US - a very comprehensive overview of berm use and construction - shows how to build a system

When the project is completed, the berm can then be used as part of the organic materials often used on site as part of the landscaping, or often left in place in small drainage lines to continue to function until there is improved cover on the nearby soil areas.

They work extremely well, are cheap to construct and maintain, and VERY environmentally friendly!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Compadre zoysia in Palmerston, NT

Compadre zoysia a success in Palmerston

The Palmerston City Council needed an attractive low maintenance grass to complement the new landscaping and pathway connecting the main office buildings to the public bus facilities.

The grass of choice was Compadre zoysia sown by seed. Seed was chosen as the large area to be grassed meant that use of turf sod was too great a cost, and that the 12 week development period was acceptable given that this was landscaping expected to remain in place for a number of years.

The use of seed sown Compadre also enabled the Council to better assess the performance of the grass being seed sown, in a fairly prominent location and subject to considerable traffic and use by the public.

The area was sown in the latter part of the dry season and as expected, initial development was slow, although as soon as warmer weather came it soon grew faster and rapidly filled in.

It now has high coverage, is being regularly mown with conventional rotary landscape turf mowers, and is already a great asset along the footpath to the buses.

It is short, does not require much maintenance and mowing intervals could be expected to be longer, yet aesthetic appearance should not decline. In practice, irrigation frequency and water use has also been lower, once the area was well established. It is very dense – one of the variety’s great attributes, and there are few weeds.

It will be expected to further develop over the next month or so with a few minor enhancements including a modest fertiliser application. One or two light fertiliser applications each year of slow release turf fertiliser [ March and August] will be adequate, using rates about 20% of normal couch recommended fertiliser rates.........yes, only 20% of the rates recommended for couch.

Look out for this turf, if in Palmerston, Northern Territory. A very cost effective means of achieving a great high quality turf.
At the time of the photo, it had not been irrigated for about 10 days and had just been mown, hence looking a bit stressed.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Tropical Agriculture Food Production is NOT Efficient

A recent report indicates the poor efficiency of crop production in the tropics. The conclusion seems to be why bother with food production in this region.

An alternate conclusion may be that the region has not received the same inputs into research and development for food production that has occurred in temperate regions. Another alternate view may also be that inhabitants of the tropics may have been able to obtain a far greater percent of requirements from existing vegetation through more "hunter / gatherer" activities.

If you have lived in some curent societies in rural aras of the tropics that is still very common, with local sourced food very important over and above any crop production.

Yet, modern rice production in some regions of the tropics does have very high grain yields. And it is true the grain yield/ stover ratio in some other tropical crops eg sorghum, millet, tef etc is lower than the temperate zones. Again, is this inherent or just an outcome of less R and D?

Biogeographical studies also tend to conclude that high rainfall tropical regions should concentrate on efficient biomass production [think sugarcane, tree crop horticulture, cocoa,trees for wood] with tropical crop production [annual crop production is inferred] moved to the medium rainfall regions. Those regions also tend to have greater seasonal variability too! Their definition of the tropics is too broad.

The issue of grains for meat production is also not especially relevant for beef and goat production in the tropics, as most is grown on grass........or food residuals, and rarely is grain used for finishing, let alone growing animals!

Read this article linked below............draw your own conclusions.

Tropical agriculture "double-whammy": high emissions, low yields

Food produced in the tropics comes with high carbon emissions and low crop yields, according to a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

In the most comprehensive and detailed study to date looking at carbon emissions versus crop yields, researchers found that food produced in the tropics releases almost double the amount of carbon while producing half the yield as food produced in temperate regions. In other words, temperate food production is three times more efficient in terms of yield and carbon emissions.

"Tropical forests store a tremendous amount of carbon, and when a forest is cleared, not only do you lose more carbon, but crop yields are not nearly as high as they are in temperate areas," explains lead author Paul C. West, a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in a press release. The researchers found that one ton of food emitted approximately over 75 tons of carbon in the tropics, whereas a ton of food grown in temperate regions released just less than 27 tons of carbon.

The tradeoffs between the release of carbon to the atmosphere and agricultural production are markedly different between the world's temperate and tropical regions. In this representation, for each hectare of land cleared for agriculture, each rail car is equivalent to 68 tons of carbon released to the atmosphere and each bushel represents 3.9 tons of maize produced. "This creates a kind of 'double whammy' for a lot of tropical agriculture: we have to clear carbon-rich ecosystems to create tropical croplands, and unfortunately they often have lower yields than temperate systems," says co-author Jonathan Foley, director of the University of Minnesota's Institute on the Environment. "In terms of balancing the needs of food production and slowing carbon dioxide emissions, this is a tough tradeoff."

Rising human population, increasing consumption of meat (which requires more grain per area), the demand for biofuels, high commodity prices, and economic development plans have pushed many tropical nations to pursue large-scale agriculture over forest protection. However, the authors say the realities of carbon loss in the tropics makes a strong argument for intensifying agriculture on already cleared land, rather than more deforestation. "Our results corroborate recommendations to concentrate reforestation and avoid deforestation in the tropics to have the greatest worldwide impact," the authors write.

But, West admits, "the realty is there will be some of both [agriculture intensification and deforestation]." The authors explain in the paper that "despite the clear benefits of concentrating reforestation and forest conservation efforts in the tropics, several local and regional factors influence implementation. […] Choices are made locally and are influenced by local and regional food security, transportation costs, labor, poverty, and technology rather than global atmospheric carbon. Thus, local and global outcomes must be coupled to manage ecosystem services and assess their tradeoffs."

The study also highlight that agriculture comes with additional tradeoffs on top of carbon including impacting ecosystem services such as "soil and groundwater recharge, runoff, and nutrient regulation as well as ecosystems, species, and genome diversity of landscapes." The broad study looked at 175 different crops worldwide using government data and satellite imagery. "We have a very fine resolution of both what the carbon stocks and the yields are globally," says West. "Spatially, it is much more explicit than anything that has been produced before."

Approximately 20% of the temperate region is used for crops, as opposed to 10.5% of the tropics. In all, deforestation contributes more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere than global transportation: 12-20% of the total greenhouse gas emissions are due to the loss of forests. Scientists say that such emissions are driving global climate change.

CITATION: Paul C. West, Holly K. Gibbs, Chad Monfreda, John Wagner, Carol C. Barford, Stephen R. Carpenter, and Jonathan A. Foley. Trading carbon for food: Global comparison of carbon stocks vs. crop yields on agricultural land. PNAS. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1011078107.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Can Energy be Less Black in Australia?

Australia's energy markets, their regulation and development might be in for some serious challenges it seems, right at the nub of change - policy intervention.

Australia has much of our energy production from coal, including some from particularly dirty brown coal. These are all on one side. Shall we say the brown, or maybe black corner.

Then there are the new energy producers, with renewable energy in various forms, but commonly wind in the majority at present, but more alternatives coming, or at worst, gas as the primary energy source. The green corner, you might think.

Lobbying from the black corner has so far been quite successful, with their success relatively undiminished. Even a few more recent successes. There has been a focus on preservation of the policy status quo. BUT.......the green corner is pushing hard, and might be on the cusp of some decent gains.

Read the article here and look at the links. An interesting time is upon us.

Can the politicians yet be convinced that it is within their power to actually do something??