Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Strategic Agricultural Land to be Protected from Gas Mining

Stunning new protection for strategic agricultural land has been announced for Queensland.

It is aimed very squarely at coal seam gas mining, and the potential for damaging land - land of high value for agriculture.

Believed to be a first in the world situation, the Queenslnd Minister for the Environment made the announcement today. Ironically, probably in the shadow of the Indonesian live export cattle slaughter saga, which has been major media news in Australia today, so media may not have picked up on the issue quickly. it is big news!

Anyhow.........read more here.

There will be a lot more written over the next few weeks and months.

This is an amazing win for rural areas, in terms of land protection.

It is early days, but judging on views expressed at meetings I have been to on the Darling Downs, there will be a lot of very pleased rural landholders.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Comedy to Curb Littering and Waste

Littering is a serious problem in Australia and costs a lot of $$ to repair.

Conventional approaches have not always worked........so why not use comedy?

Keep Australia Beautiful has brought together an unlikely group of Australian celebrities to form a fictitious group called Litterers Anonymous. The comedic new anti-littering campaign aims to lift the profile of littering problems in Australia and will see Keep Australia Beautiful promoting the Litterers Anonymous ‘One Step Program’ which is simply to ‘use the bin’.

This campaign is supported by some of the leading companies in the beverage industry.

Keep Australia Beautiful will be launching the campaign in cinema, TV, radio and online this week at www.litterersanonymous.org.au

Litterer Types:

Wedgers - people who stuff disposable objects into small spaces where they will not be seen, such as behind a seat.

Undertakers – people who bury disposable objects under sand or leaves.

Foul shooters – people who aim for the bin but miss, and leave the object on the ground.

More here -

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Using Carbon Dioxide for Algal Biofuels

It seems that Australia is about to move forward several steps in developing commercial use of waste carbon dioxide.

Origin Energy has announced a new medium scale [a prelude to larger scale use if successful] waste CO2 from its power plant to produce fresh water algae, which it then plans to harvest for potential biofuel production.

More here - http://news.cnet.com/8301-11128_3-20065708-54.html?tag=nl.e797

[ interestingly - reported in US not Australian media]

At about the same time, a leading US saltwater algal producer has announced a scaling up of existing work in the Pilbara region of WA, which uses CO2 from LNG processing as the accelerator of algal growth.

More here -http://au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/business/a/-/wa/9328127/algae-fuel-to-diversify-pilbara/

Both are in regions of Australia with plenty of sunshine, especially in the Pilbara.

Coincidentally, the aviation industry announced this week that they saw biofuel as a suitable fuel, with lowered CO2 emissions overall, as a substitute for existing fossil oil fuels.

Australia does have open spaces and sunshine, but so far a timid set of national and state governments, that seem reluctant to embrace non fossil fuels, although industry does seem more active to use them.

There is a major program in the private sector with wide support across industry and academia to develop base load solar thermal power stations, but so far without major support from government. More details are here -

And there is a very comprehensive range of documents that do seem to provide evidence and analysis that would support the plan.

Could Australia prosper on waste carbon............after all, we are the highest per head producer of carbon???

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Solar Panels with 90% Efficiency - Maybe!

It could be 5 -10 years away for commercial use, but with conversion efficiency of 90% it does sound impressive.

A new concept, so far restricted to lab scale, that could supplant traditional photovoltaics has been announced. The present photovoltaic systems commonly have efficiencies of around 20% and lower in warm climates.

Some fuel oxide fuel cells have around 85% efficiency of energy conversion, which is very high, but they rely on gas as a fuel source [ see www.cfcl.com.au - BluGen systems]. An efficiency of 90% would be stunning for a solar cell.

Read more below.

AN associate professor in the University of Missouri (MU) Chemical Engineering Department is developing a flexible solar sheet with more than 90 percent efficiency.

If the technology comes good, it could revolutionise the solar energy industry, which is currently at around 20 percent efficiency with production-level photovoltaics. Scientists working in laboratories have thus far managed up to 25 percent efficiency.

According to Patrick Pinhero, the new technology does not utilise the traditional photovoltaic methods of solar collection, due to its inefficiency and failure to capture much of the available solar electromagnetic spectrum.

The device is a thin, mouldable sheet of small antennas called nantenna. These nantenna are currently used to harvest the heat from industrial processes in an energy harvesting application. Pinhero hopes to extend the concept to a direct solar-facing nantenna device which can collect solar irradiation in the near infrared and optical regions of the solar spectrum.

Working with his former team at the Idaho National Laboratory and Garrett Moddel, an electrical engineering professor at the University of Colorado, Pinhero and his team have now developed a way to extract electricity from the collected heat and sunlight using special high-speed electrical circuitry. The team also partnered with Dennis Slafer of MicroContinuum to port the laboratory bench-scale technologies into manufacturable devices that can be inexpensively mass-produced.

The team believes it will have inexpensive prototypes for consumers within five years. As part of a rollout plan, the team is securing funding from the U.S. Department of Energy and private investors.

The second phase features an energy-harvesting device for existing industrial infrastructure, including heat-process factories and solar farms.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Stormwater Management - Green Roofs Play a Part

The concept of using green roofs has more been around overall city heat mitigation, reduced heat absorption on concrete roofs, more oxygen in the city, even reuse of waste water.

Recent work has indicated that the 'green roof" may be significant in stormwater management, a slightly different outcome than was expected.

While Australia and many other regions do not have a single stormwater and sewer pipe system, some cities do. There the collection of stormwater on green roofs appears to greatly reduce the amount of stormwater entering the sewer system, and thus reduces the potential overflow, quite a problem for these types of systems.

In the areas with separate storm water and sewer disposal systems, it would seem that the collection of especially higher intensity storm rain, the event that often overloads streets and stormwater disposal designs, would also be enhanced, and less stormwater would flow through the system. And, even if it was partially reduced, it would most likely time shift and reduce the major flows, after the rain had flowed down through the green roof and then out down a drainpipe to the ground. The green roof would also assist with removal of pollutants, often in the rain in cities.

More details of the study here -http://www.enn.com/top_stories/article/42701

Green roofs lend themselves well to regions with some regular rainfall, year round. Has not been much development here in the NT, due to our very strongly seasonal rainfall - wet for half the year, generally totally dry for the other half, so plants require watering then.

There is a good example of a green roof in Singapore, at the Botanical Gardens. It seems to work well.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Camel Burger -To Go, Please

A lot of camels have been exported from central Australia, averaging around 3000 a year, yet camel populations continue to grow........exponentially........well almost so it seems.

There are a lot, and they mostly are considered as a feral animal issue. Their numbers are currently around one million. And continuing to rise, such that environmental degradation is a very serious issue as well as damage to towns and rural properties. A $19 million project to cull camels has been proposed.[ http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2009/11/26/world/main5786556.shtml]

Quite a few have tried before to establish an overseas or even local market for the meat. It just has not been successful, and the slaughter process is often the problem. Camels require a specialised abbattoir, sized for them.

This time round, maybe there is more chance of success.

The proposal is to establish an abbatoir at Port Pirie, trucking the camels in for halal slaughter, then export chilled or frozen boxed meat. The proponent has established credentials in the middle east market for other meat products - sheep, goat and cattle so outlets are in place, plus there has been the development of some fast food camel burger outlets in Dubai, with another planned possibly for Abu Dhabi.

It might just be different enough to work.

read more here - http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704628404576265783864754552.html

It would assist with reductions in camel numbers in Australia, provide jobs and income for remote areas and feed the Middle East. It might even be considered as organic camel meat. Maybe it has a chance.

UPDATE on 19 May

Read more here - http://www.enn.com/top_stories/article/42712

when Australian stories make it to this level, it is considered big news.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Food Prices WILL Go Up

Mankind has enjoyed several decades of falling food prices, and relative abundance. Some even say that food prices have really been trending down ever since about the mid 1800s, although there have been some periods where that has not been so clear.

Modern agriculture has improved productivity of most farm animals, crops and even trees and enhanced efficiency of the use of inputs such that more is produced for less.

Recent trends in agricultural productivity increases are much lower, a lot of the productive land is used already, some even disappearing into urban sprawl, and new areas are far less available, or have other constraints eg clearing of rainforest, and may even be less productive intrinisically.

Malthus and his predictions are back in the spotlight.

A recent short article from the Lowy Institue in Australia, a respected academic institue has examined this issue more critically.
link is here - http://lowyinstitute.org/Publication.asp?pid=1565 and the publication can be downloaded as a pdf.

We need 71% more food production to feed the world population of 9.1 billion [estimated] by 2050.

So far, it does not seem to be recognised as a serious issue, with R and D expenditure on agriculture still declining, and some are suggesting that it will be difficult to again obtain the agricultural productivity gains of the past 60 years. These are years in which use of hybrid crops, the development of the "green revolution" in Asia with both wheat and rice, etc etc all took place.

Genetic modification has been embraced by some.......and strongly rejected by others.

Many scientists do think that some form of major genetic advance will be needed to ensure this food will be produced, and that there will be significant changes in how and where food is produced. Will we see more food produced within cities? Many think so, grown in novel ways too.....even vertically on walls, replacing the lawn with a food garden, food grown on building rooftops and there will be greater use of recycled water and nutrients including organic materials eg compost. These are happening in some way already around the world.

At present there is a nett movement of nutrients from farms to cities, and it just about all goes down the sewer or into landfill. That might have to change.

Science might be capable to develop new food production systems but social and cultural adjustments might be needed too. They might be more difficult.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Plastic Bags - Worse Than You Think!

Many cities, towns and even countries [ China, Ireland, Australia] have banned already or are implementing plastic bag bans.

Sometimes there is opposition, sometimes very strong opposition, but in real terms their use drops enormously after steps are taken to restrict use.

Recent studies also are beginning to show that their impact is probably more damaging than previously thought.

The article link will bring you up to date on more recent studies..........and it is generally NOT GOOD.


Plastics are a serious issue in relation to disposal and / or recycling, and much more needs to be done in that area.

At least in Darwin they have finally allowed more classes of plastic to be recycled. A good start, I suppose.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Compost Awareness Week - May - 2011

It is International Compost Awareness Week this week...........with functions around the globe. The USA, Canada, UK and Australia are examples.

The message below is focussed on the East Coast of Australia, but relevant all over Australia.

Composting, the ‘intelligent’ alternative
Tuesday, 3 May 2011

That’s the message from the Centre for Organic & Resource Enterprises (CORE) at the launch of the sixth International Composting Awareness Week (ICAW). Organised in conjunction with Compost Australia (a division of the Waste Management Association of Australia), the week of events from May 1-7 will promote the benefits afforded to us all when our business communities and households get involved in composting.

“Composting is the responsible and sustainable thing to do for our planet,” according to CORE.

The major objectives of ICAW are to increase the diversion of organics from the main waste collection program through increasing awareness and participation in centralised composting, kerbside collections, home composting and community composting.“Each year over half the household garbage we produce is made up of food and garden organics. Most of this organic waste can be recycled by composting it”, said Eric Love, chairman of CORE.“If all this organic material was diverted from landfills and properly composted, it could be used to reverse the affects of climate change.

By applying this compost to gardens, farms and other land uses, millions of tonnes of carbon will be stored in the soil. This acts to lower the atmospheric temperatures that lead to changes in our climate.”

ICAW also aims to increase awareness and knowledge about the correct use of "soil-improving composts"; help reduce and recover food waste; and highlight the environmental and social benefits of composting including the opportunities to reduce our carbon emissions.

“Composting is not new. Compost has been used in crop production for over 4,000 years. Artificial fertilisers only became widely available a century ago. Australia is an old and eroded continent that is suffering from land degradation,” said Love.

Emissions from landfills are part of the Australian Federal Government’s carbon abatement initiative. If everyone composted, the total waste going to landfill could decrease by up to one third and emissions and disposal costs will drop, according to CORE.

Peter Wadewitz, chairman of Compost Australia said, “Compost produced by the recycled organics industry is already providing Australian landscape, horticulture and agricultural industries with affordable solutions to improve productivity and environmental outcomes.“Recycled carbon based products are also being effectively used to treat contaminated stormwater runoff and enabling the water to be reused, or more safely released into our waterways.”

Kimbriki Resource Recovery Centre is getting into the action of ICAW by offering talks, demonstrations and tours at its Ingleside/Terrey Hills site on May 3, 4 & 5 (at 10am and 2pm).

It will also give away 500 bags of Kimbriki Compost each day. Peter Rutherford, Kimbriki’s senior ecologist, will demonstrate simple ways to make great compost at home, and explain how this relates to healthy plants and healthy people. Australian Native Landscapes’ soil expert, Rob Niccol, will discuss composting and soil health; explain about the value of compost in larger projects and how it is being used to supplement Australia’s dwindling soil resources. He will also demonstrate the latest in mulch blowing technology and conduct a guided tour of the large-scale compost making operation at Kimbriki.

For more information visit: www.compostweek.com.au

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Less Water Use Reduces Energy Too

Water use and water loss is a major energy cost in many countries.

If just 1% of US homes replaced older, inefficient toilets with dual flush models, the country would save more than 38 million kWh of electricity, the equivalent of 43,000 households’ monthly electrical supply.

While in Australia, dual flush and reduced flush toilets are very common, they are much less common in other countries. As an example, 25 years ago most Australian toilets were single flush, 12L per flush. Best models today are 6L/3L flush with a redesigned efficiently flushed pan, or the more common 9L/4.5L dual flush models. Practically, volumes less than these levels can create congestion problems in sewer lines as the liquids level has diminished so much..........but most countries are nowhere close to the reduced flush volumes now common in Australia.

Big water use reductions are possible, and an important issue, rarely considered is that less water used means much less energy is used. Think electricity for pumping and purifying water as the most obvious point.

Solving leakage is also important in reducing energy use, as a side benefit of reducing water losses. Same issues as above.

Switching to dual flush low volume toilets is a big factor in driving reducing energy use.

More information here -http://www.waterefficiency.net/march-april-2011/detecting-the-unaccountable-1.aspx

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Sandalwood Offers a Pathway to Reduced Animal Methane Emissions

Welsh University discovers way to reduce methane from cows and sheep

Research carried out by academics from Aberystwyth University has resulted in a discovery which could lead both to an improvement in milk and meat production and to a significant reduction in methane emissions from cattle and sheep.

The research team, led by Professor Jamie Newbold of Aberystwyth University, found that by adding sandalwood (or a sandalwood analogue) to animal feed the growth of pathogenic bacteria such as E.coli and Listeria in the rumen is reduced. As a consequence, energy which would otherwise be lost through the production of methane is diverted to increased milk and meat production.

At the same time there was a significant reduction in the emission of methane, a greenhouse gas with 23 times the global warming potential of the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide. It is estimated that livestock produce 18% of all global greenhouse gas emissions, more than all forms of transport combined.

Trials in a rumen simulating fermenter (Rusitec) confirmed that Javanol, a sandalwood analogue, reduced methane production by up to 25%. A reduction of 20% in methane emissions was achieved in field trials with sheep when 2ml of Javanol per day was added to their diet.

This is an exciting discovery in two ways," said Dr Ahmed Ali. "Firstly, there would be benefits to the agricultural industry through increased milk and meat production: this increase in productivity would be set against a background of growing pressures on global food supply.
Secondly, there could be a significant reduction in methane emissions."

"Overall, the project is a good example of a University and an SME collaborating on cutting edge research. If this project and projects like this, can be commercialised in global markets, that has to be the way forward for the knowledge economy of Wales."

This might be a plus for Wales, but what about use in Australia, especially those areas of Australia where sandalwood is grown - the NW of Western Australia, SW of WA as well as parts of the Northern Territory. Sandalwood and oil products from the tree are high value materials, strong in demand from perfumery manufacturers.

It is especially important for monsoonal tropical regions, as it is known that methane emissions in livestock increases when animals are on feeds with lower digestibility, a common issue in the dry season when dry feed is most commonly consumed.

Could a small addition of sandalwood or similar materials to metered and medicated water dispensing systems which are increasingly common, offer some options for reducing methane emissions of livestock in north Australia??

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Small Business = Technological Cretins

A recent report has absolutely slammed the uptake of new technology by Australian businesses.

Low use of mobile phones and computers are targetted in the report based on some research by Telstra, Australia's largest phone company.

The figures are quite stunning, [ full news report here - http://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/news/small-business-lagging-behind-in-technology-study/story-e6frg90f-1226047835735 ]

Data for a sample of small businesses are that nearly one-quarter did not use a standard mobile phone, while 45 per cent did not have smart phones. One in ten did not have a computer associated with the business. Around half of the businesses surveyed did not have a website or use online transactions in their business.

I can understand the lack of a website - they can be a bit daunting and expensive at times for a decent website, but no online transactions is bit odd. How do they do their banking transactions or employee payments??

While I have no data for the Northern Territory, national figures do seem a bit odd based on what I see in local NT small business, or maybe it reflects the younger population here.

However..........Telstra thinks they may be on a winner in being able to provide services.

Most people just wish they would improve their telephone performance around the country.