Friday, August 31, 2012

Recycling is BETTER

Many working in the waste industry including recycling tend to believe that recycling is a better option.

Now there is Australian data to back that up.  Recycling is BETTER.  More jobs in that sector, substantial energy savings - 241 million Gjoules per year, plus water and greenhouse gas generation savings.

These are substantial benefits.

Yet in the NT we seem to be stuck in a time warp, with little progress other than send it to landfill.  Even the greenwaste is inadequately managed with the monster piles created in Darwin inadequately dealt with to use productively as a source of nutrients and carbon for agriculture, mining site rehabilitation and similar issues, including simple issues of land cover to protect the surface from erosion and the loss of soil into waterways.  Come on construction can do better, so can the landfill site operators.

Mulch is expected to be in short supply in both WA and SA in future years if not already, due to significant market development by commercial companies and use of product in both commercial and domestic horticulture and agriculture. 

Then there are other materials such as glass and metals.  The latter are valuable and there is an effort to recycle generally, but what of glass and used tyres?  Both have had commercial development yet are not embraced.  Used tyres especially are a valuable component for civil construction and erosion management [ see ].  Locally there has been a recent report on using glass in civil construction - but is it happening?  So far, it seems no.

Locally we can do much better.

There is a link to the full report below. However, one view of the report is that it has excluded any details on tyre recycling, data on organics recycling is somewhat dated and it lacks much direction on where the industry might go.  A lot of collated data, but I am not sure how useful it really might be, although it fills a lot of report space.

Recycling trumps landfills

These figures come as results of the release of the Australian Recycling Sector Report, prepared by consultancy Net Balance for the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities.

The lengthy and far-reaching report covers recycling processes and markets, the economic value of the industry, its environmental benefits, the regularity environment, standards, industry barriers, data collection and a future outlook.

Australian Council of Recycling CEO Rod Welford said the study "confirms [recycling] generates more jobs than landfill". Key aspects of the report are summarised below.

Volumes and dollars
The report draws on the most recent figures reporting that 26 million tonnes of material was recycled in Australia in 2008/2009. The study quoted the Inside Waste Industry Report 2011-2012, noting from this volume the value of recycling in Australia was around $6.145 billion.

Most of this revenue (50% or so) is attributed to the sale of recovered materials, but the report cautions markets are highly variable. More than half ($3.8 billion) of the revenue from recycling was generated in NSW and Victoria.

The contribution of the recycling sector to Australian employment is estimated at a little less than 1% - meaning approximately 22,000 people (full time equivalents) are employed in recycling in Australia.

This equates to 9.2 full time employees for every 10,000 tonnes of waste processed.

Environmental Benefit
While recycling remains a relatively small employer in Australia, the report makes clear the environmental benefits of recycling are considerable.

In total, the report estimates recycling generate approximately 241,000,000 GJ-equivalent of energy savings. This is enough energy to power around five million homes.

Other key environmental savings estimated include 172 gigalitre of water, equivalent to 10% of Australia's water consumption and 15 million tonnes of greenhouse emissions as a carbon dioxide equivalent.

Barriers to improvement
A summary of the barriers impeding greater recycling put a lack of investment in recycling and limited infrastructure as the primary challenges facing the sector.

A lack of business recycling uptake, the distance of materials to markets and consumer behaviour are also key barriers.

The full report can be downloaded from the DSEWPC website. Further information on the Australian recycling industry is also available in the Inside Waste Industry Report 2011-2012.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Successfully Establishing Turfgrass is Best Done by Mowing Higher

Cut high to help turfgrass establish seems to be the rule.

The most resilient turf has deep roots that can reach the deep water in the soil profile. New turf must be watered regularly until the deep roots develop, but regular watering discourages the turf from rooting deeply, because the turf gets all the water it needs at the surface. All the while, you’re wasting water.
So what can you, as the turf manager or home grower, do to speed up the deep rooting and so minimise the irrigation?
Researchers at the Texas A&M University, North Carolina State University and the University of Florida asked this question. To answer it, they grew plugs of turf (couch, zoysia grass, bahia grass and buffalo grass) in tall clear tubes, and tested combinations of nitrogen (N) fertiliser and mowing height. Two rates of N approximated the lower and higher ends of the normal recommended range. Two cutting heights (which depended on species) represented heavy and light mowing.
Two conclusions were evident:
  • The higher N rate encouraged faster rooting.
  • The higher cutting height encouraged better rooting.
Cutting height had no effect on the rate of root growth, although it had a big effect on root mass: the low cut greatly reduced root mass.
Bahia grass achieved the best root growth (depth and mass) in the high N, high cut combination. But Zoysia grass did best in the low N, high cut combination. The results depended as much on the species as on the treatments.
Overall, maintaining a high cutting height did far more to encourage rooting than applying high N fertiliser. The authors recommended that turf managers cut establishing turf to the highest height recommended for the species.
This is especially relevant for zoysia grass, where we are already recommending half of the nitrogen rates that appear on most fertiliser bags.  Zoysia does not respond to high nitrogen particularly well, as it is naturally a slower growing grass.  We would suggest a cut height of around 45 -50mm initially, reducing to the more conventional cut height of around 20 - 25mm.

For Bahia grass, a high cut is 65 -75mm, and low cut 35mm, with commercial operators using 45mm.  For Bahia, one might need to also temper cut height and frequency with a need to remove seed heads, which direct fertilisers into reproduction, which is not needed during estabishment.

This also fits well with convention that says that a higher cut height during stress periods is beneficial - for this you could interpret stress as high temperatures and low water availability eg September - mid December in north Australia.

[partially sourced from SESL Newsletter September 2012]  

Further reading
Wherley BG et al. 2011. Nitrogen and cutting height influence root development during warm-season turfgrass sod establishment. Agronomy Journal 103: 1629–1634.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Climate Change May Boost Agriculture in SE Asia


Climate change 'may boost South-East Asian agriculture'

Prime Sarmiento

Increased rainfall and temperature due to climate change could bring benefits to South-East Asian agriculture, a study suggests, contradicting more common expectations that a warmer planet will reduce agricultural productivity in the region.

Scientists from the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) have predicted that precipitation levels in vast areas of South-East Asia will remain stable, and most of the anticipated changes will occur over the sea, rather than over land.

In southern Vietnam and Cambodia, for instance, precipitation changes will be so minimal that farm production will barely be affected. In central and northern Myanmar, the increase will in fact help to raise crop output, as these are the driest areas in the region.
n increase in temperature may also increase crop yield in northern parts of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar, since crops such as rice and vegetables rely on regular rainfall and are most vulnerable to variability in weather. "At the regional scale, precipitation and temperature changes should benefit agricultural production, as significant precipitation increases will occur in the drier areas, whereas the steepest temperature rises will affect the coldest parts," says the study.

The study was carried out by IWMI scientists Guillaume Lacombe, Chu Thai Hoanh and Vladimir Smakhtin.  Lacombe, the study’s lead author, told SciDev.Net that the findings will help the region's policymakers plan for food security — which is being threatened by climate change.
"This study helps characterise and quantify climate change," said Lacombe. "It could help [in sustaining] food security by showing where most drastic changes in rainfall patterns over the long term will occur. This should help the prioritisation of areas of intervention for climate change adaptation."

Lacombe said he and fellow hydrologists drew this conclusion through using PRECIS (Providing Regional Climates for Impacts Studies), a regional climate modelling system designed to run on a Linux-based (an open source operating system) computer and to give detailed climate change projections in any region.

Despite optimistic results, Lacombe pointed out that climate change will have other impacts, such as rises in sea level, which could make the Mekong Delta in southwestern Vietnam more saline, leading to the destruction of rice farms. Climate change could also increase pest numbers and disease prevalence.

Lacombe said that policymakers in the region needed to consider climate projections obtained using several other climate models — in addition to the PRECIS model — before making any decisions about an appropriate response. He also stressed that PRECIS is a regional model and not a global model.

The study concludes with a call for further studies to focus on how climate trends might interact with other
environmental changes caused by the region's demographic and economic developments.
Link to article

Climatic Change doi: 10.1007/s10584-011-0359-3 (2012)


Everyone seems to believe that climate change will result in less rainfall.  This recent article seems to allay those fears for much of SE Asia. Work related to north Australia also seems to point in this same trend.

Sea level rise is still a serious issue in Asia as well as north Australia, so outcomes are not just that simple.

But it is relevant to at least see some outcomes more focused on our region.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Gene for Improved Phosphorus Uptake Found

Rice Genes

/top_stories/article/44844Rice is a cereal grain, it is the most important staple food for a large part of the world's human population, especially in Asia and the West Indies.

It is the grain with the second-highest worldwide production, after maize (corn), according to data for 2010. Since a large portion of maize crops are grown for purposes other than human consumption, rice is the most important grain with regard to human nutrition and caloric intake, providing more than one fifth of the calories consumed worldwide by the human species.

  Scientists have now pinpointed a gene that enables rice plants to produce around 20% more grain by increasing uptake of phosphorus, an important, but limited, plant nutrient. The discovery unlocks the potential to improve the food security of rice farmers with the lowest value phosphorus-deficient land allowing them to grow more rice to add to global production, and earn more.
As of 2009 world food consumption of rice was 531,639 thousands metric tons of paddy equivalent , while the far largest consumers were China consuming 156,312 thousands metric tons of paddy equivalent (29.4 % of the world consumption) and India consuming 123,508 thousands metric tons of paddy equivalent (23.3% of the world consumption). Between 1961 and 2002, per capita consumption of rice increased by 40%.

The studied gene — called PSTOL1 which stands for Phosphorus Starvation Tolerance — helps rice grow a larger, better root system and thereby access more phosphorus. Farmers can apply phosphorus fertilizers to increase productivity but on problem soils phosphorus is often locked in the soil and unavailable to plants.

Also, phosphorus fertilizer is often unaffordable to poor farmers. Adding to the problem is that phosphorus is a non-renewable natural resource and rock phosphate reserves — the source of most phosphorus fertilizers — are running out.

“We have now hit the jackpot and found PSTOL1, the major gene responsible for improved phosphorus uptake and understand how it works,”� Heuer (author)said.

According to Dr. Wricha Tyagi at the School of Crop Improvement at the Central Agricultural University in the Indian state of Meghalaya, knowledge of the exact gene will be critical for future breeding programs suited to Eastern and North-Eastern parts of India where rice productivity is less than 40% of the national average due to acidic soil and poor availability of phosphorus.
Dr. Joko Prasetiyono, of the Institute for Agricultural Biotechnology and Genetic Resources Research and Development in Indonesia, is breeding rice plants with the PSTOL1 gene. The plants are not genetically modified just bred using smart modern breeding techniques.

"In field tests in Indonesia and the Philippines, rice with the PSTOL1 gene produced about 20% more grain than rice without the gene," said Heuer. "In our pot experiments," she added, "when we use soil that is really low in phosphorus, we see yield increases of 60% and more, suggesting it will be very effective in soils low in phosphorus such as in upland rice fields that are not irrigated and where farmers are often very poor."

The discovery also demonstrates the importance of conserving the genetic diversity of traditional crop varieties such as Kasalath. IRRI conserves more than 114,000 different types of rice in the International Rice Genebank.

For further information see New Gene.

This is an important advance in crop development as phosphorus is so important in crop development and yield, worldwide.  While phosphorus is not critically in short supply, it is expensive and especially so in less wealthy countries.

I am sure that plant breeders for many other crops will be very interested in incorporating this gene into their crop for evaluation.

It might be a few years before this genetic advance is publicly available but it does seem to augur well for improved crop yields across many crops in future, while reducing costs, and allowing lower quality phosphorus sources.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Gas to Diesel Fuel - Is There a Case for a Plant in Australia?

There is a lot of gas in Australia, and less it seems of liquid fuels suitable for diesel or petrol.  Could there be a case for gas to diesel conversion? Economics seem to be positive, particularly for remote areas.  Surprise suprise - that is where the gas is, as well as there being major needs for diesel for transport fuel for trucks and power generation, all of which is trucked in from refineries located a long way from where the fuel is used.

A recent article explores this in some detail - .

The major Australian engineering group GHD has been examining this idea in some more detail, and presented some results of a study focused on the WA Canning Basin recently.

“The miners are very reliant on diesel. Some use it for their trucks, some use it for power generation and it’s costing them a lot of money,” GHD studies manager Jonathon Beales said at the Australian Gas Technology conference in Perth  recently.

“Talking to a number of our clients, we’ve estimated the cost of transporting diesel from Port Hedland or Kwinana adds 25 per cent to the cost they have to pay for it.”

Add to the fact that 40-50% of diesel is currently imported and there’s currently a shortage of diesel – also in the order of 40-50% – and there’s a compelling case for miners to subtly encourage gas producers to consider Gas-To - Liquids [GTL] projects for their commercialisation plans.

GHD estimated a 55 tonne iron ore project could use up to 1 million litres of diesel per day.

As an industry, Beales reckoned, the iron ore sector used 11.1 billion litres of diesel in 2010.

Beales said synthetic diesel delivered from a GTL plant could cost miners a whopping 85% less than having to import their fuel, given the right circumstances.

But what’s in it for gas producers?

“In a number of discussions with companies we’ve had in that region, we’ve found that they are sitting on a great resource but are struggling to find a way to get it to market,” Beales said.

It seems to be a win-win for both industries and would increase Australia’s liquid fuels security to boot.

While the cost of developing a plant is high - possibly $1 billion - it would add to Australian local fuel supplies while offering some real cost savings along the west coast of Australia for mining and other resource projects including agricultural and pastoral developments.

Developing the GTL plant close to the gas seems sensible, but will it happen?  Do not hold your breath, yet!