Solar power tower goes up in Australian desert, ready to grow tomatoes

Solar tower in desert for tomatoes

Construction of a world-leading, concentrated solar power (CSP) tower plant that will supply electricity heat and desalinated seawater to grow tomatoes in the Australian desert has reached a major milestone, with the erection of the 127m high tower.

The company behind the custom-built Port Augusta plant, Aalborg CSP, with construction group John Holland, put the final tower sections in place this week, topping it with the 234-tonne central boiler, which will soon receive the reflected sun rays from more than 23,000 mirrors.

As you can see in the video below, this final task ‚Äď understood to be involve the largest lifts to this height ever undertaken in Australia ‚Äď required some ‚Äúcareful calculations‚ÄĚ.

Aalborg’s Integrated Energy System will be the first large-scale CSP-based technology in the world to provide multiple energy streams ~ heating, fresh water and electricity ~ for horticultural activities; an innovative and sustainable approach dreamed up by Adelaide-based outfit Sundrop Farms.

The company originally used finance from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to develop a prototype of its proprietary closed-loop farming system, in which it successfully grew tomatoes year-round, using only sunlight and seawater.

In December 2014, Sundrop secured $100 million of funding from leading global private equity investor KKR, allowing it to proceed with plans to expand the prototype into a 20-hectare facility, including the CSP tower plant.

Sundrop has also secured a 10-year exclusive contract with Coles for the supply of tomatoes, creating jobs for up to 175 people.

Aalborg’s custom-build CSP plant will heat the greenhouses in wintertime and on cold summer nights, provide fresh water by desalinating seawater drawn from the nearby Spencer Gulf (5km from the site) and run a steam turbine to produce electricity.

‚ÄúThis groundbreaking project proves a new platform to address major global energy challenges. The construction progresses well and we are looking forward to harvest the first sunrays in the second half of 2016,‚ÄĚ said Svante Bundgaard, CEO of Aalborg CSP.

Re-post ~ Solar power tower goes up in Australian desert, ready to grow tomatoes | ReNew Economy

Jandakot Bioenergy Plant | Richgro


Richgro garden products is a family owned and operated business, established in WA back in 1916, and today is a nation wide supplier of compost and fertilisers.

Richgro’s team started researching viable renewable energy options in 2011 to reduce their $600,000pa electricity costs, touring Europe and America looking for the right solution.

They decided on anaerobic digestion.

As a licensed receiver of organic waste streams, predominately green waste from council collections, Richgro have formed a closed loop system, which produces electricity, a bio-fertiliser by-product which can be blended with existing products, heat and CO2 which can be used on-site.

With an input of some 35-50,000 tonnes of food waste available per annum, the anaerobic digestion plant can produce around:

  • 2MWe capacity electricity
  • 2.2MWth heat for utilization
  • CO2 for use within their blueberry hot houses
  • 100m3 of liquid bio-fertiliser

Read more ~

Organic agriculture key to feeding the world sustainably

Organic versus agriculture

A review study, Organic Agriculture in the 21st Century, {pay wall} featured as the cover story for February issue of the journal Nature Plants, is the first such study to analyze 40 years of science comparing organic and conventional agriculture across the four goals of sustainability identified by the National Academy of Sciences ~ covering productivity, economics, environment, and community wellbeing.

“Hundreds of scientific studies now show that organic agriculture should play a role in feeding the world,” said John Reganold, Washington State University regents professor of soil science and agroecology¬† and lead author of the study. “Thirty years ago, there were just a couple handfuls of studies comparing organic agriculture with conventional. In the last 15 years, these kinds of studies have skyrocketed.”

Critics have long argued that organic agriculture is inefficient, requiring more land to yield the same amount of food. In contrast though, the review paper describes cases where organic yields can be higher than conventional farming methods. “In severe drought conditions, which are expected to increase with climate change, organic farms have the potential to produce high yields because of the higher water-holding capacity of organically farmed soils,” Reganold said.

However, even when yields may be lower, organic agriculture is more profitable for farmers because consumers are willing to pay more. Higher prices can be justified as a way to compensate farmers for providing ecosystem services and avoiding environmental damage or external costs.

Numerous studies in the review also prove the environmental benefits of organic production.

Overall, organic farms tend to store more soil carbon, have better soil quality, and reduce soil erosion. Organic agriculture also creates less soil and water pollution and lower greenhouse gas emissions. It is also more energy efficient because it doesn’t rely on synthetic fertilizers or pesticides.

Organic agriculture is associated with greater biodiversity of plants, animals, insects and microbes as well as genetic diversity. Biodiversity increases the services that nature provides like pollination and improves the ability of farming systems to adapt to changing conditions.

Reganold said that feeding the world is not only a matter of yield but also requires examining food waste and the distribution of food: “It’s not just a matter of producing enough, but making agriculture environmentally friendly and making sure that food gets to those who need it.”

Reganold and co-author, doctoral candidate Jonathan Wachter, suggest that no single type of farming can feed the world. Rather, what is needed is a balance of systems ~ a blend of organic and other innovative farming systems, including agroforestry, integrated farming, conservation agriculture, mixed crop/livestock and still undiscovered systems.

Reganold and Wachter recommend policy changes to address the barriers that hinder the expansion of organic agriculture. Such hurdles include the costs of transitioning to organic certification, lack of access to labor and markets, and lack of appropriate infrastructure for storing and transporting food. Legal and financial tools are necessary to encourage the adoption of innovative, sustainable farming practices.

Re-post ~ Organic agriculture key to feeding the world sustainably | Washington State University


Seeds of Salvation

Seed bank in Arctic
At the very edge of civilisation, on a rugged island north of Norway, sits a strange, jutting building that houses the most important collection of seeds in the world, stored away in the event of catastrophe.

The doors of what is known as the Doomsday Vault opened again recently on the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, as new seeds were delivered from the US and Japan.

The Global Seed Vault, set up in 2008, houses hundreds of thousands of crop seed varieties from around the world. Svalbard was chosen to host the vault because of its cold climate and remote location.

Foreign dignitaries, scientists and media crews can go in when invited, but it is not open to those just wanting to have a look.

To get from the front door to the vault room you have to walk 130 metres, deep into the permafrost. As you go further into the mountain the temperature plunges, the seeds inside essentially frozen in time. Almost every country in the world is represented in the vault.

In the back corner of the freezing storage room, there is a little piece of Australia ~ a stack of bright blue boxes containing 11,000 seeds, the majority of them deposited in 2014 by the Australian Grains Genebank and the Australian Pastures Genebank. More deposits of Australian seeds are planned for next year.

Next to the Australian boxes sits the Austrian collection, and close by collections from a host of countries, including Russia, Ukraine, India, Mexico, Uzbekistan, Germany and Peru.

This truly is a global project, and nothing underlines that more than the presence of two cherry red wooden boxes from North Korea.

North Korea seedsThe Croptrust, which funds and runs the vault in conjunction with the Norwegian Government, sees this as evidence that here deep in the Norwegian permafrost seed safety takes precedence over politics.

Bente Navaerdal’s job involves checking that the vault remains at a steady -18 Celsius. If a computer in her office indicates a slight fluctuation she immediately sends in one of her technical people to check it out. Her screens will also register any intruders, not that it’s likely.

“That has never happened,” she says. “I can’t imagine anyone wants to try to break into the vault, because no-one breaks into anything up here on Svalbard. We don’t have that type of crime up there.”

The Seed bank has assisted earlier than expected: the bloody conflict in Syria has left scientists at an important gene bank in Aleppo ~ where new strains of drought- and heat-resistant wheat have been developed over time ~ unable to continue their work in recent years.

Now, with no sign of conditions in Syria improving, scientists last year began recovering their critical inventory of seeds, sourced from around the Fertile Crescent and beyond, that have been in safekeeping beneath the Arctic ice at the Global Seed Bank.

The seeds are being planted at new facilities in Lebanon and Morocco, allowing scientists to resume the important research they’ve been doing for decades, away from the barrel bombs of Aleppo.

Re-post ~ Seeds of Salvation | ABC 
See More ~ Arctic ‘Doomsday Vault’ opens to retrieve vital seeds for Syria¬†| CNN

Pine fiction: can plantations really re-connect bird species?

Pine plantations & birds

Forest plantations are everywhere. You’ll find them in almost every vegetated country in the world. They cover some 260 million hectares of the planet, about 7% of global forest cover. They are expanding at an impressive rate ~ according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, every year an area roughly equivalent to the size of Switzerland (around 5 million hectares) is converted to planted forest.

It is estimated that by 2020, planted forest will cover 300 million hectares, which is equivalent to half the size of the Amazonian rainforest.

What are the two main reasons we converting such a large area of the planet to this ‚Äėartificial biome’?

  1. an increasing demand for wood used for timber and paper,
  2. and the need to sequester carbon to mitigate global warming.

Despite the considerable amount of research that has been conducted on the impact of plantations on biodiversity, there is little agreement on whether plantations are a ‚Äėbiological desert‚Äô, or a ‚Äėlesser evil‚Äô compared to agricultural land.

A recent study sought to bring some clarity on the topic. Their analyses were based on data from the¬†‚ÄėNanangroe experiment‚Äô , one of the largest landscape transformation experiments ever established, and managed by Professor David Lindenmayer‚Äôs research group at the Australian National University.

The Nanangroe experiment has involved monitoring changes to fauna inhabiting woodland remnants set in a mixed open woodland-grazing landscape, over a period in which some of that landscape has been converted to a massive pine plantation. Nanangroe is 10‚Äď20 km southeast of the town of Jugiong in south-eastern NSW.

Over the past 170 years, approximately 85% of the original temperate eucalyptus¬†open woodland in the area has been cleared for livestock grazing. Nanangroe Station is a large property where a sizeable radiata pine plantation was established in the late ‚Äė90s.

The focus of the study was the connectivity between different bird populations ~ that is, on the flow of migrating individuals between the patches of woodland remnants. Population connectivity is a key ecological parameter; however, estimating it directly is an extremely difficult task, which becomes prohibitive when many species are being monitored. Bird populations found inhabiting 50 ‚Äėtreatment‚Äô patches of eucalypt woodland (i.e. patches surrounded by pine plantations) were compared to populations found in 50 ‚Äėcontrol‚Äô patches of eucalyptus¬†(i.e. patches surrounded by grazed fields).

A key feature of the experiment is that habitat within the eucalyptus¬†patches remained unchanged in control and treatment sites. It was thus possible to isolate the impact of pine plantation with limited ‚Äėbackground noise‚Äô from other confounding factors.

Their results, published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, were surprising ~ especially if, like many people, you believe that trees in the landscape make it easier for birds to get around. What was found is that the introduction of pine plantations did not increase connectivity for any of the 52 bird species examined.

In fact, the pine plantations acted as a barrier for four of the species, whereas for the remaining 48 species, the effect of pine plantations was neutral ~ it did not significantly affect the connectivity between populations.

The implications of the findings for landscape management are clear. The conversion of agricultural areas to plantation forestry is unlikely to promote substantial movement of individuals between fragmented populations of a species. It is therefore strongly suggested that the expansion of pine plantations should not be promoted in the belief that it may provide increased connectivity for birds compared with existing grazing-open woodland habitat.


Re-post ~ Pine fiction: can plantations really re-connect bird species? | ECOS

Uruguay makes dramatic shift to nearly 95% electricity from clean energy

Uruagay Renewables

In less than 10 years, Uruguay has slashed its carbon footprint and lowered electricity costs ~ and all without government subsidies.

The country’s head of climate change policy, Ramón Méndez, says that now that renewables provide 94.5% of the country’s electricity, prices are lower than in the past relative to inflation. There are also fewer power cuts because a diverse energy mix means greater resilience to droughts.

It was a very different story just 15 years ago. Back at the turn of the century oil accounted for 27% of Uruguay’s imports and a new pipeline was just about to begin supplying gas from Argentina.

Now the biggest item on import balance sheet is wind turbines, which fill the country’s ports on their way to installation.

Biomass and solar power have also been ramped up. Adding to existing hydropower, this means that renewables now account for 55% of the country’s overall energy mix (including transport fuel) compared with a global average share of 12%.

There are no technological miracles involved, nuclear power is entirely absent from the mix, and no new hydroelectric power has been added for more than two decades. Instead, Méndez says, the key to success is rather dull but encouragingly replicable: clear decision-making, a supportive regulatory environment and a strong partnership between the public and private sector.

As a result, energy investment ~ mostly for renewables, but also liquid gas ~ in Uruguay over the past five years has surged to $7bn, or 15% of the country’s annual GDP. That is five times the average in Latin America and three times the global share recommended by climate economist Nicholas Stern.

‚ÄúWhat we‚Äôve learned is that renewables is just a financial business,‚ÄĚ M√©ndez says. ‚ÄúThe construction and maintenance costs are low, so as long as you give investors a secure environment, it is a very attractive.‚ÄĚ

There is still a lot to do. The transport sector still depends on oil (which accounts for 45% of the total energy mix). But industry ~ mostly agricultural processing ~ is now powered predominantly by biomass co-generation plants.

Méndez attributed Uruguay’s success to three key factors: credibility, as a stable democracy that has never defaulted on its debts so it is attractive for long-term investments; helpful natural conditions with good wind, decent solar radiation and lots of biomass from agriculture; and strong public companies which are a reliable partner for private firms and can work with the state to create an attractive operating environment.

Re-Post ~ Uruguay makes dramatic shift to nearly 95% electricity from clean energy | The Guardian
Read more ~

Farmer attitudes to climate change across generations

Climate change farmers

Farmers could be considered the sentinels of climate change; they are more attuned than most to long-term changes in weather patterns.

However many of them are yet to be convinced that man-made climate change is real, arguing that floods and droughts are cyclical and extreme temperatures are nothing new.

It is a view some younger producers are now challenging and they are reshaping their farming practices to suit the changing climate.

Josh Gilbert takes climate change very seriously, chairing a group of young activists trying to raise awareness of the challenges farmers face as temperatures become more extreme.

“When I first started seeing things on the farm, whether it was drought, or just the seasons not matching what they should’ve been, it’s really hard to deny it’s actually happening,” he said.

Recently the Gilberts have been adjusting the genetics of their cattle to make them even more drought-tolerant as their way of adapting to climate change.

Josh recently crowd-funded his way to Paris where he attended the United Nation’s Climate Change conference, COP21, to learn more about renewable energy and to send a strong message to world leaders.

In another example of the generational change taking place, Melissa Brown took over her father’s vineyard in South Australia’s McLaren Vale wine region 20 years ago.

Ms Brown did not like her dad’s heavy use of water and chemicals, and she noticed that warmer temperatures meant grapes were ripening earlier and vintages were getting shorter.

To adapt, she converted the entire vineyard to organic production methods.

That decision did not sit well with her father, Paul Buttery, who does not believe in climate change and thinks weather patterns are cyclical. “I’m very sceptical,” he said.

Ms Brown said there had been some awkward conversations, however eventually Mr Buttery decided to take a back seat in the running of the vineyard.

Re-Post ~ Farmer attitudes to climate change across generations | ABC Rural
See more ~ Farmers on frontline of climate change | SBS News

2016 will be the year of the Plant ‘Butcher’

Roast meat and ham
The hottest new food trend this year isn’t locavorism, more gluten-free offerings, or the latest and greatest uses for kale, but instead, a quiet yet radical rebellion against that most hallowed of symbols of meat-eating: the butcher shop.

Welcome to the age of the Plant Butchers ~ ‚Ääan intrepid group of inspired, creative, and uber-passionate individuals whose desire to make meat into a more sustainable and healthy food has led them to explore the oft-overlooked world of plant proteins.

And it turns out, with the right skills and culinary genius, you can craft almost every kind of meat product imaginable‚Ää ~ ‚Ääfrom burgers and bratwursts to BBQ, ham, salami and more ~ using strictly plant protein. All the food shops described here are fairly young ~ ‚Äämost less than 3 years old ~ ‚Ääbut if their early success is any indication, high quality plant-based meats and the enterprising chefs behind them represent the beginning of a major new food trend.

And it couldn’t come at a better time: with the overall cycle and system of conventional meat production as environmentally damaging, resource intensive, and potentially harmful as ever. People are looking for new, appealing alternatives. Fortunately, the plant-based butchers have arrived, and are looking to usher in a new generation of butchers who’ve discovered you don’t need animals to make delicious meat.

Meat from plants

The Herbivorous Butcher ~ has garnered some major press recently, and it’s clear to see why: their concept is very simple: make traditional kinds of meat  ~ everything from BBQ ribs to sausages to bacon, using only plants (in this case wheat protein).

No Evil Foods ~ Chorizo, shredded chicken, Italian sausage‚Ķ these things sound like they come from an old-fashioned deli, meat market case, or butcher shop, but you couldn‚Äôt be more mistaken.¬†No Evil Foods has been proudly making plant-based versions of these hearty favourites for the past 2 years, and are just getting started in their quest to ‚Äúfeed the future‚ÄĚ.

Atlas Meat-Free Deli ~ When Chef Ryan Echaus went vegetarian, he was sorely disappointed with the lack of retail plant-based meat products that provided the same taste and texture as the meat he craved as a carnivore. So this self-trained chef got to work, and after a year of experimenting, came up a smorgasbord of foods that carnivores and vegans would love: sausages, bratwursts, burgers and more that fully replicated the taste and texture of conventional meat ~ all sans the animals!

His sausages come in a variety of flavours ~ breakfast, chorizo, and Kolkata ~  and he also sells his own hand-crafted vegan cheese. Atlas’s weekly specials are a customer favourite, which in the past have included everything from Triple Stacked Smokehouse Burgers to Guava Meatloaf Subs, Chili Cheese Dogs and Chorizo Tacos.

Monk‚Äôs Meats¬†~ The story of this Brooklyn plant-meat shop shares a similar origin to others ‚Ää~¬†‚Ääa vegetarian seeking ¬†realistic meat flavours and textures decided to take matters into his own hands (literally) and coax these special qualities using humble plants. The shop’s founder and owner Chris Kim‚Äôs protein of choice is vital wheat gluten, an incredibly versatile protein that with the right love, attention and physical work, magically transforms into what looks, smells, and chews like traditional animal meat.

Yam Chops ~ is a little different from the other food purveyors here, because whereas the others make meat products mainly for the sake of taste and enjoyment, Yam Chops takes a more holistic, health-oriented approach to their offerings. However this groundbreaking Toronto eatery is still pretty awesome: they offer a variety of freshly prepared foods including shredded pork and chicken-style products, burger patties, coconut bacon, and Middle Eastern favourite, schawarma.

Honourable Mentions
Internationally, there are at least two other outfits dedicated to plant-meat innovation: The Vegetarian Butcher, which sells its products throughout Europe; and Suzy Spoon’s Vegetarian Butcher in Sydney, Australia, which is bringing a taste of animal-free meats to diners down-under.

Let’s hope that all of these pioneering foodies are heralding a new age of making delicious food without animals, and that they inspire other culinarians to explore the amazing possibilities of plant proteins.

Re-Post ~ 2016 Will Be the Year of the Plant Butcher | The New Omnivore

Australian Southern Bluefin Tuna industry receives landmark Friend of the Sea sustainability accreditation

Southern Bluefin Tuna

Australia’s Southern Bluefin Tuna industry¬†has achieved an environmental landmark with recognition from the world’s largest certifier of seafood.

The non government organisation, Friend of the Sea, has granted the Port Lincoln-based industry a Sustainability Certificate.

Tuna industry chief executive Brian Jeffriess said the certificate was gained after a comprehensive audit.

“This is one of the few awards to actually cover both the wild fish catching and the whole farming supply chain and within that labour standards, crew safety, traceability, carbon footprint… every conceivable sustainability test,” Mr Jeffriess said.

He said it was a significant boost which should improve access to export markets for the industry.

“You have to have these types of accreditation to get into the Chinese market and a range of other markets.

Re~Post: Australian Southern Bluefin Tuna industry receives landmark Friend of the Sea sustainability accreditation | ABC Rural News

Unique Australian wildlife at risk as ecosystems suffer death by a 1,000 cuts

Habitat map

Australia is renowned globally for its vast expanses of untouched wilderness. However, for anyone who has travelled across its breadth, the myth of Australia’s pristine wilderness is quickly debunked as evidence of human impact spreads before the eye.

Most ecosystems have suffered huge losses. According to a recent study, looking at the magnitude of land clearing since European settlement, some ecosystems have been devastated.

There are 75 major terrestrial ecosystems, or vegetation communities, in Australia. Each of these is composed of hundreds of smaller communities of plants and animals. As you can see from the map above, many have been cleared extensively.

Six of these 75 terrestrial ecosystems have lost 50% or more of their original extent. In total, this is an area of almost a million square kilometres. The worst hit are some of the Mallee ecosystems in southern Australia which have suffered losses of up to 97%.

Government and public policies urgently need to change at every scale and in area arena ~ local, state and national; government, corporate and non-government. We need to stop the clearing of vegetation communities and fragments. For example, the arbitrary five hectare threshold for land clearing in Queensland needs to be re-evaluated. These thresholds need to instead be tailored to the needs and circumstances of each unique ecosystem.

Globally, we need to stop thinking only about the total amount of vegetation loss. We need to also consider the size and number of remaining fragments of vegetation. This will be crucial for assessing the health of ecosystems and protecting remnants.

Since most remaining vegetation is on private land, landholders will need incentives to retain small patches, and developers will need a way of choosing between two patches to ensure economic growth and resource consumption needs can still be met.

The long-term consequences of policy inaction is the slow, inevitable decline of remaining vegetation communities, and further loss of the species dependent on them: a death by a thousand cuts.

Re~Post: Unique Australian Wildlife Risks Vanishing as Ecosystem Suffers Death by 1000 Cuts  | The Conversation