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    Mongabay, a leading resource for news and perspectives on environmental and conservation issues related to the tropics, has launched Tropical Conservation Science - a new, open access academic e-journal. It will cover a wide variety of scientific and social studies on tropical ecosystems, their biodiversity and the threats posed to them. Tropical Conservation Science - March 8, 2008.

    At the 148th Meeting of the OPEC Conference, the oil exporting cartel decided to leave its production level unchanged, sending crude prices spiralling to new records (above $104). OPEC "observed that the market is well-supplied, with current commercial oil stocks standing above their five-year average. The Conference further noted, with concern, that the current price environment does not reflect market fundamentals, as crude oil prices are being strongly influenced by the weakness in the US dollar, rising inflation and significant flow of funds into the commodities market." OPEC - March 5, 2008.

    Kyushu University (Japan) is establishing what it says will be the world’s first graduate program in hydrogen energy technologies. The new master’s program for hydrogen engineering is to be offered at the university’s new Ito campus in Fukuoka Prefecture. Lectures will cover such topics as hydrogen energy and developing the fuel cells needed to convert hydrogen into heat or electricity. Of all the renewable pathways to produce hydrogen, bio-hydrogen based on the gasification of biomass is by far both the most efficient, cost-effective and cleanest. Fuel Cell Works - March 3, 2008.

    An entrepreneur in Ivory Coast has developed a project to establish a network of Miscanthus giganteus farms aimed at producing biomass for use in power generation. In a first phase, the goal is to grow the crop on 200 hectares, after which expansion will start. The project is in an advanced stage, but the entrepreneur still seeks partners and investors. The plantation is to be located in an agro-ecological zone qualified as highly suitable for the grass species. Contact us - March 3, 2008.

    A 7.1MW biomass power plant to be built on the Haiwaiian island of Kaua‘i has received approval from the local Planning Commission. The plant, owned and operated by Green Energy Hawaii, will use albizia trees, a hardy species that grows in poor soil on rainfall alone. The renewable power plant will meet 10 percent of the island's energy needs. Kauai World - February 27, 2008.

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Monday, August 25, 2008

Researchers call for public investment in new generation of fertilizers

About 75% of all fertilizers and fertilizer technology used around the world today were developed or improved during the 1950s to 1970s by scientists and engineers at the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) in the United States, says John Shields, a former TVA official. Shields is now Interim Director of IFDC, an International Center for Soil Fertility and Agricultural Development, based in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and he calls for a similar, renewed public investment to tackle the challenges of the future.

An investment of $41 million in fertilizer research through 1981 returned an incredible $57 billion to U.S. agriculture. This doesn't include benefits of the technology to the rest of the world. But inadequate public funding caused closure of the TVA fertilizer research program in the early 1990s. Today, publicly funded fertilizer research and development has essentially ceased—and so has the flow of new and more efficient fertilizers and fertilizer manufacturing technologies.

In order to tackle the interrelated challenges of increasing food, fiber and fuel production for a growing world population, while mitigating and taking into account the effects of climate change, the scientists from the IFDC now call for a renewed investment in fertilizer research.
TVA's fertilizer program is recognized as one of the most effective research and development programs of any U.S. agency. Its benefits to the world far outweigh the public investment that the United States made in fertilizer research and development It's time to launch a radical initiative to develop a new generation of energy-efficient fertilizers to help avert hunger and famine. - Dr. Amit Roy, IFDC President and CEO
TVA Achievements
The Tennessee Valley Authority is a federally owned corporation in the United States created by congressional charter in May 1933 to provide navigation, flood control, electricity generation, fertilizer manufacturing, and economic development in the Tennessee Valley, a region particularly impacted by the Great Depression. The TVA was envisioned not only as an electricity provider, but also as a regional economic development agency that would use federal experts and funds to rapidly modernize the region's economy and society. Its fertilizer research program proved to be one of the most successful (government) investments of all time.
TVA technology fueled the sweeping advances of U.S. farmers in food and fiber production in the 60s to 80s. Today, fertilizers are responsible for more than a third of total U.S. crop production. The $57 billion return from a $41 million investment included about $49 billion from use of high-analysis fertilizers and $8 billion from process development and improvement. That's a benefit:cost ratio of more than $20 to $1. - John Shields, Interim Director of IFDC
TVA developed high-analysis fertilizers with high nutrient content as well as more efficient manufacturing processes. The fertilizers include urea, diammonium phosphate (DAP), triple superphosphate (TSP), sulfur-coated urea, and liquid fertilizers. TVA improved the manufacturing processes for ammonium nitrate and other products that help commercial producers provide efficient fertilizers to farmers worldwide. TVA's ammonium-granulation and bulk-blending technologies improve the efficiency of the manufacture of many mixed fertilizer grades. TVA generated most of the fluid fertilizer and dry bulk-blending technology used in the United States today.

TVA followed promising new fertilizers from conception to production to national acceptance by farmers and the fertilizer industry. Its program was based on fundamental research, followed by process development and technology transfer.

After agronomic tests and pilot plant production proved that a new TVA fertilizer product or manufacturing process performed well, TVA produced enough tonnage to introduce it into U.S. agriculture. TVA then stopped work on that project and moved to develop newer and more promising technologies:

Calls for new fertilizer research

Dr. Norman Borlaug, 1970 Nobel Laureate, who served on the IFDC Board of Directors from 1994 to 2003, is concerned about the state of the fertilizer industry itself. With the price of energy increasing, we need to find cheaper, more effective ways to nourish food crops, he says:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Borlaug thinks the price tag for increasing productivity in Africa might be quite high unless new fertilizers are developed. The fertilizer industry therefor needs to do everything in its power to minimize that cost. Farmers are paying way too much for fertilizer products because we are transporting millions of tons of material that is not nutrient and because much of the nutrients in applied fertilizers are never used by the crop. Nutrient losses to the environment are high with consequences for global warming and water pollution, Borlaug says.

According to Borlaug, work should begin now on the next generation of fertilizer products using advanced techniques such as nanotechnology and molecular biology, especially in conjunction with plant genetics research. 'Smart' fertilizer products that will release nutrients only at the time and in the amount needed should be developed, he thinks.

Peter McPherson, President of the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges (NASULGC) and current Chairman of the IFDC Board, adds that the world needs a major research effort to improve the effectiveness of fertilizer production and use. Fertilizer is a commodity industry and it is unlikely the industry alone will undertake the research. Some public investment is probably required, McPherson says.

During the U.N. Food Summit in June 2008 in Rome, more than 180 world leaders addressed the food crisis and stressed the urgent need "to decisively step up investment in science and technology for food and agriculture."

IFDC Facilities
The scientists think the need for increased food is escalating, but new agricultural technology is not keeping pace. An effective research program to develop a new range of fertilizers should therefor be a key element of any long-term strategy to alleviate the food crisis.

Most fertilizer products used today were developed when energy seemed abundant and cheap. But with rising prices there's a need to develop a new generation of fertilizer products that use plant nutrients more efficiently.

Such innovations will require investments in research—but such costs would be miniscule compared to the benefits for humanity.
IFDC is in a unique position to meet this challenge. We're the world's only agency with the necessary facilities and expertise. We have both the physical and human resources to do the job. IFDC has a complex of six pilot plants for research and training in fertilizer development and production plus a highly qualified team of scientists and engineers. We also have the international contacts to build support for a new, vigorous fertilizer research and development program. We can pick up where TVA had to cease. - Dr. Amit Roy, IFDC President and CEO
Image: TVA developed 75 percent of the fertilizers used worldwide today -- but research and development in fertilizer technology has almost ceased since the program closed in the early 1990s. Credit: IFDC

Eurekalert: TVA fertilizer technology used worldwide -- but few new products since 1970s - August 25, 2008.

IFDC: Focus on fertilizers and food security - Issue 1; June 2, 2008.


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