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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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Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Australia: new positive biochar results, concept on political agenda

According to the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries (NSW DPI), scientists have found more positive results which reinforce the potential of ‘biochar’ to revolutionise climate mitigation and adaptation in Australian agriculture. Researchers found a 150% increase in maize yield when poor soils were amended by biochar. Because of these and other major benefits, biochar has reached the political agenda, with Minister for Primary Industries Ian Macdonald saying that it is a possible saviour for Australia’s carbon-depleted soils, and has multiple greenhouse gas benefits. A first project to assess the feasibility of building a renewable energy power plant that simultaneously yields electricity with negative emissions and biochar has been initiated.

Researchers from the NSW Department of Primary Industries (NSW DPI) continue to unlock the potential of biochar, which is a charcoal-like product that is the residue of a renewable energy production process called slow-pyrolysis. Products like paper mill waste, green waste, animal manures or other biomass can be recycled by heating to 550 degrees Celsius in the absence of oxygen, generating energy and biochar.

Adding biochar to soil not only provides an economical way to sequester carbon, but also has soil health benefits which will help farmers adapt to climate variability and increase productivity. Minister Macdonald said a number of scientific projects within NSW DPI were researching biochar, testing its value as a soil amendment and developing it as a tool for climate change mitigation.
Biochar holds particular potential for long-term carbon sequestration, improving soil health and water holding capacity, and further reducing emissions of greenhouse gases associated with fertiliser application. Recent studies have found a 150 per cent increase in corn yield when biochar is applied at the rate of 20 tonnes to the hectare. - Ian MacDonald, Minister of Primary Industries
NSW DPI scientists are working on placing an economic valuation on biochar to promote commercial production and application of the product. They are undertaking a scoping study for a slow-pyrolysis plant on the north coast of NSW. The study is in collaboration with BEST Energies Australia, Ballina Council and the Department of State and Regional Development.

The study is a feasibility assessment for building a facility in the Northern Rivers region as a commercial demonstration and will include a preliminary economic analysis. If adopted within NSW, slow-pyrolysis plants could take biomass waste from urban and rural areas converting it into valuable products (energy and biochar) for use in agriculture and forestry:
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Minister Macdonald also recognised the contribution of DPI scientists Lukas Van Zwieten, Stephen Kimber, Annette Cowie, Yin Chan and BP Singh who contributed to the book, Biochar for Environmental Management. The book will be launched at an international conference next month.

The scientists

The NSW DPI scientists working on biochar form a team of experts in soil science, carbon sequestration, agroecology, forestry and climate change.

Dr Lukas Van Zwieten is a Senior Research Scientist with NSW Department of Primary Industries, located at Wollongbar Agricultural Institute since 1995. Recent work on biochar is Internationally Acclaimed and won the 2007 World Environment Day Award “Meeting the Greenhouse Challenge.” Biochar research also received a Commendation from the NSW Premier’s Public Sector Awards. The research directly supports production of renewable energy and climate change mitigation through C sequestration in soil, increased crop production and reduced emissions of soil greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Dr Steve Kimber is part of the Environmental and Agricultural Health team at Wollongbar.
He joined NSW Agriculture in 1997 as an Environmental Scientist (pesticides) and has undertaken research in reducing off-site movement of pesticides, enhanced pesticide degradation and contaminated site risk assessment. He has over 15 years scientific research experience in the degradation and movement of pesticides, and in analytical residue chemistry. He is currently carrying out research on the benefits of biochar amendment to soils, in particular, the influence of biochar on greenhouse gas emissions.

Dr Annette Cowie is a Senior Research Scientist in DPI’s Science and Research Division. She leads the New Forests research program in the Forest Resources Research unit. The New Forests program demonstrates and quantifies environmental services from planted forests, particularly in the areas of carbon sequestration, salinity mitigation and land rehabilitation. Dr Cowie has a background in soil and plant science and her personal research program focuses on key aspects of greenhouse science: documenting greenhouse mitigation benefits of forestry systems for carbon sequestration and production of biofuel; management of soil carbon, including soil amendment with biochar to sequester carbon and enhance productivity; and development of greenhouse accounting systems for emissions trading. Dr Cowie is the Australian National Team Leader for IEA Bioenergy Task 38 “Greenhouse gas balances of biomass and bioenergy systems”, and has recently become Co-leader of the International Task Group.

Dr Yin Chan has been a principal research scientist of Department of Primary Industries since 1996 carrying out research in the area of soil physics, soil structure, soil physical fertility. He joined NSW Agriculture* in 1979 and has undertaken state-wide research on identifying and amelioration of soil physical problems of agricultural soils of the NSW, working closely with agronomists in the Department. Research projects taken include: understanding the processes of soil structural degradation, identification of physical limiting factors limiting crop production in NSW soils, their amelioration with the use of gypsum, lime, and improved management practices in terms of more suitable tillage practices, better rotation, incorporation of pasture phase, conservation tillage, ecology of earthworm and role in agroecosystems. As many of the soil physical constraints are directly related to declining soil organic carbon levels of many NSW soils, Yin Chan's current research projects - which involve farming system experiments in different parts of the State - concern the effect of management practices on (i) soil organic carbon dynamics and sequestration mechanisms (quantity & quality i.e. different carbon fractions); (ii) soil structure and soil organic carbon relationship (iii) improvement of soil biological activities, particularly the earthworms (iv) beneficial use of recycled organics in agriculture.

Dr Bhupinderpal Singh joined Forest Resources Research in August 2005 as a Research Officer and is currently working as a Research Scientist since August 2006. Dr Singh works in the New Forests group. This group quantifies environmental services from planted forests, particularly in the areas of carbon sequestration, salinity mitigation and land rehabilitation. Dr Singh's research focuses on quantifying: (i) biochar-carbon stability and greenhouse mitigation benefits of biochar application to soil; (ii) tree and soil respiration and their responses to climate change factors (such as elevated CO2, water availability); and (iii) in-situ non-CO2 (N2O, CH4) greenhouse gas emissions and their drivers, as well as soil C stock changes, during the transition from pasture to plantation forests in Australia. He is particularly interested in application of isotopes (especially 13C, 15N) to gain insights into soil organic C and N dynamics and belowground carbon cycling processes in Australian forest ecosystems.

Image: biochar field trials at the NSW DPI agricultural research station in Wollongbar. Pictured is Dr Lucas Van Zwieten.


NSW Department of Primary Industries: Biochar revolution to benefit climate and agriculture - September 2, 2008.


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