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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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Friday, September 12, 2008

Scientists develop plant-powered desalination technology - allows land reclamation

A very interesting technology under development at the University of New South Wales could offer new hope to farmers in drought-affected and marginal areas by enabling crops to grow using salty groundwater. The technology desalinates the water by making use of the power of plant roots, and so makes it possible to reclaim deserted farm land. The innovation could be particularly welcome for some of the world's poorest farmers, who are confronted with soil salinization.

Global agriculture utilizes large amounts of fresh water. But continued cropping and irrigation can turn land gradually into a salt pan, making agriculture impossible over time. The problem of soil salinization is universal and few practical solutions currently exist. In the meantime, water is becoming a scarce resource. Making fresh water out of salt water is possible with desalination technologies, but these require large inputs of (fossil) energy.

A new technology has now been developed that succeeds in desalinating the salt water from agricultural land, without relying on external energy sources. Instead, the technology utilizes the power of plant roots.

Associate Professor Greg Leslie, a chemical engineer at UNSW's UNESCO Centre for Membrane Science and Technology, is working with the University of Sydney on the technology which uses reverse-osmosis membranes to turn previously useless, brackish groundwater into a valuable agricultural resource.

The team is looking at ways to grow plants on very salty water while restoring the soil. The key of the system can be found in the incorportation of a reverse osmosis membrane into a sub-surface drip irrigation system. The irrigation system relies on the roots of the plant drawing salty groundwater through the membrane – in doing so removing the salt which would otherwise degrade the soil and make continued cropping unsustainable.

Desalination such as this requires a pressure gradient to draw clean water through the membrane. Professor Leslie has demonstrated that, by running irrigation lines under the ground beneath the plants, the root systems of the plants provide enough of a pressure gradient to draw up water without the high energy consumption usually required for desalination:
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The scientists think the technology will make it possible to provide agriculture with a new tool to grow crops in drought years when there is limited access to run-off and surface water.

The plant-powered desalination technique could also make the reclamation of salinated soils viable, thus expanding the land resource that is available for agriculture.

The membrane technology, developed by Professor Leslie and the University of Sydney's Professor Bruce Sutton, has been patented by UNSW's commercial arm, NewSouth Innovations.

Image: plant roots provide enough pressure to make desalination via reverse osmosis work.


UNESCO Centre for Membrane Science and Technology, University of New South Wales.

NewSouth Innovations.


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