Archive for Environment

Arctic peatlands may release potent greenhouse gas as permafrost thaws

From ABC Science, 30 May 2017:

Arctic peatlands may become a substantial source of a greenhouse gas 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide when they thaw, a new study suggests.

The study by a team of Scandinavian scientists indicated that thawing permafrost could release nitrous oxide (N2O) — also known as ‘laughing gas’ — under increasing temperatures.

Based on an analysis of frozen peat cores exposed to warming conditions in the laboratory, they estimated nitrous oxide emissions could occur from surfaces covering almost one-fourth of the entire Arctic.

The highest emissions, from bare peat samples, were on a par with tropical forest soils — the largest known natural source of nitrous oxide — they reported in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Read more.

Smart city: using technology to tackle traffic and social isolation in Melbourne

From The Guardian, 19 June 2017:

Traffic congestion and social isolation are two concepts that don’t immediately appear to be connected.

But in 2012, the Grattan Institute’s Social Cities report drew a direct line between inefficient urban transport and less time spent with friends and family. One estimate suggested every 10 minutes of commuting equates to 10% fewer social connections, while other research has found that more than 10% of working parents spend more time commuting to work than they spend with their children. It’s an issue that the city of Melbourne wants to get to grips with.

“Given congestion seems to be getting to be a greater scourge, more people are spending time in their vehicles, but by themselves, maybe listening to the radio. They’re not connecting to their communities and their families,” says Melbourne councillor Cathy Oke, chair of the environment portfolio.

“The city has two clear goals, not only around our transport strategy and around reduction of congestion, but we also have a social connection goal.”

And so the Resilient Melbourne Citymart Challenge was created. The brief: creative, feasible and impactful ideas to help to reduce transport congestion, and ideally also make the experience of travel more socially fulfilling. Read more.

Battery storage and rooftop solar could mean new life post-grid for consumers

From The Guardian, 13 June 2017:

To illustrate the impact of battery storage on the electricity network in Australia, Prof Guoxiu Wang likes to compare it to the invention of refrigeration.

“Before people invented the fridge, we produced food, we consumed food immediately,” says Wang, director of the Centre for Clean Energy Technology at the University of Technology, Sydney. “With the development of appropriate electricity storage technology, the electricity is like our food – you can store it and whenever you need that electricity, you can use that immediately.”

Batteries as a means to store electricity are nothing new. But with solar photovoltaic units now found on 16.5% of Australian residential roofs, battery storage has stepped into the big league. What was once viewed as an add-on to solar photovoltaic is now driving a revolution in the energy sector and turning the concept of a national electricity grid upside down.

The chief scientist Dr Alan Finkel’s report on the future of the national electricity market gives a glimpse of how profound this change will be. The report cites data suggesting that by 2050, 30% to 45% of annual electricity consumption (pdf p62) could be supplied by consumer-owned generators; namely, rooftop solar photovoltaic and battery storage.

This represents a huge opportunity for consumers, and a huge challenge for electricity providers. Read more.

How Australia can use hydrogen to export its solar power around the world

From The Guardian, 19 May 2017:

Nearly a century ago, British scientist JB Haldane saw an energy future in which wind power would be used to generate hydrogen; a fuel he described as, weight-for-weight, the most efficient known method of storing energy.

He thought this future was four hundred years away, but the so-called “hydrogen economy” may arrive a lot sooner thanks to a recent burst of innovations in hydrogen generation, storage, transport and use. And it could open a new energy export market for Australia.

Hydrogen itself isn’t actually a fuel – it’s an energy carrier.

The gas is produced by splitting water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen by the electricity-driven process electrolysis. That hydrogen is then condensed under pressure and at very low temperatures into a liquid, which can be used in much the same way as petrol and diesel, or it can be used in fuel cells to generate electricity.

The conversion of that solar, wind or water energy into liquid hydrogen also enables it to be transported to where it is needed, which in most countries in the world is a reasonable distance away from where the energy is generated in the first place. Read more.

Age discrimination: older Australian workers viewed as slow to learn

From The Guardian, 20 April 2017:

The trope of the older worker thrust back into the hurly-burly of working life made for great comedy in the 2015 film The Intern. But in reality this scenario isn’t always such a laughing matter.

Older workers face unique hardships. Hampered by unfair stereotypes about their abilities, their role in society and their responsibilities, they are regularly overlooked for interviews, jobs, promotions and recognition.

The Australian Human Rights Commission’s 2016 report Willing to Work found 27% of people over the age of 50 reported experiencing age discrimination at work, a third of the most recent episodes occurring when applying for a job. One-third of those gave up looking for work.

Age discrimination was particularly acute among older women, who were more likely to be viewed as having outdated skills, being slow to learn, or as being likely to do an unsatisfactory job. Seniors with disabilities face an even steeper uphill battle for jobs and recognition. Read more.

Food security: the gene banks future-proofing Australian agriculture

From The Guardian, 27 April 2017:

n February 2018 the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in the remote Norwegian Arctic will celebrate its 10th anniversary. Among the gifts it will receive are two collections of precious seeds and grains from the Australian Pastures Genebank and the Australian Grains Genebank, to be deposited into the vault as an insurance policy for an uncertain future.

Between them, the Australian Pastures Genebank and the Australian Grains Genebank are a record of Australia’s agricultural past, a resource for its present, and an insurance policy for its future.

“Our whole industry is predominantly based on improved species that have been introduced from overseas … and they are constantly at threat from pests and disease and climate change, drought, salinity,” says Steve Hughes, leader of the Australian Pastures Genebank.

Gene banks give researchers access to a library of seed and germplasm from which they can source the traits they need to ensure the next generations of pasture and grain crops have the best chance of overcoming diseases, pests and arduous conditions. The collection is classified by latitude, longitude, altitude, disease tolerance, soil conditions, climate, pest resistance and productivity. Items borrowed are not returned: the only payment the library demands is information.

“We don’t know what the future does have in place for us, which is why we have all this diversity which is hopefully going to be the key to future-proofing ourselves, or our agricultural industry,” Hughes says. Read more. 

Seaweed on shortlist in co-culture trial

From Fish magazine, December 2016:

Native seaweeds could be the next big thing in Australian aquaculture, as businesses look to diversify their income streams and improve water quality at the same time.

Researchers at the South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI) have been investigating integrated multitrophic aquaculture. This describes the co-culture of organisms where one species benefits from and therefore removes the wastes from another species, and both species have an economic value.

The project had its genesis when a team of researchers from SARDI and CSIRO began working to improve their understanding of nutrient cycling in the water around Southern Bluefin Tuna and Yellowtail Kingfish farms off the South Australian coastline. The project investigated the hypothesis that farmed seaweed would absorb nutrients generated in the farm, producing a usable product and decreasing the industry’s environmental footprint. Read more.

A voice for Indigenous fisheries

From Fish magazine, December 2016

As the world’s oldest continuous culture, Aboriginal Australians have not only maintained a connection to the land for tens of thousands of years, but also to the waters that encircle and run over it. These waters have provided a wealth of food and other resources to countless generations.

With the arrival of European settlers, Indigenous cultural fishing practices and access to fisheries were dramatically changed. But Stephan Schnierer, an adjunct professor at Southern Cross University, is working to ensure that Indigenous fisheries are recognised as the original fisheries in Australia. This will help to ensure that Indigenous people have a strong presence in both management and use of Indigenous fisheries. Read more.

Australian consortium launches world-first digital energy marketplace for rooftop solar

From The Guardian, 23 February 2017:

Australian homeowners with solar panels and batteries could soon trade their electricity in a digital marketplace developed by a consortium of electricity providers, energy tech startups, energy retailers and energy agencies.

The Decentralised Energy Exchange – or deX – was launched on Thursday with the promise to “change the way energy is produced, traded and consumed at a local level in Australia”.

Phil Blythe, founder and CEO of GreenSync – an energy tech startup and partner in deX – says the project reflects a shift in energy production from a centralised model of large-scale power plants to a decentralised model of rooftop solar.

“The uptake of rooftop solar is one of the highest in the world per capita in Australia – around 1.6 million rooftops are fitted with solar – and it’s being rapidly followed by battery storage,” Blythe says.

This has led to a shift away from thinking of households solely as energy consumers towards them being viewed as active participants in the grid. Read more.

Urban heat islands: cooling things down with trees, green roads and fewer cars

From the Guardian, 21 February 2017:

When it comes to coping with heatwaves, our own cities are conspiring against us. Road surfaces, pavements and buildings all contribute to keeping urbanised environments three to four degrees hotter than surrounding non-urbanised areas.

With heatwaves like the ones that have just baked half of Australia to a crisp forecast to increase in frequency and intensity, city councils are taking the urban heat island effect very seriously.

“Some of the modelling studies have shown that we can often have an urban heat island magnitude – so that’s the difference between the temperature in the city versus the temperature in the non-urbanised surroundings – that can be greater than the types of temperature increases that we’re looking at with global warming,” says Dr Melissa Hart, graduate director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science at the University of New South Wales.

The urban heat island effect occurs because the dense dark surfaces such as bitumen on roads and building materials used in cities accumulate and store heat during the day and then release it at night. Read more.