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Nature vs Nurture (Part 6) - Maximising the Environmental Gain

Shelley Inkster - Friday, July 08, 2016

Maximising the Environmental Gain


With any example of investment in cutting edge technology it is important to maximise, measure and report to the public on the effectiveness of this investment. Presenting this information in a format the community can readily understand will maximise the uptake of renewable technologies. 


The Gemasolar CSP plant (built by Torresol Energy*) project took 2 years to build, costing $419 million dollars and powers 30,000 homes 24 hours a day, even during darkness and poor daylight. The central tower receiver and molten nitrate salt thermal energy system employs the use of heliostats (large mirror panels) rather than photovoltaic cells.

The tower technology uses molten salt as a heat transfer medium that reaches temperatures above 500 degrees Centigrade and allows delivering hotter and more pressurized steam to the turbine than the parabolic trough technology, which significantly increases the performance of the overall plant.

·         Rated electrical power: 19.9 MW

·         Net electrical production expected: 110 GWh/year

·         Solar field: 2,650 heliostats on 185 hectares

·         Heat storage system: the molten salt storage tank permits independent electrical generation for up to 15 hours without any solar feed.


*Gemasolar is a project of Torresol Energy  -  Sener (South American 60%) and Masdar (Alternative power company in Abu Dhabi 40%) founded in 2008


Photovoltaic cells


Gemasolar - Construction


Gemasolar - Australian Energy Week 2016


Gemasolar - Solar storage plant sets record

Nature vs Nurture (Part 5) - GM - Benefits vs the Impacts

Shelley Inkster - Monday, July 04, 2016

Genetic engineering & modification – benefits versus the impacts

Genetically modified cotton has led to a huge decrease in pesticide application and more efficient production. GM crops can be engineered to target fertilizer and herbicide reduction and allow greater yields in difficult conditions – water and salt tolerance, and disease resistance. The result will likely be increased population, consumption and pollution.

Genetic engineering allows us to shut down disease and for preventative screening ensuring a better survival rate. Again, the result will likely be increased population, consumption and pollution.

How do we compare and factor the benefits versus challenges?

On the one hand by using genetic engineering to improve food production we could alleviate suffering and under-nourishment in the poorer regions of the world. Alternatively, we increase food production and those who are over-nourished suffer chronic morbidity or mortality from lifestyle diseases. Current trends suggest the latter.

Could we take advantage of the ‘breathing space’ that genetic engineering offers and then try to focus once again on limiting the rate of population growth?

Nature vs Nurture (Part 4) - Outstripping capacity

Shelley Inkster - Friday, May 27, 2016

Increasing populations – outstripping capacity


The use of selective breeding about 10,000 years ago was the precursor for changes in the way human populations developed and continued to spread across the globe. Although slow and occasionally subject to failure the incremental changes brought about in animal and plant genetics meant that populations could at least have some control over their food sources.


Now we have the reverse problem, a rapidly growing global population and huge disparities in the levels of nourishment amongst the world’s populations. All this despite having reliable agriculture in developed countries. 


Increased population seeking increased personal comfort and gain ………..sounds like an ‘Ehrlichian Bomb’ ticking!

 “An attitude to life which seeks fulfilment in the single-minded pursuit of wealth - in short, materialism - does not fit into this world, because it contains within itself no limiting principle, while the environment in which it is placed is strictly limited.” 


E.F. Schumacher, 'Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered'


The Guardian: The Small is Beautiful Economic Idea


In our next article we explore the area of genetic engineering, its benefits and also potential impacts.

Food in Brief #11 - HACCP: Bacillus cereus toxin detection

Kevin Stretton - Monday, May 16, 2016

Food in Brief #11 – HACCP:  Bacillus cereus toxin detection


Although traditional food borne disease detection & surveillance has provided a sound basis for improvements in food processing, changes in our food supply chain are creating new challenges. These include human behaviours & demographics, international travel, microbial adaptation, food processing methods & the centralisation of agriculture or food production.


Add to this the complexities of analytical & surveillance systems, variability in microbial systems, responses of microbes to different environments, interpretation and uncertainty of analytical results.


More recently there have been advances in genetic, molecular & toxin detection methods which can be used to complement and in some cases replace traditional methods.


Toxins produced by pathogenic bacteria can be broadly interpreted as a ‘fingerprint’ of the causative agent and also used to study or understand the role played by toxins in food poisoning.


We include some articles for further review.


Cereulide toxin detection


Structure of Cereulide

Quantitation of Cereulide toxins

Food in Brief #10 - HACCP: Metal Detection

Kevin Stretton - Friday, May 13, 2016

HACCP - Metal detection


The recent product recall by Unilever / Streets (Blue Ribbon ice cream) again highlights the challenges faced by food and beverage manufacturers with the ‘Holy Trinity’ of food safety, biological, chemical & physical contamination.


Current X-ray metal detection methods are restricted by their capability to detect metal contaminants which are 1mm or greater in size or happen to be in the correct orientation for detection. In complex food matrices, long and thin metal objects may pass undetected through an automated inspection system.


As a way of increasing the likelihood of detection researchers at the Toyobashi University of Technology have designed a highly sensitive metal detector.


Rather than rely on a metal object blocking X-rays to create an image the researchers designed a system which causes a metal contaminant to have a remnant magnetic field.


In laboratory trials detection was sensitive down to 0.3mm and the technology wasn’t affected by other radiation sources or metallic objects.


We have included some links to the overall concepts & the university’s research material.


The use of X-rays in food inspection


Toyobashi University of Technology

Research Gate

Food in Brief #9 - NSW Food Regulation 2015

Kevin Stretton - Monday, May 09, 2016

NSW Food Regulation 2015


The NSW Food Regulation 2015 was gazetted on October 16th 2015 and the NSW Food Authority has been promoting awareness of the changes.


Major changes to the legislation include the licensing of specific businesses within industry sectors.


  • •  Dairy farms, collection contractors, processors & vendors
  • •  Egg industry & / or processors
  • •  Food catering & services to aged care facilities &/or hospitals
•  Processing or the storage of:


    •           ·  High priority plant products
    •           ·  Meats
    •           ·  Ready to eat (RTE) meals
    •           ·  Seafood and shell fish


The Authority is using two (2) auditing protocols to monitor industry compliance with the legislation and food standards:


  1. 1  New licensees
  2. 2  Or existing low-risk licensed businesses applying for a high-risk license where RTE meals are to be produced.


Once companies have demonstrated prolonged compliance they may be permitted to move to a further audit classification.


Audit frequency is determined by the risk classification and the results of audits.


We include some links for further review.


Guidance on audits


Environment in Brief #10 - Battery Technologies

Kevin Stretton - Sunday, April 24, 2016

Environment in Brief #10 - Battery Technologies


The pro and con debate centred on sustainable energy systems continues in boardrooms, coffee lounges and the family home.


  • The challenges to be overcome are mainly concerned with:-


  1. •  Keeping lithium systems cool in hot  humid environments
  2. •  Safety and stability in systems that are constantly charged or have fluctuating
  3.    power demands
  4. •  Sizes, space and capacities
  5. •  The ability to cope with power demands over short and extended periods


Yet it is clear to see that in ever increasing strides the changes occurring in technology will very soon offer both the commercial and residential sectors unique options in generating and storing energy.


And an important area of that change is occurring in the larger storage units suitable for commercial applications. It is estimated that more than 80% of the sales in energy storage systems will come from the supply of units with capacities of 100 kilo-watt hours. Compare this with the current capacity of 7kWh units being sold for the residential sector.


In 2015 the International Renewable Energy Agency stated that renewable electricity supplies need to double to about 45% by 2030. Potentially this equates to about 475 Gigawatts of power generated by renewable sources. In 2013 the annual installation of battery storage systems was approximately 0.34 Gigawatts.


So it is not so unusual to see that as the various technologies evolve combinations of storage units will be used to supplement solar in areas like accommodation providers, commercial buildings, remote or rural grids and shopping centres.


We provide some further reading for your interest:


Climate Council


Lux Research


MIT - Missing Link to Renewable Technology

Nature vs Nurture (Part 3b) - Are we too clever for our own good?

Shelley Inkster - Saturday, April 23, 2016

Are we too clever for our own good?


We continue the themes developed and related to water management, population growth and the consumption of resources at an unlimited rate.


Water management & desalination – benefits versus the impacts


Desalination of water in our modern world is crucial for supplementing those areas which experience unreliable water cycles or are insufficient for supporting consistent primary food production. As an example, recent droughts in the Yangtze basin threaten the viability of the South-North Water Transfer project discussed in an earlier article.


In 2011 there were approximately 14,500 desalination plants operating globally with the highest concentration of plants being located in the Middle East. And over the next decade the demand for desalination plants is expected to triple.


Unlike recycling & storm water harvesting which rely on the existing water cycle, desalination provides an independent source of potable water. However, challenges with desalination technologies such as expensive capital costs, high energy demand and corresponding carbon outputs can limit applications.


Combining many of these technologies may provide us with a solution to a wide range of problems, bringing about short to medium term stability in water management and consumption while also hopefully averting man-made disasters such as the Great 1959 Famine in China.


However, will we take the initiative and use that ‘breathing space’ to focus on the ‘root cause’ of our problems; excessive population growth?


We include some articles for your interest:


Science Direct - Impacts and Assessment of Seawater Desalination


Arabian Gulf Case Study


Science Direct - Cost Benefit Analysis of Desalination


The Population Institute

Nature vs Nurture (Part 3a) - Are we too clever for our own good?

Shelley Inkster - Monday, April 18, 2016

Are we too clever for our own good?


We continue the theme developed in part 2 and in subsequent articles we’ll discuss a wide range of issues related to population growth and the consumption of resources at an unlimited rate.



Water management & diversion – benefits versus the impacts


In a possible effort to avoid agricultural, political & social disasters of the past (see the link to ‘Tombstone’ below) the South-to-North Water Diversion Project in China is the largest of its kind ever undertaken. The project involves drawing water from southern rivers and supplying it to the dry north. This massive scheme has already taken 50 years from conception to commencement and is expected to take almost as long to construct.

Planned for completion in 2050, it will eventually divert 44.8 billion cubic metres of water annually to the population centres of the drier north.  The intent is to increase agricultural productivity and hopefully reduce the land subsidence and dust storms of recent years. The result will likely be increased population, consumption and pollution.


Have the consequences and impacts been adequately considered?


Tombstone by Yang Jisheng

China - Great famine book - Tombstone


Nature vs Nurture (Part 2) - Sustain

Shelley Inkster - Monday, April 04, 2016
Oxford Dictionary definition:  Sustain* ~ Enable to last out…


The pressure of population on the environment is not a new concern, by any means:

In his book, Paul Ehrlich argued that increasing populations and affluence were placing growing pressure on the global environment in many fields, from loss of biodiversity, overfishing, global warming, urbanization, chemical pollution, and competition for raw materials. Ehrlich and others, now argue that whilst the projected timing was wrong, humanity has simply deferred the moment of disaster through the intensive agricultural techniques introduced during the green revolution.  Ehrlich maintains that in light of growing global affluence, reducing total population as well as consumption is critical to maintaining environment protection and living standards and that current rates of growth are still too high for a sustainable future.

In 2011, as the world's population passed the seven billion mark Paul Ehrlich (author of “The Population Bomb – 1968) argued that the next two billion people on Earth would cause more damage than the previous two billion due to the increased need to use more marginal  land, damaging the environment and important resources.


Studies of Animal Population from Lamarck to Darwin


The Ecology of Human Populations: Thomas Malthus


World Population Growth 


Revising the Malthusian Narrative - CSDE Working Paper No. 98-05