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Published: 26 September 2011

WA mallee farmers take myrtle rust threat seriously

A harvester designed in Western Australia to cut and chip mallee crops will be kept in ‘quarantine’ on the eastern seabord to prevent the spread of myrtle rust spores that may have attached onto the machine during trials there.

Richard Sulman from Biosystems Engineering with the mallee harvester he invented.
Credit: FFI CRC

Peter Zurzolo, Deputy CEO of Future Farm Industries CRC – a partner in the harvester’s development – said that until the risks and possible control methods were evaluated it would be unwise to bring the harvester back to WA.

‘We took a tough decision,’ Mr Zurzolo said. ‘The mallee harvester has been used in trials on the eastern seaboard near areas that are affected by myrtle rust. Based on expert advice we could not guarantee that the harvester is not contaminated with myrtle rust spores.’

Myrtle rust is a fungal pathogen that affects plants belonging to the Myrtaceae family, which includes eucalypts, myrtles and bottlebrushes. The rust is native to South America and is also found in parts of the United States of America and Central America.

In Australia, it was first detected on the central coast of New South Wales in late April 2011. It has spread to numerous near-coastal locations in New South Wales and Queensland.

‘There is no evidence that myrtle rust is in Western Australia and bringing myrtaceous plants into WA from other states has been prohibited. If it gets in here, it could be devastating. This pathogen affects and may kill some Australian plants, including eucalypts. It has the potential to affect the natural environment and some industries,’ Mr Zurzolo said.

‘We know that mallee growers in WA are keen to see the new prototype harvester in action and we had planned to give them that opportunity later this month. Unfortunately that will not happen for the time being.’

Lex Hardie, President of the Oil Mallee Association, said he supported the decision not to bring the harvester to WA at this stage.

‘Of course it is disappointing that mallee growers here won’t get to see the harvester in action in the near future. But if it did come back and brought myrtle rust with it, serious damage to some plant industries and the environment is likely, and none of us want that. Future Farm CRC’s decision is sensible.’

The harvester cuts costs by harvesting the mallee trees and chipping them on site prior to the biomass being converted into energy. Mr Zurzolo said that research on the harvester was continuing and Biosystems Engineering, the machine’s developer, was on track to proving its effectiveness and reliability.

‘The original plan was to run the final trials of the harvester in WA but they will now be conducted in eastern Australia.

‘Our determination to see a mallee industry up and running, with a secure supply chain, including an efficient and economic harvester, has not lapsed in any way. Our work with our partners in the biofuel industry is proceeding apace. Myrtle rust has only changed the location at which some of our trials will be conducted. Everything else is proceeding well.’

ECOS recently covered the myrtle rust threat in Australia – our comprehensive perspective can be found here

Source: Future Farm Industries CRC

Published: 26 September 2011

Renewable energy sector to benefit from wind-speed research

Craig Macaulay

While some recent international studies have shown a decrease in wind speeds in several parts of the globe, including Australia, more recent results from CSIRO show that Australia’s average wind speed is actually increasing.

The ability to accurately quantify long-term variations in wind speeds is essential to the viability of Australia’s wind power sector.
The ability to accurately quantify long-term variations in wind speeds is essential to the viability of Australia’s wind power sector.
Credit: Gregory Heath

CSIRO scientists have analysed wind speed observations to understand the causes of variations in near-ground-level wind and explore long-term wind speed trends.

Accurate estimates of long-term trends provide a useful indicator for circulation changes in the atmosphere and are invaluable for the planning and financing of sectors such as wind energy, which need to map risk management under a changing climate.

‘We have a good picture of wind energy availability across Australia from previous CSIRO wind mapping and, with the growth of wind farms, there is an emerging need to understand how climate change can affect the wind resource,’ says Dr Alberto Troccoli, lead author of a recent paper published in Journal of Climate. 1

‘Wind power production is expected to increase greatly over the coming years and the associated electricity system will be subject to variations of several hundred megawatts – depending on wind availability.

‘The ability to quantify with accuracy these long-term variations is essential to the sector from an economic point of view.’

Dr Troccoli said that, averaged across Australia over 1989–2006, wind speeds measured at a height of 10 metres had increased by 0.69 per cent per annum, compared to a decline of 0.36 per cent per annum for wind speeds measured at 2m height.

‘The potential for increasing the efficiency of energy operations by using quality weather and climate information is therefore apparent and one of the first steps is the standardisation of wind recording stations.

‘Wind observations, like other meteorological variables, are sensitive to the conditions in which they are observed – for example, where the instrumentation sits relative to topographical features, vegetation and urban developments.’

The team found that the wind speed trends over Australia are sensitive to the height of the station, with winds measured at 10m displaying an opposite and positive trend to those reported by a previous study, which analysed only winds measured at 2m.

Light winds measured at 10m, a height that represents better the free atmospheric flow, tend to increase more rapidly than the average, whereas strong winds increase less rapidly than the average winds. Light and strong wind measured at a height of 2m tend to vary in line with the average winds.

‘Our work shows a number of challenges with the consistency of the observations during their period of operation and between sites across Australia,’ adds Dr Troccoli.

‘The quality of future wind observational datasets will depend on having consistency between sites, particularly with respect to measurement procedure, maintenance of instrumentation, and detailed records of the site history.’

He said the work has implications for a variety of sectors beyond wind energy including building construction, coastal erosion, and evaporation rates.

The conjunction of energy and meteorology is the central theme of the International Conference Energy & Meteorology on the Gold Coast in November.

Read Dr Troccoli’s thoughts on What’s the energy forecast? Bringing meteorology and generation together in the online forum, The Conversation.

1 A. Troccoli, K. Muller, P. Coppin, R. Davy, C. Russell and A. Hirsch (2011) Long-term wind speed trends over Australia. Journal of Climate, doi: 10.1175/2011JCLI4198.1

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