In this issue

Issue 77

Broad application for bioassay techniques
A bioassay test developed to help refine guidelines for new pulp mills in marine environments is also helping to gauge the impact of other resource industries on Australia's coastal waters. The test uses a highly sensitive Australian marine alga (Nitzschia closterium) to investigate the toxicity of complex effluents and of particular compounds they may contain.
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World patent for natural, non-toxic fumigant
Carbonyl sulphide, recently patented world-wide, is touted as a replacement for methyl bromide in the control of some insect, nematode and fungal pests. Carbonyl sulphide is better for the environment than methyl bromide. It breaks down quickly and does not cause the residue problems of persistent chemicals.
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Storing energy while the sun shines
A new CSIRO project could help solve the problem of storing solar energy and transferring it from areas of supply to those of demand. The project centres on a chemical reaction which uses concentrated solar energy and a chemical catalyst, such as rhodium, to react together with carbon dioxide and methane to form synthesis gas (a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide).
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Ceramic-cell technology world class
Ceramic Fuel Cells Ltd has underway a five-year, $30 million research and development program which aims to produce multi-kilowatt fuel cell stacks for testing in a variety of applications by 1997. In the long term, the company plans to develop world-competitive solid oxide (or ceramic) fuel cell technology and establish an international solid oxide fuel cell business in Australia.
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Will ingenuity feed Australia's future?
The population Australia can support will depend on a number of factors, especially technological innovation. In this article four prominent Australians discuss Australia's future carrying capacity and the implications for Australia.
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Smart sewage use on trial at Wagga
Local authorities facing strict controls on sewage discharge to rivers are being urged to reassess the commercial value of secondary-treated effluent. Forget costly chemical and biological tertiary treatments. Consider instead a sewage effluent treatment unit that consumes water, recycles nutrients and, given a balanced diet of effluent, grows in value every day. This is why CSIRO has more than 7,000 such sewage effluent treatment units under trial at Wagga Wagga, NSW. The 'units' are trees and are irrigated with sewage effluent. Wagga's Effluent Plantation Project, begun in 1991, will produce national guidelines for designing, establishing and managing effluent-irrigated plantations.
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Biological treatment for Ballarat
A collaborative biological waste treatment project between CSIRO and the Ballarat Water Board has saved the board an estimated $5 million in capital expense and $350,000 in annual operating costs. The treatment plant has resulted in phosphorus levels in waste water being reduced from 9 ppm to 3 ppm by biological means alone.
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Recovering waste-water
A mercury recovery process that avoids the problems of existing ion-exchange methods has been developed by CSIRO's Division of Chemicals and Polymers. Use of a chelating resin exchanger offers adsorption and regeneration techniques that remove mercury from waste-water and enables industry to recover the trapped mercury cations (positive ions) cheaply and efficiently.
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Biological weed control a team effort
Shire councils, state agriculture departments, community groups and landowners are working with CSIRO to speed the biological control of pasture and environmental weeds in south-eastern Australia. They have organised networks to distribute and monitor insects bred by CSIRO to control weeds such as Scotch thistle, St John's wort and bitou bush.
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Native grasses add interest to low-maintenance landscapes
Native grasses are becoming popular as a low-cost, attractive alternative to mown turf in public landscapes. Trials of the cool-season wallaby grass species (Danthonia richardsonii) have shown that given the right environmental conditions it establishes well from seed although seed supplies at present are limited. A trial of kangaroo grass, (Themeda triandra) has revealed a huge variation in the tolerance of kangaroo grass to acid soils, which suggests varieties could be bred to combat this widespread and increasing problem in Australia.
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Daintree community to save cassowaries
A report on cassowary populations and their conservation between the Daintree River and Cape Tribulation has triggered the formation of a new community cassowary conservation initiative. The community will use the information gained in the survey to develop strategies for conservation of cassowaries, the rehabilitation of important habitat areas and development of public awareness.
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Building code software wins approval
Local government building surveyors are using a new software tool, BCAider, to speed the checking of building designs submitted for approval. The software is an expert system with hypertext. A user is asked which parts of the proposed building or code they wish to check and BCAider helps to decide whether or not the design complies.
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Working together with acid sulfate soils
Acid sulphate soils usually form in the muds that accumulate in mangrove areas. The problem begins when a lowering of the water table exposes 'potential acid sulphate' soil to oxygen. Oxygen can reach the iron sulphide and oxidise it to sulphuric acid. This mobilises aluminium, present in unlimited amounts in soil clay. When the land floods after heavy summer rains, the aluminium is washed into coastal rivers and estuaries. The sudden influx of acidic water high in aluminium and iron is a hazard to agriculture and to the aquatic environment, where it clogs the gills of fishes, crustaceans and oysters, causing fish kills.
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Fragmented landscapes
Wildlife habitats worldwide are threatened by the decline of native vegetation, which exists only as small, isolated remnants. Habitat fragmentation, combined with the tremendous impact of feral animals, has been associated with the loss and/or decline of several mammal species from most fragments, as experienced in the wheatbelt of Western Australia.
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Fishing for knowledge in the Pacific
The work of CSIRO marine biologist, Dr Bob Johannes is profiled.
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Wool wear goes soft
An innovative Australian company has used CSIRO research findings to create a range of soft woollen fabrics specifically for school jumpers. The 'Soft Wear' woollen jumpers are virtually guaranteed not to irritate even the most sensitive skin.
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