This is the World Organic News for the week ending the 8th of April 2019.
Jon Moore reporting!
Decarbonise the air, recarbonise the soil!
More good news this week on the “decarbonise the air” part of the tag line. As ever, just because something can be done, doesn’t mean that it will be. So to the article from Science Alert: Huge Global Study Just Smashed One of The Last Major Arguments Against Renewables.
So that’s all good then.
We just got some massive news in the ongoing drive to switch to renewable energy: scientists have identified 530,000 sites worldwide suitable for pumped-hydro energy storage, capable of storing more than enough energy to power the entire planet.
Pumped-hydro is one of the best technologies we have for storing intermittent renewable energy, such as solar power, which means these sites could act as giant batteries, helping to support cheap, fully renewable power grids.
As of now the sites have only been identified by an algorithm, so further on-the-ground research needs to be done. But it was previously assumed there were only limited suitable sites around the world, and that we wouldn’t be able to store enough renewable energy for high-demand times – which this study shows isn’t the case at all.
Pumped hydro has been a theme for sometime on this podcast. As I’ve stated elsewhere, it is based on tried and tested technologies. The mechanics of hydro power generation are well known. Running the generators “backwards” or perhaps, in reverse, would be more accurate, turns them into pumps. So when the intermittent energy generation of solar, wind, wave or whatever else turns up in the future, the excess produced over that consumed is used to pump water uphill.
And here it sits until the demand for power results in the water flowing back down hill, turning the turbines and generating electricity. Earlier episodes discussed the availability of such sites in Australia. This piece of research shows that the globe is covered with appropriate sites.
So we have the knowledge, the technical ability but do we have the political will? Given the National Party in Queensland is pushing for, of all things, a coal fired power station before the next election, we can only hope this will be the last of these sorts of follies.
Now we move to an aspect of the second part of the tagline: “Recarbonise the soil”.
From the blog, Deep Agroecology comes the post: The Marvelous Million Hazelnut Campaign.
Imagine the vast GMO-glyphosate soybean fields of America’s Heartland transformed into a perennial forest with swarms of hazelnut trees, deeply-rooted and thick as lilac bushes, fourteen feet tall, and laden heavy with oil-rich nuts that have a 101 uses.
Imagine the annual harvest of hazelnuts fulfilling a cornucopia of needs: for animal feed, for cooking oil, for fuel, for human food – and for many of the purposes and functions now fulfilled by soy.
How different the landscape. How changed the land itself, and all the creatures which share life upon the land. How profoundly different the environmental impact.
This particular food source is something I’d looked into in another life about fifteen years ago. The research then was fascinating. For some reason the humble hazelnut popped into my mind earlier this week and then this article arrived in my field of vision.
Now these nuts are truly amazing and highly undervalued. I read somewhere this week, half of the world’s production is used by Nutella and their imitators.
These nuts produce about 1000 kgs per acre. If we take half of this as shell then we have 500 kgs of nut meat. Oil percentages vary but when I looked back in the day, work was being done to select for higher oil cultivars. Say 40% oil would provide 200 l of oil per acre and 300 kilos of feed or food depending upon where this meal ends up. All this is great productivity and you can run grazing animals under the trees during the year so even more production. In more arable country they could be grown in spirals to allow tractors to run in and out of a field that still produces grain, if you must and hazels.
But wait, there’s more. No, not steak knives, but remember those nut shells I passed over a little while back? They can be used as mulch, if needed but I think they have an even better use. Burning them in a pyrolytic furnace to create two products. One: biochar and Two: heat. Let’s start with heat. Heat can be used to boil water for dairies, or milking parlours and so on. The other main use of heat is the creation of electricity.
When we combine this function with the hazelnut oil currently selling at around $100 a litre, food grade, we could power a small family, small farm and their motor vehicles if diesel or electric from a few acres of hazelnuts. At $100 a litre that equates to $15,800 a barrel equivalent in oil terms. It may be more economic to convert all vehicles to electric and use the oil for other things.
Returning to the The Marvelous Million Hazelnut Campaign, these trees are getting some attention not just from the more enlightened types. The author of this piece, Steven McFadden spoke with Chris Gamer a spokesperson for the Million Hazelnuts Campaign.
Gamer told me had recently returned from a conference in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, sponsored by the Upper Midwest Hazelnut Development Initiative, a project affiliated with the University of Wisconsin. He learned a great deal by participating. “There’s lots of interesting things happening,” he said. “Big Ag is interested in hazelnuts, and they are doing cloning. They are looking to be active. Behind them, you should note, are large investors who are looking at the prospect of dominating the hazelnut industry.”
Gamer said that the cloning approach to hazelnut trees is a concern for him. Clones have only the limited genetic history of the plant from which they have been cloned, and are not adapting in real time. But hazelnuts grown from seed have all of the history of that tree and its ancestors though all its genetic lineage back to the beginning, and do also adapt as change is ongoing. So those trees will be more resilient as we face the consequences of climate change.“Where I’m at, the scale that I and others are working on,” Gamer told me, “is to propagate from seeds, and from a diversity of growers. We do breeding along the pathways pioneered by Luther Burbank, using selective breeding to increase nut size, volume, and quality.
I have some issues with the cloning/seed raised dichotomy discussed in the quote.
We have a couple of hazelnuts on site and I’ll be taking cuttings from them this winter, cloning them in effect. What grows here will be replicated. I understand the concern of expanding cloned across great swathes of land. If the million trees were all the same tree, they are way open to a disease that could wipe out that genetic expression of the hazelnut.
In the same way the blight hit Ireland’s potatoes in the 1840s and 1850s but had little effect in the Andes because of the genetic variation in those mountains and the single or at most three varieties in Ireland. Cloned Hazelnuts could be susceptible to a similar effect.
I think a balance between expanding micro climate adapted cultivars and exploring improved varieties through scientific breeding would make for the best outcome. These things can be sorted. The key problem being faced is the annual production of soy and replacing it with a perennial production system. On balance I’d go with the perennial most times.
So a world powered by renewable energy sources with demand balanced through pumped hydro batteries and that same world fed through the use of perennial food production systems would be a world worth living in and one I think we should all be striving for.
And on that note I’ll draw this episode to a conclusion.
Remember: Decarbonise the air, recarbonise the soil!
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Thank you for listening and I’ll be back next week.
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Pumped Hydro the battery for renewables.
The Marvelous Million Hazelnut Campaign