Tag Archives: Asia

Work on barren soil may bear fruit

Australian and Chinese scientists have made significant progress in determining what causes soil acidification – a discovery that could assist in turning back the clock on degraded croplands.

James Cook University’s Associate Professor Paul Nelson says the Chinese Academy of Sciences sought out the Australian researchers because of work they had done in Australia and Papua New Guinea on the relationship between soil pH levels and the management practices that cause acidification.

Professor Paul Nelson at work.
Professor Paul Nelson at work.

Building on the JCU work, scientists examined a massive 3600 km transect of land in China, stretching from the country’s sub-arctic north to its central deserts. The work yielded a new advance that describes the mechanisms involved in soils becoming acidified.

Nelson says soil degradation is a critical problem confronting humanity, particularly in parts of the world such as the tropics where land use pressure is increasing and the climate is changing. “We can now quantify the effect of, for instance, shutting down a factory that contributes to the production of acid rain,” he says.

Nelson says the research found different drivers of soil acidification processes in different types of soil across northern China. “This information is vital for designing strategies that prevent or reverse soil acidification and to help land managers tailor their practices to maintain or improve soil quality,” he says.

The Patron of Soil Science Australia, former Australian Ambassador to the United Nations and for the Environment, The Honourable Penny Wensley AC, welcomed news of the advance.

“With 2015 designated by the United Nations as the International Year of Soils, this is a very important year for soil scientists around the world. We need to promote greater awareness of the importance of soils and soil health and the role soil science has to play in addressing national and global challenges.”

In the context of the International Year of Soils, Wensley says: “We want to encourage greater cooperation and exchanges between soil scientists, to accelerate progress in research and achieve outcomes that will deliver practical benefits to farmers and land managers, working in diverse environments.

“This research project, drawing on the shared expertise of soil scientists from Australia’s James Cook University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, is an exciting illustration of what can be achieved through greater collaboration,” she says.

Acidification is one of the main soil degradation issues worldwide, accelerated by water leaching through the soil. It is related mostly to climate, and the overuse of nitrogen-based fertiliser.

“The greater understanding of soil acidification causes this study has delivered could help improve soil management practices, not only in Australia and China, but around the world,” says Wensley.

The study has been published in the journal, Biogeosciences.

This article was first published by James Cook University on 19 August 2015. Read the original article here.

Irrigation innovation

This is an article in our nine-part series on Australia Asia innovation.

Water is the world’s most precious resource. Without proper supplies, farmers cannot meet the planet’s growing demand for food.

Yet global estimates suggest there are 275 million hectares of land whose irrigation systems desperately need modernisation: 55–60 million in China, 25 million in the US, and 2.5 million in Australia. The market has proved fertile for Rubicon Water.

At sites across the globe, Rubicon Water’s installations measure and control water flow, making hundreds of small changes daily to send precise amounts of water to farmers when needed – the magic of algorithms, wireless telemetry, solar power, sensors, smart gates and valves.

“Our systems have now been deployed in China, Spain, Chile, New Zealand, France, Mexico, Italy, USA and Canada,” says Melbourne engineer David Aughton, who – with four enterprising colleagues with expertise in software development and irrigation system operation – founded irrigation innovation company Rubicon Water in 1995.

Along the way, the group teamed up with the University of Melbourne’s Professor Iven Mareels and scientists of the CRC for Sensor Signal and Information Processing, and jointly developed the Total Channel Control System for automating and revitalising outdated irrigation systems.

“That big team effort is ongoing with the university in systems control engineering and smart software for intelligently moving water,” adds Aughton.

Small-scale pilot projects kicked off in 2002 in Victoria’s irrigation districts and in Coleambally, NSW, followed by large-scale deployments in 2005 and now deployments in Australia, China and the US.

Today, Rubicon Water delivers smart, green automation, sensor measuring and control technologies for drought-stricken irrigators from two offices in China, three in the US, and other strategically placed sales offices. Staff numbers have grown from 60 in 2008, to over 200 employees in 2014.

Rubicon is an Australian innovation success story involved in massive irrigation projects in China.

HQ: Melbourne

R&D: 15,000 products sold

Reach: Spain, Chile, New Zealand, France, Mexico, China, Italy, USA, Canada

At a glance: Established in 1995, Rubicon is a private, Australian-owned company with 200 employees and sales offices in the US, China, Spain, Mexico and New Zealand. It also has a research partnership with the University of Melbourne’s School of Engineering.

Aughton says that their state-of-the-art manufacturing plant in Shepparton has exported 15,000 Rubicon gates, meters and products globally.

In Australia, Rubicon has multi-million dollar modernisation contracts in the Goulburn–Murray districts, in Murray Irrigation in southern NSW, in the Ord Valley in Queensland, and is involved in massive irrigation projects in China. The Fen River Irrigation District in China’s Yellow River Basin, for example, covers 100,000 hectares and supplies water on rotation to hundreds of thousands of small landholders growing crops and vegetables.

Fen River Irrigation Authority Director, Li Ming Xing, says he “highly recommends” Total Channel Control, due in part to Rubicon saving 75% of the costs of alternative technologies. – Paul Hendy

Next: Microtechnology manufacturing success

Australia Asia innovation

This is the intro to our nine-part series on Australia Asia innovation. Read the next story here.

The massive industrialisation and rocketing populations of China, India and other rapidly developing nations have triggered a major shift from the previous century’s Euro- and US-centric economy to a predominantly Asian one. Australia is well placed to cash in on this market, thanks to some special advantages, such as proximity and shared time zones.

But that might not be enough, some academics warn. The University of Melbourne’s Professor Tim Lindsey, Malcolm Smith Professor of Asian Law, urges Australia to engage more effectively with these nations to avoid being a “bit player” in the Asian century.

Nevertheless, when we looked into the track record of Australian commercialisation in Asia, we found Australia had already achieved some major technological successes – nine of which are profiled in this in-depth series.

One of Australia’s most renowned innovation success stories, Cochlear Ltd – which has had strong partnerships with three successive Cooperative Research Centres (CRCs) – cites China as “a huge potential market”, according to CEO Dr Chris Roberts.

Meanwhile, VisionCRC, in partnership with Zhongshan Ophthalmic Centre in China, has demonstrated a new generation of optical products that can slow the progression of myopia (short-sightedness) in children aged 6-12.

Rubicon Water – an offshoot of the CRC for Sensor Signal and Information Processing and a partner of the University of Melbourne – has developed a water-management system in China’s drought-stricken Yellow River Basin that could improve water efficiency by up to 20% and be implemented at one-quarter of the cost of traditional systems.

Then there is MBD Energy, which is looking to tackle China’s unique $250 million algae problem along the Shandong coast between Shanghai and Beijing. MBD aims to turn those algal blooms into useful, natural soil conditioners.

Many other organisations built on CRC research or collaboration are looking to Asia for research and industry partnerships, clients and customers, taking Australia Asia innovation partnerships to extraordinary new heights. – Heather Catchpole

Next: Irrigation innovation

A new climate of collaboration for ANSTO

Australia’s foremost nuclear science and technology organisation, ANSTO, is a key player in establishing safe practice in the field throughout the Asia-Pacific region. Recently, the organisation has set its sights on growing the scope of its collaborations in Asia.

In December 2012, ANSTO formed a joint research centre with the Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics (SINAP). The centre focuses on developing materials for extreme environments – in particular, structural nuclear materials for advanced Thorium Molten Salt Reactors. Unlike existing reactors, these next-generation reactors can run on waste fuels and they’re less likely to meltdown.

“The type of science we’re undertaking is changing from fundamental research to research goals leading to real-world applications,” says ANSTO research fellow Dr Massey de los Reyes. “For example, the ANSTO-SINAP Joint Research Centre aims to understand how materials behave in extreme environments: fusion, aerospace, nuclear reactors.”

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De los Reyes and colleagues aim to use the knowledge gained in the centre to develop new strategic research partnerships with industry and other organisations, looking at improving existing materials used in thorium reactors or developing entirely new materials for use in extreme environments. “This information could benefit a range of processing and manufacturing industries,” she says.

“The type of science we’re undertaking is changing from fundamental research to research goals leading to real-world applications.”

Eight of ANSTO’s 25 international partnerships have been formed with Asian countries, including Malaysia, Japan, Korea, Indonesia and Taiwan. These collaborations are opening up exciting new avenues of research. For example, the National Science Council Taiwan funded the SIKA neutron beam instrument currently under construction at the Bragg Institute in Sydney.

In the arena of basic research, ANSTO Principal Research Scientist Dr David Fink is collaborating with Mongolian scientists to study the past behaviour of Mongolia’s extensive glaciated mountains. As glaciers shrink and grow, they leave evidence of their tracks in the form of rock piles known as moraines.

Working in Mongolia, and with partners in Asia, is benefitting ANSTO researchers such as Dr Massey de los Reyes
Working in Mongolia, and with partners in Asia, is benefitting ANSTO researchers such as Dr Massey de los Reyes.

Dr Fink visited the region in 2013 with scientists from Israel’s Hebrew University and the University of Washington, US, to collect rocks from glacially-carved valleys in the Gobi Altai Mountains. To work out how long moraines in different areas of a valley have been exposed since the glacier retreated, Fink uses a technique called cosmogenic in situ surface exposure dating.

Using ANSTO’s accelerator mass spectrometer, the scientists can establish how long the rocks have been exposed and, therefore, the extent of past glaciation. These records fill in gaps in glacially-driven global climate change covering a period from a few thousand years to about 100,000 years ago.

Fink and his colleagues have undertaken similar work in China and central Tibet in collaboration with researchers at the Chinese Academy of Science. “It really has revolutionised the way we can quantify landscapes,” says Fink.


– Laura Boness