Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Gassy vegetables could naturally fuel the produce industry

University of Georgia researcher Gary Hawkins looks at rotting fruits and vegetables differently than most people. Where they may see useless balls of moldy fuzz, he sees fuel.

As they break down, fruits and vegetables can be harvested for methane, or natural gas, he said. This gas can be used to heat greenhouses, shops or homes. It can also fuel electricity-producing generators or can be used to heat areas where vegetables need to be cured.

Giving fruit and vegetable growers and packing houses the ability to produce their own natural gas – both easily and affordably – is one of Hawkins’s goals. The other is to see waste put to good use.

“If we can get the process down, packers and producers should be able to make money off of it,” said Hawkins, a pollution prevention and alternative energy specialist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

He’s got plenty of produce to work with. In Georgia, fruit and vegetable growers harvested 390 million pounds of produce in 2007, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service. Up to 8 percent, or 31.2 million pounds, of that was discarded at packing houses.

And packing houses aren’t the only sources for produce. About half of the fruits and vegetables grown in Georgia each year are left in fields after the harvest ends.

Testing produce

Not all produce is created equal when it comes to methane-producing potential. On the vegetable side, onions have the highest energy density and have the potential to produce the most methane. On the fruit side, blueberries are the winners from those tested by Hawkins.
Georgians grew 13,839 acres of onions in 16 counties in 2007, according to the Georgia Farm Gate Value Report. They grew 10,664 acres of blueberries that same year.

The energy from the onions discarded by packing houses in Georgia each year is enough to provide electricity for 15 houses annually.

Despite their high standing as one of the top three vegetables in the world, tomatoes were a disappointment when it came to their fuel-producing potential. The energy from all the discarded tomatoes in Georgia each year would only power one house annually.

The process

Hawkins uses a process called anaerobic digestion to get fruits and vegetables to give up their fuel. Anaerobic digesters are containers that are void of oxygen and contain bacteria, kind of like large stomachs where fruits and vegetables decompose and methane forms.

Hawkins has to be careful how much produce he puts in the anaerobic digesters.

“We will kill it if we put too much in there,” he said. “A pH below 4.5 kills the system. The bacteria get obese, overeat and kill themselves.”

Anaerobic digesters have to be fed a steady stream of produce or the bacteria in them die. Changing the amount or kind of material fed to the digesters frequently can cause too much acid, and the increased acid level will kill the bacteria.

Besides researching fruits and vegetables, Sarahi Garcia, one of Hawkins’ graduate students, is working with CAES engineer K.C. Das and UGA microbiologist William B. Whitman to find better specific anaerobic bacterium. She is looking at bacteria found in cow rumen, the Okefenokee Swamp, ponds and botanical gardens.

“If she can isolate a better bacterium, we can start the digester doing what it’s supposed to be doing faster,” Hawkins said.

Smell control

“If a digester goes bad, it smells real bad,” he said.

A well-run digester has an odor, but it’s not overwhelming. And it’s definitely better than the smell of produce rotting in the field.

“Digesters are a good way to reduce odor around farms,” Hawkins said.

They’re also a good way to reduce rotten-produce runoff, which can pollute waterways if not cared for properly.

Eventual goals

Hawkins imagines a day when there’s the potential to have digesters in areas where produce fuel sources are plentiful. The sources may include high-density packing houses or a combination of packing houses and other organic waste like yard debris.

With culled fruits and vegetables flowing in all year, they’d have a steady stream to feed their anaerobic digesters – and a steady stream of heat and electricity to power their packing houses.

By Stephanie Schupska
University of Georgia

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Southern Company Extends Support of Major Conservation Programs

/PRNewswire/ -- Southern Company today announced that it is pledging an additional $1.08 million to the Five Star Restoration and Power of Flight programs, extending its sponsorship of both conservation programs through 2013. The extended support aligns their sponsorship timelines with Longleaf Legacy, Southern Company's third major environmental stewardship program that helps restore the longleaf pine ecosystem.

"Southern Company is proud to pledge additional funding and support for these important programs and extend our commitment to environmental stewardship throughout our Southeastern community," said Chris Hobson, chief environmental officer at Southern Company. "We look forward to building upon our longstanding partnerships with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the National Association of Counties, and many other conservation organizations and community partners to further strengthen efforts to protect and enhance our environment."

The Power of Flight program, conserving Southern birds and their habitats, is the largest public agency-private corporation funding effort for bird conservation in the South. This new pledge secures one additional year of funding for projects to the existing 10-year commitment. Efforts span Southern Company's primary service area of Georgia, Alabama, northwestern Florida and southeastern Mississippi.

"Southern Company's support of our work to better conserve the Southeast's fish and wildlife resources has been as consistent as it has been generous," said Jeff Trandahl, NFWF executive director. "The company's unwavering commitment to bettering the fish and wildlife resources of the Southeast has made possible numerous projects, benefiting ecosystems from the coast to the highlands."

The Five Star Restoration Program provides grants and technical support for community-based education and outreach projects in riparian (land-bordering waterways), coastal or wetland areas. Southern Company began its sponsorship of the Five Star Restoration Program in 2006, pledging a five-year $1.2 million commitment. This new pledge adds three years of support to help build local community capacity for resource stewardship and ecological restoration in watersheds through hands-on community involvement, outreach and education. As the Southeastern corporate sponsor, Southern Company joins EPA, NFWF, NACo and the Wildlife Habitat Council (WHC) in selecting and funding Five Star projects.

"EPA commends Southern Company's support as a corporate sponsor of the Five Star Restoration Program," said Stan Meiburg, acting regional administrator, EPA Region 4. "This support will enable EPA to provide challenge grants, technical support and information to promote community-based wetland and stream restoration projects across the Southeast."

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation is an independent conservation leader that in 25 years has awarded 10,800 grants to more than 3,700 organizations. By building partnerships, the congressionally chartered Foundation has leveraged $635 million into $1.5 billion to sustain, restore and enhance fish, wildlife and plant populations.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Southern Living™ Plant Collection Introduces Spring 2010 Plant Offerings

(BUSINESS WIRE)--The Southern Living™ Plant Collection has announced a range of exciting, new plant offerings for the Spring 2010 season. Highlights include earlier blooming Early Bird™ Crapemyrtles, brighter-hued Flirt™ and Obsession™ Nandinas, vibrant Vogue® Mandevillas, lush Cleopatra® Liriope, and more.

From flowering shrubs and trees to annuals, grasses, and bulbs, the plant offerings are designed to excel in the lawns and gardens of the South, according to Kip McConnell, Director of Plant Development Services, Inc.

What’s New for 2010:

Shrubs

* Flirt™ Nandina
* Obsession™ Nandina

Trees

* Early Bird™ Early-Blooming Crapemyrtles
* Red-leafed Delta Jazz™ Crapemyrtle

Groundcovers/Grasses

* Marc Anthony™ Variegated Liriope
* Cleopatra® Liriope

Annuals/Perennials

* 'Princess Blush' Verbena PP#11911
* 'Princess Dark Lavender' Verbena PP#11951
* Mandevilla Vogue® 'Sophia' PPAF
* Mandevilla Vogue® 'Vivian' PPAF
* Pentas 'Stars & Stripes'

Bulbs

* Zephyranthes Pink Rain Lily
* ‘Ellen Bosanquet’ Crinum

The Collection is available through retail garden centers across the Southeast. For more information about any of the exciting new releases from the Southern Living Plant Collection, please visit southernlivingplants.com.

The Southern Living™ Plant Collection was first introduced in Spring 2008. It is a partnership between PDSI® and Southern Living® magazine, with the goal to provide innovative new plants selected for their ability to solve specific landscape challenges.

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Friday, January 08, 2010

Snow and Ice Removal Tips for Plants, Trees, and Shrubs

/24-7/ -- Winter is not the time when most people focus on their yards; however, it is a time of year when a lot of damage can happen. The nation's lawn and landscape association, the Professional Landcare Network (PLANET), wants people to know how to care for plants, trees, and shrubs during the winter. Winter yard tips include the following:

Continue watering. Just because it isn't hot, doesn't mean that plants don't need water. Continue watering until a hard freeze. A well-hydrated plant has a better chance of survival.

Don't shake branches covered with snow and ice. It is best to gently brush off snow. Shaking limbs may break them. Wait for ice and frozen snow to melt naturally. If a limb does break, have it removed as soon as weather permits. It will help the tree or shrub heal better in the spring.

Watch out for winter warm spells. It is normally not a problem if you get a few warm days in the middle of winter; however, if you covered plants with cones or cold frames, you may want to ventilate them during the day and cover them again at night.

Prune. Late winter is a good time to prune and shape ornamental trees and roses.

Another thing to think about in the winter is the use of salt or melting agents for snow and ice.

"Many people put salt and melting agents on their sidewalks and driveways without realizing that the runoff can damage trees, shrubs, and lawns," said PLANET member Brett Lemcke, Landscape Industry Certified Manager of R.M. Landscape, Inc., in Hilton, New York. "Salt damages plants mainly by drawing water away from their roots."

Evergreen trees are particularly sensitive to salt. Look for brown needles or leaves on trees and shrubs; they are signs of damage. Building barriers to protect the plants from runoff and adding more sand and gravel to the salt mix will help minimize damage.

"If you have a difficult area to deice safely, you can always consult a professional," said Lemcke. "Many landscape and lawn care companies do this type of work for their clients in the winter."

For more information, or to find a lawn and landscape professional, log on to http://www.LandcareNetwork.org/findaprofessional.

PLANET is the association of members who create and maintain the QUALITY OF LIFE in communities across America. With more than 3,500 member companies and affiliates, these firms and their employees represent more than 100,000 green industry professionals. For more information on PLANET, visit LandcareNetwork.org or call the PLANET office at (800) 395-2522.

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