Source: Xinhua

Water hyacinths block transport vessel passage in the Pearl River.

Last month, the section of Pearl River running through the city of Guangzhou in China was rapidly invaded by an explosion of water hyacinths. After two days of intense skimming (455 tons of water hyacinths removed on the 17th and 495 tons on the 18th), the river was still not fully cleared. Last month’s rainfall washed the plants downriver causing them to accumulate in the slow-flowing estuary, a common occurrence in flood season. From April to June of this year, water hyacinths accounted for 80 percent of the 15,000 tons of floating rubbish collected by Guangzhou city.

Introduced to China in the 1960s, the water hyacinth is now widely distributed in nineteen provinces across the country.  Warming temperatures due to climate change have created favorable growing conditions for water hyacinths across most of China – plant mass can double in two weeks in water temperatures between 27 and 35 degrees Celsius. Floods of water hyacinths occur regularly in many important bodies of water, including Dianchi Lake and Yangtze River.

As an invasive species that multiplies rapidly, heavy infestations of water hyacinths have to be quickly removed from impacted water systems to prevent economic and environmental damage. While water hyacinths do remove nutrient pollutants (N, P, K, Mg, Cu, Zn, and Mn) from waters, outbreaks cover water surfaces and consume most of the dissolved oxygen leaving little for fish and other aquatic species, which die off as a result. Unless removed, water hyacinths release nutrient pollutants back into the water when they die. Massive outbreaks cause further economic harm by blocking water transportation.

Despite these serious drawbacks, water hyacinth invasions can be harnessed for environmental benefit and renewable energy production. Water hyacinths have high cellulose content, making them a potential renewable energy source. Currently however, technical and cost barriers have forestalled widespread development of this energy option.

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agriculture, biofuels, biogas, biomass, China, water

Newly Released White Paper on Chinese ODA

Chinese foreign aid has long been accused of being nontransparent and of having multiple strings attached. Analysts worldwide have attributed the rapid growth in China’s official development assistance (ODA) since 1997 to the rising global power’s hunger for energy and natural resources. Although China has traditionally remained silent in addressing such allegations, a newly released government White Paper reveals that the country is finally opening its ODA vault.

The White Paper, for the first time, lifts the veil on China’s aid modalities, distribution, and funding over the past few decades. This unveiling may not be particularly transparent by western standards, but it does at least offer a concrete view of what the country has been up to. According to the White Paper, by the end of 2009, China had launched 2025 development projects in total, about 5% of which is for oil and mining industries. More than half of the projects are devoted to the development of local economic infrastructure and public facilities.

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Africa, biogas, China, Climate Change, foreign aid, ODA, Overseas Development Aid, small hydropower

Livestock are a major source of biogas, giving farmers the incentive and opportunity to invest in this new energy resource.

So far, discussions of new energy solutions in the United States have revolved mostly around solar and wind. The merits and drawbacks of these sources of energy have inspired much debate in light of the proposed climate and energy legislation currently circulating the U.S. Senate.

During an EESI briefing Wednesday, I was exposed to a new renewable source that has been relatively absent from U.S. energy debates: biogas. Biogas is produced through the natural process of anaerobic digestion, in which tiny microorganisms break down the organic matter in landfills, wastewater treatment plants, and, most commonly, cow manure. One of the byproducts of the process is methane, a particularly potent greenhouse gas that contributes heavily to climate change.

Today, most of this biogas simply escapes into the atmosphere. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the methane that originates from landfills, livestock manure, and wastewater accounted for 34 percent of all anthropogenic U.S. methane emissions in 2008. If this large source of methane is efficiently captured and utilized, however, it can serve as a relatively clean source of heat and power.

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agriculture, biogas, Climate Change, renewable energy