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Quick Six - July

New Zealand’s wood revolution

According to a recent BRANZ report, productivity in the NZ construction sector hasn’t increased over the last 20 years. Daiman Otto is a board member of Prefab NZ and co-founder of Tall Wood that combines the traditional wood material with the latest technology to construct buildings. Otto says the adoption of engineered wood products has been slow in NZ, more due to supply and capital constraints than a lack of desire.

Tall Wood is actively identifying smart levers as an incentive to raise the performance of the building sector. Most of us have heard about pre-fabrication and the increasing need for engineered wood products such as cross laminated timber (CLT).

But have you heard about the following?

Nanocellulose: The wood fibre is as strong as steel and only one fifth of the weight.

Transparent wood: Offers an environmentally friendly alternative to glass using prepolymerized methacrylate (PMMA).

Brikawood: A construction method based on a wooden brick, which assembles and disassembles without the need for glue or nails.  

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Marlborough company turning sawdust into valuable graphite

Graphite is considered a strategic mineral as it is a significant component of lithium ion batteries. More than 1 million tonnes of graphite is mined globally in what is an intensive high-energy process. CarbonScape has patented a two-stage process that involves microwaves then a chemical reaction under pressure. This changes the amorphous form of carbon to graphite that is carbon stacked in neat 3D order. They are aiming for 99% purity and so far have achieved 97% with the processes taking a couple of hours. CarbonScape estimate market readiness in 2-3 years.

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Children living around tree diversity less likely to develop asthma and allergies

Trees really are good for us. A US Forest Service study of 50,000 NZ children has discovered that children who are exposed to a broad range of plants are less likely to develop asthma. The ‘hygiene hypothesis’ is a theory that exposure to a wider range of microbes in early life, develops a healthy immune response, which combats against immunological diseases like asthma and allergies. However, children living in areas of non-native low diversity plants were actually at greater risk of developing asthma.  

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Pollution causing damage to fungi could explain tree malnutrition in Europe

In order to extract nutrients from soil, trees host mycorrhizal fungi in their roots. These fungi receive carbon from the trees in exchange for essential nutrients which they have gathered from the soil (We observe this as truffles and mushrooms etc). An extensive survey of 40,000 root systems over 10 years and 127 sites was conducted and led by Imperial College London and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. The aim was to review the effect the local air and soil quality has on this crucial symbiotic relationship.   "A major finding of the study is that European pollution limits may be set far too high”. In some cases pollution changes the environment to the extent that more beneficial mycorrhiza are outcompeted by less beneficial mycorrhiza.

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Seed of Indian tree could bring clean water to billions

The Moringa oleifera plant is a native tree to India. It is widely touted as a ”superfood” with its leaf powder supplement claimed to be highly nutritious with powerful anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and tissue-protective properties among many other health benefits. The seeds are already commonly used for rudimentary water purification. This process however, leaves behind high amounts of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) that permit bacteria to grow after only 24 hours. This means the water is only drinkable for a very short time. Staff and Ph.D. students at Carnegie Mellon University have devised a process called ‘F-sand’ that combines this water purification with sand filtration. F-sand kills microorganisms and reduces turbidity as it adheres to particulate and organic matter. These and the aforementioned DOC are then able to be washed out, increasing the shelf-life of the drinking water.

This process has shown to work across a range of water hardness levels and could improve the quality of life for over 2 billion people classified by the United Nations as currently lacking access to safe drinking water.          

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NZ sea temperatures predict drought in California and South West USA

Forecasters traditionally used El Nino weather patterns to predict rainfall patterns in California, but this correlation has dropped in recent years, possibly due to climate change. Scientists and engineers at the University of California analysed sea surface temperatures and atmospheric pressure around the globe from 1950 to 2015. The unexpected result was that sea surface temperatures and atmospheric pressure patterns in the southwestern Pacific Ocean (close to NZ) in July and August, exhibited a strong correlation with rainfall patterns in California, Nevada, Arizona and Utah between the following November and March. See the link below for more information on this interhemispheric teleconnection and the chain of events the heating or cooling of the sea, has on atmospheric convection zones and jet streams.

So anyone skinny-dipping in NZ over the next couple of months will have the best knowledge of future rainfall patterns in the South West USA.

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