Ph.D. scholarships in ecology & conservation

phdPh.D. projects now offered in the Dynamics of Eco-Evolutionary Patterns (D.E.E.P.) research group, based at the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Tasmania. We study ecological and evolutionary dynamics, global change, and conservation biology. Our study systems include plants and animals, with a focus on the unique Australian environment.

The Ph.D. project topics include the response of biota to global change, dynamics of ecological communities, ecosystem modelling, conservation biology, threatened species management, and impacts of land-use change on biodiversity. The three major research themes are:
(i) using ‘patterns’ to understand the processes shaping ecosystem structure and dynamics;
(ii) technology and biology: never the twain shall meet? and
(iii) faunal habitat use and the impacts of disturbance (biodiversity and conservation).

We are also open to the possibility of exploring other projects and welcome students to express their own research ideas.

DEEPCandidates from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds are encouraged to apply. In addition to TGRS, APA or IPRS scholarships (which covers course fees and provides a tax-exempt stipend of $26,288 p.a. [2016 rate]) there will be substantial operational and logistical support, funded by a 5-year research grant to Prof. BW Brook (ARC Australian Laureate Fellow). An additional top-up award of $4,000 p.a. will also be considered for outstanding applicants.

Click on the hyperlinks above for more detailed information on the topics, and how to apply. See here for an overview of Projects and Opportunities for students in D.E.E.P.

Open Thread 25

Time for a fresh open thread! (the old one being weighed down by over 1000 comments).

The Open Thread is a general discussion forum, where you can talk about whatever you like — there is nothing ‘off topic’ here — within reason. So get up on your soap box! The standard commenting rules of courtesy apply, and at the very least your chat should relate to the general content of this blog.

The sort of things that belong on this thread include general enquiries, soapbox philosophy, meandering trains of argument that move dynamically from one point of contention to another, and so on — as long as the comments adhere to the broad BNC themes of sustainable energy, climate change mitigation and policy, energy security, climate impacts, etc.

On the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission

NFCRCBack in February 2015, I posted on BNC about the announcement of a Royal Commission into the Nuclear Fuel Cycle (henceforth NFCRC) in the uranium-mining state of South Australia (SA).

This was followed up by a post on The Conversation by Ben Heard and me, entitled “Royal commission into nuclear will open a world of possibilities“. In that article, we speculated on what the NFCRC might conclude. I was later appointed as a member of the Expert Advisory Committee.

After more than a year of compiling evidence, analysing facts and opinion, and testing ideas, the NFCRC handed down its 320 page final report, in May 2016. You can read it here. (Yes, it’s worth reading in full…but at least look at the summary!)

In caricature (at least by my abstracting), the NFCRC report says:

  1. Mining, milling and further processing of radioactive ores — activities that already occur in SA — will continue to be pursued and developed, but not expand greatly. There is limited scope here for substantially increased economic activity.
  2. Development of uranium enrichment capability and advanced manufacture of fuel elements (including international fuel leasing) in SA would require quite specific techno-economic circumstances to be worthwhile, and raises proliferation issues. It is not likely to happen in isolation of other developments.
  3. IFR vs LFTRElectricity generation from nuclear fuels would probably not, in the present circumstances, be economically competitive in SA. Advanced reactor designs such as the IFR or LFTR should not be built (first) in SA, but a watching brief ought to be kept on small modular light-water reactors.
  4. Hosting of an international nuclear used fuel repository in SA ought to be considered seriously. Very seriously. Although it  would face many logistical and policy obstacles, and would inevitably involve a long-term strategy, the ultimate and ongoing socio-economic benefits it could deliver to SA are stunning (hundreds of billions of $ income).

My interpretation…

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BNC 3.0

3pointzeroThe 6th January 2015. That was the last time I posted an original contribution to Brave New Climate (BNC)  — at least something that wasn’t a re-post (e.g., from The Conversation), a guest post, an Open Thread or a side note… In other words, the BNC blog has fallen fallow for well over a year. I think it’s about time for a reboot! So here’s to BNC 3.0..

The original blog started back in August 2008 (first post here). It got a real reboot in late 2009, and then a false dawn in 2014. This time, I think it’ll stick.

So what’s been going on? I moved down to the far south in 2014 to take up a research and teaching position as the Chair of Environmental Sustainability at the University of Tasmania (based in the School of Biological Sciences). At UTas I started a new research programme on the dynamics of eco-evolutionary patterns (D.E.E.P.), which has a new website at and a Twitter handle @ecol_evo. I work on projects spanning Wildlife, Ecosystems & Landscape Dynamics (WELD), Forests, Trees & Agroforestry (FTA), and Evolutionary Ecology (EE). There are plenty of opportunities for students!

113In May 2016 I was awarded a 5-year Australian Laureate Fellowship by the Australian Research Council, which will fund a >$4M research project looking at disaggregating the drivers of land-use change, and assessing the implications of different development pathways on biodiversity. The big vision thing is to establish a multidisciplinary Institute for Future Landscapes and Ecosystems in Tasmania. Here’s a summary of the ARC project:

The success of biodiversity conservation depends on how effectively society can ‘decouple’ environmental impacts from economic growth and rising human prosperity. This project will involve a systematic analysis of contemporary and historical data on agriculture, energy use and urbanisation, to identify the consumption and technology pathways that can most effectively mitigate the future extent and impact of land-use change. This synthesis will underpin the development of new forecasting and optimisation tools using an innovative hierarchical meta-modelling approach, and seeks to identify key intervention points where policy or technological change can most effectively mitigate negative impacts at regional and global scales. A key outcome will be the resolution of inherent trade-offs between ongoing human development and the competing need to conserve habitats, ecosystems, and species.

Obviously, these goals tie strongly to the themes of BNC, focused as it is on the intersection between technology, global change and environmental sustainability.

logoOver the last year or so I’ve been in involved with the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission in South Australia, serving on the Expert Advisory Committee. The final report was released on 6 May 2016, and I would encourage BNC readers to look through it. For this reason I have necessarily been relatively quiet, publicly, on nuclear matters over the last year.

I now plan to start posting regularly (but not to a schedule!) on BNC again. One thing I hope to do is write a collection of short posts to critique some key issues/arguments that have been propagated over the last few years; ones that really cry out for critical scrutiny. These will be written largely for my own edification, but I hope you’ll find them useful.

More soon!

Making sense of the Tesla Triumvirate – solar, batteries and electric vehicles

Guest Post by Graham Palmer. Graham recently published the book “Energy in Australia: Peak Oil, Solar Power, and Asia’s Economic Growth” (“Springer Briefs in Energy” series).

The Tesla Powerwall is promised as the critical third key to unlocking the Tesla Triumvirate – solar, batteries and electric vehicles. The Powerwall provides an opportunity to look at the opportunities and weaknesses of distributed power, and examine the long-run sustainability of such a system. To do this, we can turn to life-cycle assessments and the field of Energy Return on Investment (EROI).

EROI is the ratio of how much energy is gained from an energy production process compared to how much of that energy is required to extract, grow, or get a new unit of energy. Advocates of EROI believe that it offers insights about energy transitions in ways that markets can not. The availability of surplus energy has been one of the main drivers of economic and social development since the industrial revolution.

At the start of the 1990’s, Pimentel launched a debate that was to be long running, on the effectiveness of corn ethanol production in the United States. Pimentel drew attention to the energy intensity of the ethanol life cycle, including nitrogen fertilizer, irrigation, embodied energy of machinery, drying, on-farm diesel, processing, etc. Although not settled decisively, there is a consensus that the EROI of US corn ethanol is below the minimum useful threshold. Brazilian ethanol seems to be better, and there is hope that second generation biofuels will be better again.

The relative fraction of residential energy end-use in Australia helps to give a sense of the scale between our direct household energy use, and the total energy consumption in Australia – according to the Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics (table 3.4), residential energy consumption made up 11% of total energy consumption, with electricity a little under half of that. As a community, the vast majority of our energy footprint is embedded in the goods, food, products, and services that we consume.

We can also apply EROI principles to electricity production. However electricity is only valuable within the context of a system and isolating the EROI of individual components is more challenging. We can, however apply life-cycle inventories to individual components, including solar, batteries, and electric vehicles, and see how they perform. Life-cycle assessments measure the lifetime environmental impacts of greenhouse emissions, embodied energy, ozone depletion, particulates, water and marine toxicity and eutrophication, and other effects.

The UK-based Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership compared a range of low emission vehicle options in the UK. This considered the full life-cycle of the vehicle including production of the vehicle with a driving range of 150,000km. The conventional vehicle was based on the VW Golf, and the electric vehicle was based on the Nissan Leaf.

Based on the current European grid, it concluded that EVs generally have lower life-cycle emissions than an equivalent petrol vehicle, but the outcome is dependent on the electricity grid and other factors. The report also projected the analysis out to 2030, assuming improvements in energy and vehicle technologies. For the ‘typical 2030’ scenario, the emission intensity of the UK and European grid was assumed to drop to between 0.287 and 0.352 kg CO2-e/kWh (around a third of Australia’s current emission intensity).

Figure 1 – lifetime greenhouse emission based on “typical 2030” scenario

Figure 1 – lifetime greenhouse emission based on “typical 2030” scenario

The most important outcome of these life cycle assessments is that the embodied energy of the battery and the emission intensity of the grid are the crucial determinants of the emission intensity of EVs. The report assumed a battery capacity of 24 kWh for the EV, or less than a third of the Tesla Model S battery.

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