Tuesday, 7 June 2011

From Brown to Green to Gold

I was driving past my old school at Carmountside. The school was closed in the mid 80s and the site demolished a few years later. The last part of the school was the Youth and Adult Centre, which was pulled down a decade ago. In a very short time the area has returned to meadow and woodland and the area green where once it was concrete and cement. It has taken less than 30 years to obliterate any trace of the High School that had existed from 1938 to 1985. The power of nature to reclaim the landscape was very evident.

It got me thinking and I have been aware that in recent months I have been negative about developments in the City Council and the lack of progress on a number of key projects such as the Bus Station. I have resolved to try to put forward a positive idea that I hope will be received in the spirit it is sent out.
I have previously expressed an interest in addressing one of the main problems facing the City that of the high level of derelict land. Brown field and other empty sites is a prominent feature of the Stoke on Trent landscape. Can any urban area have as bad an entrance as Stoke does for travellers arriving at Stoke station from the North? The wastelands around Etruria and Cliffe Vale are a main source of embarrassment and I am mortified that for the stranger this is the first impression that they will have of the City.

I believe or at least hope that brown could be turned to green and ultimately gold. In short we should be looking to use derelict land to grow biofuel/ biomass crops. Can it be done? I think that at the very least it ought to be investigated. There are signs that other areas in the country are looking in this way to unlock the potential of former industrial land. Teeside University is seriously looking at ways in which areas around Middlesborough can be turned into profitable use. Last month the Teeside project won an award following evidence that grasses can be grown on derelict sites that has good biofuel potential

Likewise in the States to quote from one site

"The rapid growth of the biofuels industry is good news for many farmers, but using land to grow crops for fuel, rather than food has raised public concern about the impact on food prices in the United States and beyond. So what if farmers started growing oilseed crops such as soybeans, sunflower and canola, and ethanol crops such as corn, on land that isn’t suitable for growing food?

Michigan State University professor Kurt Thelen is experimenting to find out whether such crops can thrive in previously contaminated soil. Even more, Thelan’s group is testing whether or not the plants can actually assist in site clean-up by taking in contaminants from the soil, a process known as phyto-remediation [see "Blue skies ahead for phytoscience," SIJ, March 2003].

Funded by DaimlerChrysler (NYSE: DCX), NextEnergy, a Detroitbased non-profit that supports energy technology development, and the university, Thelan’s group last summer planted a two-acre plot of oilseed crops, corn and ethanol on a 120-acre former Superfund site in the greater Detroit area.
"Yieldwise, we had a very good year," Thelan says. "And we don’t expect to find contamination — the remediation work was done years ago. But we know that just by having plants, we are increasing the microbial activity in the soil, and that has some bioremediation effects."

When I attended a Green Energy conference last February at Staffs University I mentioned this as a possibility and my comments were well received. I was in contact with a number of organisations who were keen to explore the potential of using the brownfield sites of Stoke for some useful purpose.
There are obviously a number of positives that could derive from this
  1. Creating employment opportunities in the City
  2. Cleaning and turning to good use previously redundant land
  3. Reducing good agricultural land usage for biofuel use
I believe that this has real potential and have been in contact with Dr Bridges who expressed an interest. I am keen myself to support this agenda.