Flaming seeds rehabilitate mines

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 24 May 2016   Posted by admin

Agricultural engineer and assistant professor at UWA’s School of Mechanical and Chemical Engineering Andrew Guzzomi.

By Samantha James

RESEARCHERS at the University of Western Australia (UWA) have invented a new rehabilitation technique for large tracts of land such as reclaimed mine sites.

The ‘flash flaming’ technique aids in replanting wild seeds by carefully burning off the fluffy appendages that appear on many seeds, which make them difficult to handle and ‘coat’ for large-scale remote restoration.

The scientists used Spinifex seeds, the dominant plants of desert grasslands that cover up to 70 per cent of inland Australia, to test the technique’s effectiveness.

“Successful large-scale restoration of mine sites relies on the effective use of seeds from wild or native species,” UWA School of Plant Biology professor Dr Todd Erickson said. “However, it’s been found that plant regeneration from these seeds is poor, with more than 90 per cent of them failing.”

Agricultural engineer and assistant professor at UWA’s School of Mechanical and Chemical Engineering Andrew Guzzomi said native grass seeds were typically highly irregular in shape, with surface hairs and awns that made them very difficult to work with.

“Through modifying a rotary seed coater with an engineered flaming apparatus, we developed a novel flash flaming technique which carefully removes the appendages without subjecting the seed to damaging heat energy,” he said. “The technique has many benefits including increasing the bulk density of the seeds which saves on storage, processing and handling costs.

“Treated seeds are easier to embed within a polymer coating producing larger, rounder, smoother and more uniformly sized seeds able to be used in mechanised sowing devices.”

Dr Guzzomi worked with final year project student Alan Ling from the UWA School of Mechanical and Chemical Engineering, researchers Dr Todd Erickson, Dr David Merritt and Professor Kingsley Dixon from Kings Park and Botanic Gardens and UWA School of Plant Biology on the project.

“The project highlights once again the link between agriculture and engineering that is so important for Australia’s future in terms of food security, rehabilitation and sustainability,” Dr Guzzomi said.