Science and the Welsh Assembly: Green Chemistry and the Environment

The Science and the Assembly meeting was held yesterday at the Welsh Devolved Assembly Government in Cardiff.

The British Ecological Society took the opportunity to create a presence at The Welsh Assembly Government, to promote the science of ecology and forge links with relevant organisations.

Talks were held at the Wales Millennium Centre on the theme of ‘Green Chemistry and the Environment,’ hosted by the The Royal Society of Chemistry. Of particular interest were talks of relevance to ecology and policy; ‘Grassland for a Sustainable Future’ by Professor Mervyn Humphreys of Aberystwyth University and Bioactive Natural Products from Common Plants’ by Professor Mark Baird of Bangor University.

Grassland for a Sustainable Future

Key aims of current and future research included using renewable feedstocks, preventing waste, reducing pollution and renewable energy. Prof. Humphreys hopes to develop methods for screening genotypes of grass species such as Miscanthus, (a perennial grass native to Japan and China that can be used as a fuel). Genotypes differ in lignin content, which affects the boiling point of oils produced and thus their potential for different uses. Other topical work included looking at how clover roots can improve soil structure and sequester carbon; and investigating high sugar-content grasses’ ability to reduce nitrogen wastage from cows and sheep and possibly reduce methane output.

Bioactive Natural Products from Common Plants

Chemical compounds naturally produced in plants can be used for human benefit in terms of pest control, health purposes and biofuels. For example, bioactive products from native welsh bluebells could potentially be used to control bracken, and products could also potentially be used to help fight TB, cancer, diabetes and be used for glues and pigments. Additionally, fatty acids (triglycerides) in certain native welsh plants could be used and/or modified for the purpose of biofuels. However regarding the use of native plants as biofuels, there was uncertainty surrounding the scale of plantations needed in order to match existing fossil fuel supplies, and scant mention of the potential social and environmental consequences of such a move.

Jane Davidson encouraged the scientific community to contact her with any information that could be of use to help the Welsh Assembly Environment team in future policy making, or such matters.