Page last updated at 00:11 GMT, Saturday, 18 October 2008 01:11 UK

Italy aims for carbon-neutral farm

By Duncan Kennedy
BBC News, Castello Monte Vibiano Vecchio, Italy

Castello Monte Vibiano Vecchio farm
The farm's management say want to "go further than anyone else"
An attempt to create a pioneering carbon-neutral farm is starting in Italy.

A range of new technologies is being installed at the farm in the central region of Umbria as part of an experiment to cut its CO2 emissions to zero over the course of the next year.

They include everything from electric farm vehicles to sun-reflecting paint on storage buildings.

It is all taking place at the Castello Monte Vibiano Vecchio olive oil farm, north of Rome.

With its vineyards and olive trees, this beautiful corner of Italy might look like it has escaped the intrusions of climate change, but the farm's owners say they, too, have to play their part in making the world greener.

"We want to go further than anyone else," says Lorenzo Fasola Bologna, Monte Vibiano's chief executive.

Storing solar energy

One of the key investments is in a unique solar powered battery re-charging centre.

Solar powered battery
The farm has 24 hi-tech solar panels

Built by the Austrian company Cellstrom, the centre is a shed-sized box with 24 solar panels on it that houses a revolutionary liquid-based battery.

We think that we will start getting our investment back after five years or so. From then on, our fossil fuel bills will disappear
Lorenzo Fasola Bologna
Vibiano Vecchio boss

Depending on the amount of usage, the battery centre can store solar-sourced electricity for up to three days. They are working to extend that to 10 days and more, enabling the farm to continue operating through foggy days when the sun does not shine.

It means that golf carts and electric bikes will become the key means of transport for farm workers and that they can all charge up at the battery centre.

'360 solution'

Cellstrom estimates the farm can save 4,500 litres of petrol every year and reduce CO2 emissions by 10 tons.

Duncan Kennedy (left) and Lorenzo Fasola Bologna on a golf cart
Golf carts and electric bikes can charge up at the battery centre

"Yes, it is an expensive initial investment," says Lorenzo, without revealing the actual cost. "But we think that we will start getting our investment back after five years or so. From then on, our fossil fuel bills will disappear."

Solar power is just one of the ground-breaking technologies being applied to this farm. They call it a multiple layered 360 solution to global pollution.

They have bought a fleet of special miniature tractors that use a new generation of bio fuels. The farm says the new fuels will not be coming from food chain products like corn and therefore will not diminish world food supplies.

Then there are the farm's boilers which are used to create heat in the olive oil production process.

They will use wood chips instead of methane gas, as in the past. The wood is a renewable source of energy found from supplies already on the farm.

Even storage tanks on the farm are being painted white to reflect sunlight away from earth, in an effort to cut the effects of global warming.

And, just to make sure they have not left anything else out, they have also planted 10,000 trees to soak up and offset any unforeseen CO2 emissions.

'No choice'

By the end of next year they hope to be the first farm, anywhere, to reduce their inherent net carbon footprint to zero - ie without using off-site offsetting projects.

Chiara Lungarotti
Chiara Lungarotti says agriculture must be adapted to climate change

"It will be great," says Lorenzo, "to pass on this great, green enterprise to my children and their children."

And when asked if it makes economic sense for a business to attempt all this, he replies: "Absolutely. We are not a charity."

This whole region is responding to new climate pressures.

At the nearby Lungarotti winery in Torgiano, recycled grape vines now power the process, not oil.

Mini-weather stations in Torgiano
Mini-weather stations provide data for planting and watering

Mini-weather stations provide data for planting and watering and organic fertilisers enrich the soil.

Chiara Lungarotti, whose family owns the company, is just as committed as her neighbour Lorenzo.

"We have no choice but to get agriculture to adapt to climate change," she says. "It is our interest for the sake of our crops to be friendly to the planet."

So, agriculture is now doing its bit on climate change.

Whether small olive oil producers or wine makers have lessons for bigger operations will be known when these experiments are over.

But they will be toasting Umbria if they have.

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