SCOTTISH scientists are tackling a major ecological problem in Cuba by turning a dangerous shrub into a valuable economic resource.

Research led by Professor Peter Hall, of the University of Strathclyde's Faculty of Engineering, has found that marabu, a hard wood shrub which is sterilising more than 1.5 million hectares of land in Cuba, can be used to produce the highly valuable activated carbon that produces batteries.

The carbon can also be used to purify water and gas, and as a medical tool to treat poisoning and overdoses.

The substance is worth more than £1200 per tonne and is produced by burning the wood shrub and collecting the charcoal.

Prof Hall said: "Cuba appears to be the only country in the world that has such a serious ecological problem with marabu. It is invading the terrain throughout the country at an alarming rate, destroying the environmental landscape and effectively sterilising what has historically been the world's most productive agricultural land.

"However, our research has shown that we can use it to produce an extremely high-quality version of activated carbon worth more than £1200 per tonne."

He added: "We have already been able to demonstrate water pollution control using marabu and, aside from the obvious benefits for Cuba's economy, this research could provide good-quality drinking water for developing countries."

The researchers believe the purification properties of activated carbon are the most valuable as Cuba imports £5 million of it for use in rum production.