Iowa State University researchers recieve grant to study taller wind turbines

Nick Fetty | September 19, 2014
Iowa leads the country in in percentage of electricity generated by wind energy (Samir Luther/Flickr)
Iowa leads the country in in percentage of electricity generated by wind energy (Samir Luther/Flickr)

The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded researchers at Iowa State University $1 million to study how high-strength concrete can be used to build taller wind turbines.

Sri Sritharan, the Wilson Engineering Professor in Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering at Iowa State University, is the leader of the College of Engineering’s Wind Energy Initiative and expects this research to “revolutionize wind energy.” These taller towers will allow the turbines blades to reach heights of over 100 meters, where winds are faster and more consistent. This will be particularly beneficial in areas where higher winds are necessary to effectively harvest the energy.

This project will build upon earlier work by Sritharan and fellow researches. The team developed a strongly-reinforced base they called Hexcrete and found that it was able to handle the heavy loads and extreme conditions. The project is also supported by a $83,500 grant from the Iowa Energy Center and $22,500 from Lafarge North America Inc. of Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

The Wind Energy Initiative at Iowa State has eight projects that are being researched or have recently been completed including a project with the University of Colorado examining turbine-crop and turbine-turbine interactions.

The Department of Energy has also awarded another $1 million grant to Boston-based Keystone Towers which which hopes to develop an on-site “spiral welding system” to develop wind turbine towers that are expected to be 40% lighter.

Study: Tornado season striking ‘tornado alley’ earlier than in previous decades

Nick Fetty | September 18, 2014
An F1 tornado near Secor, Illinois in 2004. (Jim/Flickr)
An F1 tornado near Secor, Illinois in 2004. (Jim/Flickr)

A new study by the Department of Land Resources and Environmental Sciences at Montana State University found that peak tornado seasons are occurring about two weeks earlier in parts of ‘tornado alley’ compared to six decades ago.

The study examined tornado activity in Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and northern Texas from 1954 through 2009. Current peak tornado activity generally occurs from early May to early July. The study found that the peak of the tornado season in the 1950s occurred an average of seven days later in the year compared to now. When the data from Nebraska is removed the difference is nearly two weeks.

The researchers hope to use their findings to better prepare for future tornadoes, however, they are left scratching their heads as to what is causing this shift. Record keeping for tornadoes in the United States did not begin until the 1950s and because of this scientists are unable to study longer term trends of tornado activity.

The shift in the timing of the tornadoes can be attributed various factors such as the land’s topography as well as climate and it is difficult to pinpoint a single cause. Climate change  has also been named as a possible contributing factor, as meteorologist Greg Carbin points out: “If winters are not as cold, or if spring times are warmer, the location of the jet stream is most likely displaced north of where it has been in the past.”

Although not included in the study, portions of Iowa are often considered part of ‘tornado alley.’ A 2012 list compiled by ranked Iowa sixth in the nation based on tornadic activity. According to data from, there were approximately 2603 tornadoes resulting in 85 fatalities in Iowa between 1950 and 2013.

More LED lighting means lower utility bills for livestock farmers

Nick Fetty | September 16, 2014
Livestock farmers are saving money on utility bills by equipping facilities with LED lighting. (Benny Mazur/Flickr)
Hog farmers are saving money on utility bills by equipping facilities with LED lighting. (Benny Mazur/Flickr)

The increased popularity of energy efficient LED (light emitting diodes) lighting has moved to the farm and livestock farmers are saving on utility bills by embracing this trend.

Hog farmers in Iowa have been particularly quick to adopt the new technology. Washington, Iowa-based Sitler’s Supplies has sold more than 10,000 LED fixture and bulb sets in the past 18 months. This is to help accommodate the utility demands of livestock operations which can have up to 600 lights running for more than 16 hours per day.

A 2010 Oklahoma State University study found that cows produced six percent more milk when raised near LED lighting compared to fluorescent lighting. However a University of Florida scientist claims that the evidence is inconclusive and that “[t]he wavelength of light you get and the whiteness from LED should not have an influence.” This was again debated in a 2014 article from LEDs Magazine which suggests LED lighting will “substantially increase the production of eggs, meat, and other protein sources, while dramatically reducing energy use and other input costs.”

Governmental and private entities have also embraced LED lighting in recent years although at $50-60 per fixture the technology is not yet affordable for some farmers. An LED bulb can have a lifespan of about 80,000 hours which is more than double than of a compact florescent.

Iowa farmers have also been proactive in utilizing other energy efficiency measures such as solar panels, geothermal, and methane gas recovery.

On the Radio: Global warming could lead to food crisis

KC McGinnis | September 15, 2014
A vegetable delivery from an Iowa community supported agriculture group. (Chanzi/Flickr)
A vegetable delivery from an Iowa community supported agriculture group. (Chanzi/Flickr)

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at a new study which suggests global warming greatly increases the odds of a global food crisis in coming decades. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.


Transcript: Food Crisis – Maggie St. Clair

New research from Stanford University and the National Center for Atmospheric Research suggests that climate change has greatly increased the odds of a crisis in global food production.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The study, titled “Getting caught with our plants down,” is meant to serve as a warning to institutions affected by fluctuation in food prices.

The study’s authors allow that the prospect of a major slowdown of corn and wheat production in the next few decades is low. However, they say that the chances of such of an event multiply by twenty times when global warming is factored in.

In this model, the trend of increasing food production would continue, but the rate of increase would drop substantially. This change would clash with global food demand, which is expected to keep rising.

For more information on the new study, visit

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Jerry Schnoor.

Study: Conversion of forests to cropland linked to reduction in greenhouse gas emissions

Nick Fetty | September 12, 2014
A Yale University study suggests that converting forests into cropland is having a net cooling effect on the earth's atmosphere. (/Flickr)
Farmland near the Loess Hills in western Iowa. (CroDigTap/Flickr)

A study from Yale University suggests that the conversion of forests into cropland over a 150-year period has caused “a net cooling effect on global temperatures.

The report, published in the journal Nature Climate Change by Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies professor Nadine Unger, found a reduction in the quantity of biogenic volatile organic compounds (BVOCs) released into the earth’s atmosphere. These compounds “control the atmospheric distribution of many short-lived climate pollutants, such as tropospheric ozone, methane, and aerosol particles.”

Unger used computer modeling to calculate a 30 percent decline in BVOC emissions between 1850 and 2000 – much of which was attributed to the conversion of forested areas into crop land – and a .18 degree Fahrenheit (.1 degree Celsius) reduction in global temperatures. During roughly this same period the amount of land worldwide being used for crops increased from 14 percent to 37 percent.

This reduction in global temperatures is dwarfed by the 1.08 degree Fahrenheit (.6 degree Celsius) increase caused by carbon emissions. Also, Unger was sure to point out “that the findings do not suggest that increased forest loss provides climate change benefits, but rather underscore the complexity of climate change and the multitude of factors involved.”

According to the Iowa Data Center, there were approximately 30,800,000 acres of farmland in Iowa in 2013.

Iowa State grad named to Agricultural Research Service Science Hall of Fame

Nick Fetty | September 11, 2014
Jerry L. Hatfield is the Director for the ARS National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment in Ames, Iowa. (USDA)
Jerry L. Hatfield is the Director for the ARS National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment in Ames, Iowa. (USDA)

Jerry L. Hatfield – the director of the ARS (Agricultural Research Service) National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment in Ames, Iowa – will be among four scientists inducted into the Agricultural Research Service Science Hall of Fame.

Hatfield earned a PhD in Agricultural Climatology and Statistics at Iowa State University in 1975. He also holds degrees from the University of Kentucky (M.S. ’72) as well as Kansas State University (B.S. ’71). He served as a biometeorologist on the faculty at the University of California-Davis from 1975 through 1983 then was with the USDA-Agricultural Research Service in Lubbock, Texas from 1983 through 1989. He has been at the National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment in Ames (formerly called the National Soil Tilth Laboratory) since 1989.

Dr. Hatfield’s main research has examined interactions among the components of the soil-plant-atmosphere continuum and its relation to air, water, and soil quality. Other research has focused on how farm practices affect water quality as well as the impact that climate change has had on agriculture. Recently he co-authored the book Climate Change in the Midwest: A Synthesis Report for the National Climate Assessment which was published last month.

Three other scientists join the 2014 Hall of Fame class including Perry B. Cregan, a researcher at the ARS Soybean Genomics and Improvement Laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland; Hyun S. Lillehoj, a molecular biologist at the ARS Animal Biosciences and Biotechnology Laboratory also in Beltsville; and Ross M. Welch, a retired plant physiologist for the ARS Plant, Soil and Nutrition Research Unit in Ithaca, New York. To qualify for induction into the Hall of Fame, nominees must be retired or eligible to retire.

Poll finds widespread support for alternative energy among Midwest voters

A solar panel array (Maryland GovPics/Flickr)
A solar panel array (Maryland GovPics/Flickr)

Voters spoke out in broad support of energy efficiency and alternative energy sources during a recent round of polls across the Midwest.

The bipartisan poll was conducted earlier this summer to gauge attitudes toward various energy issues, and included interviews with around 2,500 voters from Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin and Iowa. Among them, 95% supported increasing energy efficiency, while strong majorities supported increasing the uses of solar (91%) and wind energy (87%) in their states. Only 55% supported increasing coal use, while biomass had the lowest support (50%). Biomass also had the highest number of “Don’t Know/Not Applicable” answers, at 37%, implying some confusion around the energy source.

Attitudes toward solar, wind and natural gas remained about the same from 2010 to 2014, while support for nuclear energy dropped. Support for coal held at 55% over the last four years. However, over 80% of voters wanted to move toward cleaner sources of energy rather than increase coal use. They also viewed renewable energy production as a bigger contributor to their economy than coal mining.

Voters also voiced their opinion on potential policy issues. With the understanding that switching to alternative energy sources may cost more in the short term, 81% were willing to pay an additional $1 per month for energy, and 69% were willing to pay $4 more. They also supported energy measures like the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, announced earlier this year.

For the complete report, click here.