ISU researchers discover new magnetic allow for wind turbines, cars

Iowa State University researcher Arjun Pathak melts material for a new magnetic alloy he helped to create. (The Ames Laboratory)

Nick Fetty | April 30, 2015

Researchers at Iowa State University have created a new magnetic alloy which is expected to replace “traditional rare-earth permanent magnets” for products such as automobiles and wind turbines.

The researchers published their findings in a report titled “Cerium: An Unlikely Replacement of Dysprosium in High Performance Nd–Fe–B Permanent Magnets” in the journal Advanced Materials. The new magnetic allow will serve as a more affordable and abundant alternative to dysprosium which is “one of the scarcest and costliest rare earth elements.” Though dysprosium does not exist in nature as a free element, “[it] is found in various minerals, such as xenotime.”

The new alloy consists of “iron, neodymium and boron co-doped with cerium and cobalt” and costs up to 40 percent less than the current alloy that requires dysprosium. The researchers found that the new alloy’s intrinsic coercivity (the ability of a magnetic material to resist demagnetization) is able to function at temperatures of 150° C or higher, a marked improvement over dysprosium.

“This is quite exciting result; we found that this material works better than anything out there at temperatures above 150° C,” researcher Karl A. Gschneidner said in a press release. “It’s an important consideration for high-temperature applications.”

This research was part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s ARPA-E REACT program (Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy–Rare Earth Alternatives in Critical Technologies).

Faith leaders affirm climate consensus at Vatican Climate Change Conference

Vatican Square (Dennis Jarvis / Flickr)
Vatican Square (Dennis Jarvis / Flickr)
KC McGinnis | April 29, 2015

Religious, scientific and political leaders from around the world gathered to declare the moral obligation to heed the scientific consensus on global warming Tuesday.

“Human-induced climate change is a scientific reality, and its decisive mitigation is a moral and religious imperative for humanity,” read the official statement from the Vatican Climate Change Conference, held in Vatican City and hosted by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.

The summit comes ahead of a papal encyclical anticipated to be released by Pope Francis in June of this year. Both Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict have repeatedly emphasized the need to consider the effects global warming has on the world’s poor.

“Political leaders of all U.N. member states have a special responsibility to agree at COP21 to a bold climate agreement that confines global warming to a limit safe for humanity,” reads the statement, referring to a U.N. climate summit to take place in Paris later this year, “while protecting the poor and the vulnerable from ongoing climate change that gravely endangers their lives.”

“The Catholic Church, working with the leadership of other religions, can now take a decisive role by mobilizing public opinion and public funds to meet the energy needs of the poorest 3 billion people, thus allowing them to prepare for the challenges of unavoidable climate and eco-system changes,” a more detailed version of the statement continues.

The Pope was joined at the summit by scientists and world leaders like U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon. These leaders insisted that the wealthy countries responsible for most of the world’s carbon emissions have a special responsibility to care for the world’s poor, who are often those worst harmed by rising sea levels and increasing storm severity in impoverished areas. Leaders from the summit warned that we may be nearing our last opportunity to keep human-induced warming below 2-degrees C, and that a transition to low-carbon and renewable energy will be a must in the push toward sustainability.

Coincidentally, the conference followed a recent presentation at Iowa State University by atmospheric scientist and climate change evangelist Katharine Hayhoe, who highlighted the role her faith plays in caring for the environment, allowing her and others “to fulfill the responsibility that’s been given to us to care for every living creature on this planet.”

Animal manure could create a new energy market in Iowa

A screenshot of the Iowa Biogas Assessment Model website potential for ag waste across the state. (Iowa Biogas Assessment Model)
A screenshot of the Iowa Biogas Assessment Model website potential for ag waste across the state. (Iowa Biogas Assessment Model)

Nick Fetty | April 23, 2015

Iowa could soon use the byproducts from two of its biggest industries – crop and livestock production – to create a new market in renewable fuel production, according to a report in Midwest Energy News.

This potential new market is the result of policy and economics. Last summer, a revision to EPA’s Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) increased the value of biogas in the fuel marketplace. The revision means biogas will be added to the list of advanced cellulosic biofuels which refineries must either produce or purchase credits for. The quantity of cellulosic fuels that must be blended with gasoline is expected to increase over the next eight years which means higher prices for renewable fuels. Amanda Bilek, government affairs manager at the Great Plains Institute in Minneapolis, said this change to the RFS has created a new market for fuels produced using manure and other organic waste.

A 2013 report by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory found that Iowa led the nation in manure production. The study also examined methane content in not just manure but also wastewater, landfills and industrial as well as commercial organic waste. The Hawkeye State ranked 8th nationally for methane generation potential.

Iowa State University teamed up with EcoEngineers out of Des Moines to create an interactive map and website which calculates the amount of methane-containing waste within up to a 50-mile radius. Biogas production in Iowa has been modest thus far but officials expect the industry to grow in the coming years.

Earth Day marks rally for end of 400-mile pipeline walk

Former state Rep. Ed Fallon near the end of his 400-mile pipeline walk across Iowa.
KC McGinnis | April 22, 2015

Former state Rep. Ed Fallon will conclude his 400-mile hike across Iowa with an Earth Day rally in Des Moines today.

For 39 days, Fallon walked along the path of the proposed Bakken oil pipeline, talking with landowners and activists about their concerns over the environment and property management. Fallon supports an eminent domain bill in the Iowa Legislature that would prevent Energy Transfer Partners from condemning Iowa farmland without consent. He will host an Earth Day Rally to Stop the Pipeline today at the State Capital’s west lawn (People’s Park).

Fallon documented his conversations with Iowans along the pipeline route through a daily blog. He recalled conversations with farmers whose land was repeatedly trespassed by surveyors, residents whose homes would be within a few hundred feet of the pipeline, and town hall meetings where people discussed the issue at length.

In his meetings with Iowans along the pipeline route, Fallon had to counter the sense of inevitability created by pipeline representatives, who frequently met with landowners to inform them that the pipeline construction was unavoidable, and that they should sell their land to the company instead of waiting for it to buy at a lower price through eminent domain. Fallon assured these residents that the company proposing the pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners, still lacks authority to use eminent domain, and that legislation currently in the House and Senate would prevent them from using it as a ground for construction. While some Iowans have already settled with the oil companies, many are still holding out despite aggressive persuasion.

The rally will take place at 5 p.m., with talks by Fallon, two legislators and two family farmers. There will also be an open mic available for people to share their thoughts.

Report: Iowa added 2,000+ wind energy jobs in 2014

Wind turbines near Williams, Iowa. (Magnus Manske/Wikimedia Commons)


Nick Fetty | April 14, 2015

Iowa added more than 2,000 jobs in the wind energy sector between 2013 and 2014, according to a report by the American Wind Energy Association.

The seventh annual AWEA U.S Wind Industry Annual Market Report – which was released on Wednesday – reported that approximately 6,000 people worked in Iowa’s wind energy industry in 2013 which ranks second in the nation behind Texas with 16,000. The Hawkeye State also added 511 megawatts of wind energy capacity in 2014 which accounted for 11 percent of wind energy capacity nationwide. Iowa ranked behind Texas and Oklahoma nationally for wind energy capacity.

Iowa leads the nation in percentage of electricity generated by wind energy at 28.5 percent and ranked second (behind Texas…again) for wind energy produced at 16.3 million megawatt hours, enough energy to power approximately 1.49 million homes. More than $10 billion has been invested in Iowa for wind energy projects and infrastructure.

Nationwide the wind industry added 23,000 jobs in 2014, bringing the grand total to 73,000. Additionally, the nation quadrupled its wind generating capacity between 2013 and 2014. Tom Kiernan – CEO for AWEA – attributed the nationwide increase in wind energy to effective policies in place.

“These results show that extending the Production Tax Credit for wind power in 2013 was good for business in America,” Kiernan said in a press release. “We’ve got a mainstream, Made-in-the-USA product that supports jobs in every state and is gaining momentum. With a more predictable policy we can add more jobs and keep this American success story going.”

A March report by the U.S. Department of Energy estimates that wind energy in the U.S. will double in the next five years.

UNI event focuses on ethics of energy production

The Campanile is a major landmark on the University of Northern Iowa campus. (Madmaxmarchh/WikiMedia Commons)

Nick Fetty | April 17, 2015

An event hosted by the University of Northern Iowa on Wednesday focused on ethical implications in the production of energy.

The event – “Ethics of Energy Production” – examined “economic effects, environmental impacts, legal aspects, agricultural viewpoints and employment prospects” in regard to how energy is produced in Iowa and abroad. Speakers addressed a handful of issues including: Concerns about how Iowa and the U.S. will meet future energy needs, the proposed Dakota Access oil pipeline and Rock Island Clean Line projects, the approval process for proposed energy production projects, and how to have your voice heard in the discussion.

Attorney Justin LaVan discussed concerns Iowans have about the proposed Rock Island Clean Line which would pass through 16 counties in the state. According to the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, LaVan – who represents an alliance of landowners opposed to the proposed pipeline – pointed out that the project has received easement approval from 176 landowners. The project needs approval from 1,540 total landowners in order to pass. A February poll by the Des Moines Register found that the majority of Iowans support the pipeline but are against using eminent domain to accomplish the project.

David Osterberg – a clinical professor in Occupational and Environmental Health at the University of Iowa – served as a panelist at the event and discussed the impact that energy production has on climate change.

“[T]his particular industry is the bane of our existence in Iowa, because it hurt everything else, not only wind but also ethanol. They’re bad guys. Don’t give them a pipeline,” Osterberg said.

UNI business professor Craig Van Sandt was an organizer of the event and he focused on the impact that current energy production practices will have on future generations.

“They are going to affect our children, our grandchildren — and depending on your leanings — they affect animals in the environment as well,” he said.

Al Gore coming to Iowa for climate communication training

Former Vice President Al Gore speaks at the World Economic Forum on January 21, 2015 (World Economic Forum / Flickr)
Former Vice President Al Gore speaks at the World Economic Forum on January 21, 2015 (World Economic Forum / Flickr)
KC McGinnis | April 1, 2015

Iowans will have a chance to receive climate communications training from former Vice President Al Gore at an upcoming summit.

The Climate Reality Leadership Corps training, being held May 5-7 in Cedar Rapids, will feature the former presidential candidate as well as scientists and strategic communicators, who will help attendees learn how to advocate for climate change policies at the grassroots level. Experts will talk about the science of climate change, the effects it’s having on local and global economies and potential solutions available today. They will also give instruction on how to use social media, public speaking, and media engagement to bring the climate conversation to the public.

The Climate Reality Project, founded in 2006 after the success of Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth,” aims to equip laypersons with the knowledge and skills necessary for bringing climate awareness to the general public and policy makers. The project advocates a turn from fossil fuels to renewable energy like solar and wind.

The Iowa training comes as the state leads the nation in percentage of energy produced by wind, with a quarter of its energy coming from the renewable source. It also comes with information relevant for farmers and agricultural experts looking to decrease emissions from the agriculture industry, which emits more greenhouse gases than any other industry in the state including transportation and energy.

The training is free, but does not include transportation costs. To apply to attend the conference by April 13, click here.