Research finds that carbon emissions from power plants are being underestimated


A power plant in Avedøre, Hovedstaden, Denmark. (Martin Nikolaj Bech/Flickr)
A power plant in Avedøre, Hovedstaden, Denmark. (Martin Nikolaj Bech/Flickr)

Scientists from Princeton University and the University of California-Irvine published a report earlier this week which suggests that carbon emission estimates are likely higher than previously estimated.

The study states that all of the world’s power plants will produce an additional 300 billion tons of carbon dioxide during their lifetime which “isn’t taken into account by current schemes to regulate these emissions.” Developing countries such as China and India are constructing new power plants which is dwarfing efforts by the U.S. and European countries to reduce carbon emissions.

The study’s authors Robert Socolow (professor emeritus of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Princeton) and Steven Davis (professor of earth system science at UC-Irvine) developed a system they called “commitment accounting” which “assigns all the future emissions of a facility to the year when it begins working.” This method suggested that fossil fuel-burning power plants built worldwide in 2012 alone will produce 19 billion tons of carbon dioxide over a lifetime, factoring in that the plants operate for at least 40 years.

Prof. Socolow said the “Chinese power plant construction binge” has been going on since 1995. Power plants in China make up 42 percent of committed future emissions. India accounts for 8 percent while the U.S. and Europe combine for 20 percent.

Prof. Davis said that these projected emissions rates are not set in stone and could be lessened with the implementation of carbon capture technology or by retiring plants early.

On the Radio: Climate change puts corn yields at higher risk


Ears of corn ready to be eaten. ( Michael Dorausch/Flickr)
Corn, the United States’ biggest cash crop, is facing threats from multiple fronts. (Michael Dorausch/Flickr)

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at a new study which highlights the risks facing Iowa’s corn crops caused by changing environmental conditions. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

 

Transcript: Corn risk

The effects of climate change and unsustainable agricultural practices on corn production spell disaster for more than just farmers.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Corn is the United States’ biggest cash crop, essential to products including meat, cereal, soda and ethanol.
This is why sustainable business consortium Ceres suggests that corn’s entire supply chain should be taking action to address changing environmental conditions.

Ceres recently released a report that provides guidelines for farmers, companies and investors seeking to preserve resources and increase long-term yields.

The study cites pollution from agricultural runoff, along with recent droughts and water shortages across the country that are predicted to increase. Ceres contends that these factors are combining to form a sizeable threat to the corn industry.

For more information about the Ceres study, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

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

http://www.npr.org/2014/06/12/321218265/study-climate-change-is-a-growing-threat-to-corn-production
http://www.ceres.org/issues/water/agriculture/the-cost-of-corn
http://www.ceres.org/about-us/who-we-are

Michigan State University researchers have developed transparent solar concentrators


A transparent luminescent solar concentrator module. (Photo by Yimu Zhao)
A transparent luminescent solar concentrator module. (Photo by Yimu Zhao)

A team of researchers at Michigan State University have developed the technology to harvest the sun’s energy on a transparent surface.

The researchers utilize a technology known as a “transparent luminescent solar concentrator” which can be used on buildings, cell phones, and other devices with a flat, clear surface. These concentrators allow energy from the sun’s rays to be harvested while still being able to see clearly through the glass.

This particular technology is not new but researchers have now found a way to harvest the energy more efficiently. The researchers have also figured out how to do so using a clear surface as opposed to the colored glass that has been used in the past.

Yimu Zhao, a doctoral student in chemical engineering and materials science, and Richard Lunt, assistant professor of chemical engineering and materials science, work together in a lab. (Photo by G.L. Kohuth)
Yimu Zhao, a doctoral student in chemical engineering and materials science, and Richard Lunt, assistant professor of chemical engineering and materials science, work together in a lab. (Photo by G.L. Kohuth)

This new technology allows developers and researchers considerable flexibility. Solar concentrators will be able to be used on everything from building and car windows to smart phones and other electronic devices. “Ultimately we want to make solar harvesting surfaces that you do not even know are there,” said Richard Lunt, assistant professor of chemical engineering and materials science at Michigan State.

This research was recently featured on the cover of July’s issue of Advanced Optical Materials.

MIT engineers discover way to create efficient solar panels using lead recycled from car batteries


Old car batteries and other debris strewn across an empty lot in El Paso, Texas. (Paul Garland/Flickr)
Old car batteries and other debris strewn across an empty lot in El Paso, Texas. (Paul Garland/Flickr)

Engineers at MIT have discovered a way to recycle parts from old car batteries and turn them into “long-lasting, low-cost solar panels.”

Scientists have recently discovered new potential for a material known as perovskite solar cells which can be harvested using lead from old car batteries. These cells have shown 19 percent efficiency in converting the sun’s energy into usable electricity and the lead from just one car battery can produce enough solar panels to power 30 homes.

Not only is this new method creating renewable energy but it also serves as a way to recycle lead which can have detrimental effects on entire ecosystems without proper disposal. Lead can also be recycled from an old solar panel and be used to create a new one. The report added that “photovoltaic performance of the PSCs (perovskite solar cells) synthesized by each route is the same, which demonstrates that device quality does not suffer from the materials sourced from spent car batteries. “

Currently about 90 percent of the lead extracted from old batteries is used to create new batteries but an estimated 200 million lead-acid batteries are expected to be retired in coming years as the more efficient lithium-ion batteries are likely to take over the market.

The use of solar power in Iowa is expected to rise in the coming years because of recent reductions in the installation and cost of solar technology

Solar power use in Iowa expected to grow


Solar farm in Spain. (Wikipedia)
Solar farm in Spain. (Wikipedia)

Solar energy use in the Iowa is expected to rise in coming years and much of it can be attributed to decreased installation and equipment costs.

The cost to produce energy using solar panels has deceased from 21.4 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) in 2010 to 11.2 cents per kWh in 2013. The U.S. Department of Energy hopes this decreases to 6 cents per kWh by 2020 which is when solar energy is expected to become the world’s most inexpensive form of energy.

The Iowa Department of Revenue has awarded $ 1,280,243 in Iowa Solar Energy System Tax Credits in 2014. This is nearly double the 2012 figure of $ 650,914. A report by the Iowa Environmental Council ranks Iowa 16th nationally for potential of solar energy production and estimates that 20 percent of the state’s annual electricity needs could be met using rooftop solar grids.

Critics of solar power say the source’s reliability can be intermittent depending on sunlight availability and in California an increase in the number of solar plants has been detrimental for bird species in the state.

Iowa’s largest solar farm – expected to produce enough energy to power 120 homes – opened in Johnson County last month.

 

Hemp-based electrodes show promise


A ball of hemp twine, one of the plant's many uses. Photo by Emilian Robert Vicol; Flickr
A ball of hemp twine. Photo by Emilian Robert Vicol; Flickr

According to new research recently presented at the American Chemical Society’s national meeting, hemp may be able to increase the amount of energy that can be stored in supercapacitors.

Supercapacitors store energy, similar to the batteries that power many electronic devices. Unlike batteries that may take hours to transfer their energy, supercapacitors reduce this time to mere seconds. However, they can only store a fraction of the energy that batteries are able to.

Researchers are trying to solve this problem by building electrodes out of different materials. Graphene has been used in the past, but it is expensive; the researchers found that hemp bast, a fiber taken from the plant’s inner bark, is a much cheaper alternative. They heated the hemp fibers to rearrange the carbon atoms, resulting in 2D nanosheets that were used to construct electrodes. The final product was highly successful, performing “far better than commercial supercapacitors.”

Hemp, a variety of the Cannabis plant, is used in a wide variety of products, including food, paper, cloth, and oil.

Iowa farmer uses the sun to power irrigation system


A solar array (h080/Flickr)
A solar array. (h080/Flickr)

A farmer near Sioux City has turned to solar energy to power his irrigation system, according to a report from the Sioux City Journal.

Dolf Ivener recently designed a center pivot irrigation system that runs on a 22-panel solar array in his farm near Whiting, Iowa. The solar panels produce enough power to propel the system around the field while spraying water or fertilizer through its pipes.

While heavy rain and record flooding in the Sioux City area earlier this summer prevented Ivener from getting the most out of his system, he expects the innovation to pay off over the next ten years. Nearly half the cost of installing the solar panels was covered by federal and state grants designed to encourage solar energy use.

The agriculture industry has led the way in solar energy applications, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. Farmers in remote areas were some of the first to turn to solar energy as an alternative to kerosene, diesel and propane when grid connections were unavailable. A switch to renewable energy sources like solar could drastically reduce carbon emissions from farms.