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.

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.

 

Iowa farm hosting Bio-Renewables Field Day


Iowa State agronomy researcher Emily Heaton (left, red shirt) introduces congressional staffers to biomass crop miscanthus. (CenUSA Bioenergy/Flickr)
Iowa State agronomy researcher Emily Heaton (left, red shirt) introduces congressional staffers to biomass crop miscanthus. (CenUSA Bioenergy/Flickr)

A tall perennial grass called miscanthus may be the future of bioenergy in Iowa, and an upcoming event is highlighting its unique potential.

Iowa State University assistant professor of agronmy Emily Heaton and Iowa City landowner Dan Black will speak at a field day and seminar on Wednesday, September 10, to discuss their findings regarding miscanthus, which is currently being explored as a potential biomass crop in experimental fields.

The event will take place at the University of Iowa miscanthus test plot and is hosted by Iowa Learning Farms, the second in a series of four field days that will cover innovations in Iowa agriculture. The event includes a meal prepared by Johnson County Cattlemen and features Ben Anderson, power plant manager at the University of Iowa, who will talk about how miscanthus could be used in the UI power plant’s solid fuel boilers.

Researchers working with a non-invasive hybrid of miscanthus have so far observed a high success rate in surviving Iowa winters, which is necessary for it to reach peak production in its third year. This means the plant could play a major role in Iowa agriculture as a source of biomass that can be converted into energy. It can grow alongside existing crops and in sections of fields that usually produce lower yields for corn, meaning it could also help reduce runoff and preserve water quality.

RSVPs are being accepted until September 5 by calling (515) 294-8912 or by emailing ilf@iastate.edu. For more information, visit extension.iastate.edu/ilf.

Research finds that carbon emissions from power plants are being underestimated


Nick Fetty | August 27, 2014
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


Nick Fetty | August 20, 2014
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


Nick Fetty | August 19, 2014
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