Iowa State University solar car travels across the state

The solar car outside of the statehouse in Des Moines (Team PrISUm/Twitter)
Iowa State University’s solar car “Team PrISUm” outside of the statehouse in Des Moines on Tuesday. (Team PrISUm/Twitter)

Nick Fetty | May 21, 2015

This week students, researchers, and others on Iowa State University’s “Team PrISUm” solar car are participating in a five-day tour across the state.

Team PrISUm’s SunRun began Monday with a stop in Denison, the hometown of former Iowa Hawkeye lineman Brandon Scherff who was the fifth overall selection in last month’s NFL Draft. On Tuesday the car visited Des Moines, Indianola, and Cedar Rapids before traveling to Monticello, Independence, and Cedar Falls on Wednesday. Today the tour will stop in Algona, Orange City, and Cherokee before visiting Webster City and returning to Ames on Friday.

Team PrISUm is a student-run organization first established in 1989 by the campus’ chapter of Tau Beta Pi, an honor society for engineering students. The group first competed in the GM Sunrayce in 1990 racing from Florida to Michigan and placing 17th out of 32 competitors. According to its website, “PrISUm is the only team that has competed in every cross country American solar car race.” Around 1995 the team opened its membership up to students of all majors. The researchers are currently designing the 13th generation solar car which is expected to compete in the 2016 American Solar Challenge.

For for updates about Team PrISUm follow the group on Facebook and Twitter.

Check out  Juice’s photo gallery of Tuesday’s stop in Des Moines and KCRG’s coverage of Wednesday’s event in Independence.

Team PrISUm stopped at Rockwell Collins in Cedar Rapids during its 2015 SunRun tour. (Team PrISUm/Facebook)
Team PrISUm stopped at Rockwell Collins in Cedar Rapids during its 2015 SunRun tour. (Team PrISUm/Facebook)

Bird flu damages estimated at $1 billion for Iowa, Minn

Iowa leads the nation in egg production. (Phil Roeder/Flickr)
Iowa leads the nation in egg production. (Phil Roeder/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | May 19, 2015

Estimates released Monday show that the recent bird flu outbreak is expected to cause a $1 billion loss in the economies of two of the countries biggest poultry producers: Iowa and Minnesota.

The Hawkeye State alone has lost about 20 million egg-laying chickens, more than one third of the state’s total, and economic losses are estimated around $600 million. These loses affect “feed suppliers, trucking companies, and processing plants.” Thus far the outbreak has been reported in 15 different states and cases reported in Iowa and Minnesota are expected to increase.

Poultry producers and landfill operators are now struggling with ways to dispose of the contaminated bird caucuses which number around 26 million. Landfill operators in northwest Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota – among the country’s hardest hit regions – have turned away the dead birds out of contamination fears. U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Iowa governor Terry Branstad, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, and other top officials have urged landfills to begin accepting birds caucuses before improper disposal leads to odors, flies, and other problems. It may be a year or longer before poultry producers are able to fully recover from this setback.

“They are not going to come back all at once. It’s going to take one to two years for these layer facilities to be back into full production, it’s a gradual process,” said Maro Ibarburu, a business analyst at the Egg Industry Center at Iowa State University, during an interview with the Associated Press.

On the Radio: Bird flu leading to cleanup concerns

(Kusabi / Flickr)
(Kusabi / Flickr)
May 18, 2015

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at environmental concerns brought on by the massive bird flu cleanup across the state. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Transcript: Bird flu cleanup

The recent bird flu outbreak is raising environmental questions about disposing of millions of dead birds.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Avian influenza has hit Iowa harder than any other state, with almost 25 million chickens and turkeys affected so far. The disease is known to claim a bird’s life within hours of showing symptoms, and is extremely pathogenic. The only way to stop the spread of the disease is to euthanize entire flocks, using a foam application that asphyxiates the birds.

This mass euthanization is leading to a disposal crisis in affected counties. While composting the dead birds is the quickest option, the process may pose risk for local health and water quality. The USDA has deployed hundreds of bio-bags capable of killing the virus until the birds can be moved to sanitary landfills, but concerns from nearby farmers have prevented movement of the birds so far. The only remaining option may be incineration.

For continued updates on the Iowa bird flu outbreak, visit

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

Iowa partners with Chinese company for wind turbine project

Wind turbines in northern Iowa. (Brooke Raymond/Flickr)
Wind turbines in northern Iowa. (Brooke Raymond/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | May 15, 2015

Officials in Iowa and wind turbine manufacturer HZ Windpower have partnered for a project that will construct 14 new turbines in the Hawkeye State.

Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynold met with officials from the China-based company to commemorate the agreement in West Des Moines on Wednesday. The $45 million, 28-megawatt project will construct turbines in Creston, Dyersville, Mason City and Perry.

“We are proud to be a part of the celebration and I am proud to be a part of the relationship that has been developed over the years. ‘And we truly believe that this is just the beginning and there are tremendous opportunities to continue to build on the investment that we are signing on here today,” Reynolds said.

Each turbine produces about two megawatts of energy which is enough to power about 500 homes. Officials with both sides also expressed interest about working together on future projects. By the end of 2014 Iowa had 5,688 MW of installed wind energy, a figure that is expected to grow to 63,000 MW by the end of this year.

Earlier this month MidAmerican Energy announced plans for a $900 million, 552 MW expansion of wind energy which is expected to be completed by the end of 2016. Additionally, Alliant Energy recently announced plans for a 200 MW project.

As report released earlier this month shows that the state’s wind energy sector is on track to meet and likely exceed federal energy goals over the next fifteen years.

Study: Cattle hormones more environmentally damaging than previously thought

Iowa ranks 7th in the nation
The USDA reports there were approximately 3,800,000 head of cattle in Iowa in 2014. (Brad Smith/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | May 14, 2015

Hormones used to beef up cattle could be causing more environmental damage than once thought, according to a recent study in the journal Nature Communications.

The study – which was co-authored by University of Iowa environmental engineering professor David Cwiertny – found hormones associated with cattle production “persist in the environment at higher concentrations and for longer durations than previously thought.” The hormones eventually end up in streams and rivers which has affected the reproductive health and behavioral patterns of fish and other aquatic life.

“We’re releasing this into the environment at levels that are potentially problematic for the ecosystem,” said Adam Ward, lead author of the study. “If you’re an amphibian, a fish, a minnow, you spend your whole life being bathed in this sort of low dose of testosterone.”

The researchers examined trenbolone acetate (or TBA) which speeds up muscle growth in cattle and has been used in the industry for about 20 years. When the TBA is metabolized it breaks down into a compound known as 17-alpha-trenbolone which then runs off into waterways.

The study is a follow up to research Cwiertny published in 2013 which suggested that when 17-alpha-trenbolone was exposed to sunlight it broke down and resulted in lower concentrations in waterways however the most recent research now suggests that the compound doesn’t break down as much as previously thought.

According data from the USDA National Agricultural Statistical Service, Iowa ranks 7th in the nation for cattle production.

On the Radio: Environmental impacts of egg production

Free-range broiler breeder chickens outside on grass (Compassion in World Farming / Flickr).
Free-range broiler breeder chickens outside on grass (Compassion in World Farming / Flickr).
May 12, 2015

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at an Iowa State University study on the environmental impact of different practices used in egg production. The study is especially salient now, as farmers and operators across the Midwest scramble to contain the avian influenza epidemic. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Researchers at Iowa State University are studying the environmental impact of different practices used in egg production.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The study looked at two alternatives to the conventional egg production model which involves placing six laying hens in a single cage. One alternative – the “enriched colony system” – places roughly 60 birds in a large enclosure and provides them with access to perches, nest boxes and scratch pads. The second alternative model – known as an “aviary” – allows hundreds of birds to roam freely in a large space for much of the day.

The study found that these methods contribute to poorer air quality and increased ammonia levels in the area. Additionally, the larger roaming areas mean that the birds require more feed and therefore leads to an increase in carbon emissions associated with feed production. Despite the environmental concerns, these methods are seen as better for the welfare of the animals.

The findings were published in March’s issue of the journal Poultry Science. The researchers will now shift their focus to other topics such as economics, hen physiology and welfare.

For more information on this study, visit Iowa-Environmental-Focus-dot-org.

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