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.

Great March for Climate Action reaches Iowa


Ed Fallon speaking at a political event prior to embarking on the Great March. Photo by Mike Hiatt; Flickr
Ed Fallon speaking at a political event prior to embarking on the Great March. Photo by Mike Hiatt; Flickr

 A former Iowa state representative and a group of dedicated citizens are marching through Iowa this week on a cross-country trek to raise awareness about climate change.

Ed Fallon’s Great March for Climate Action began on March 1st in Los Angeles, and will conclude in Washington D.C. before the midterm elections. By this time, Fallon and five other marchers will have walked approximately 3,000 miles. This core group has been joined by many others along the way who walk as far as they are able.

The aim of the March is to inspire the general public as well as lawmakers to take action on climate issues. The marchers are holding rallies and events along the route, attempting to reach the largest possible audience.

The marchers will walk through Iowa City this Wednesday, with a rally at 11:30 AM in the Ped Mall and a discussion of the EPA’s Clean Power Plant Rule at 7:00 PM at the Iowa City Public Library.

County supervisors: Coralville lake plan is out of date


Coralville Lake. Photo by Alan Light; Flickr
Coralville Lake. Photo by Alan Light; Flickr

According to the Johnson County Board of Supervisors, Coralville Lake’s management plan is in need of an update. They have requested funding from the Army Corps of Engineers in order to research and write a new plan.

The reservoir’s current plan has been in place since 1995, and the Supervisors say that it does not account for new conditions due to climate change. Ideally, local Corps officials would be able to make decisions about water levels without having to wait for federal approval. The discretion to make such decisions without waiting for bureaucracy might have prevented some of the damage done by the flood events of the last decade.

The County Supervisors rely heavily on information provided by the University of Iowa Flood Center (IFC), which monitors local flood conditions. If the management plan is successfully rewritten, the Supervisors could act quickly on IFC information during any future flood situation, and more efficiently handle an emergency situation.

Are large mammals coming back to Iowa?


Black bear at Lake Ekultna, Alaska. Photo by Doug Brown; Flickr
Black bear at Lake Ekultna, Alaska. Photo by Doug Brown; Flickr

Sightings of large mammals such as bears, moose, mountain lions, and wolves have become increasingly common as of late. Many Iowans are beginning to wonder what would change if the mammals established breeding populations within the state.

In July, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources confirmed a set of bear tracks and scat outside of Wadena, Iowa after a sighting was reported. A beekeeper saw an adult female bear with two cubs destroy a set of beehives before vacating the area. If there are cubs, they are the first to be documented in Iowa in over a century. Other beekeepers have complained of damage to their bee yards as well. Black bears are not protected in Iowa and can legally be shot, although such extreme measures are rarely necessary.

A lone moose was spotted wandering through Iowa at the end of last year, and a wolf was shot by a coyote hunter in February. Both moose and wolves are protected by state law.

Several mountain lion sightings have been reported to the DNR in the past few weeks, but none have been confirmed.

DNR looking for Iowans’ input on water quality


Story County, Iowa. Photo by Carl Wycoff; Flickr
Story County, Iowa. Photo by Carl Wycoff; Flickr

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has announced a series of public meetings to review the state’s water quality standards. The open discussions, which occur triennially in accordance with the federal Clean Water Act, will be held throughout Iowa in early September.

Iowans with ideas and opinions about state water quality goals are encouraged to attend one of the events. After the meetings, the department will review the public’s suggestions and adjust their work plan accordingly.

Rochelle Weiss, DNR water quality standards coordinator, describes the meetings as “the public’s opportunity to tell us what is important to them.”

Visit the DNR’s website to find a meeting near you, and find out more about the review process here.

West Nile virus arrives early in Iowa


Photo by Gerald Yuvallos; Flickr
Photo by Gerald Yuvallos; Flickr

According to the Iowa Department of Public Health, three cases of the West Nile virus have been reported in Iowa so far this year. The mosquito-borne virus has appeared in the state during early autumn since 2002.

So far, one human case has been reported in each of three counties: Clay, Monona, and Woodbury. The State Hygienic Laboratory, which also tests mosquitos, reports that one mosquito pool has tested positive for the virus.

Symptoms of the virus may include fever, aches and vomiting. More serious symptoms, including brain swelling, affect less than one percent of infected people.

Officials encourage Iowans to use insect repellent when outdoors, especially during evenings, and to avoid standing water.

$1.4 million towards water quality improvement


Skunk River east of Cambridge, IA.  Photo by Carl Wycoff; Flickr
Skunk River east of Cambridge, IA.
Photo by Carl Wycoff; Flickr

Last week, the state of Iowa made $1.4 million available to farmers in an effort to improve water quality through nutrient reduction practices. Farmers have now claimed all of these funds and will match the amount, bringing the total to $2.8 million.

The 597 farmers who received funds plan to either plant cover crops, utilize no-till or strip-till cultivation, or apply a nitrification inhibitor.

Earlier this year, the Legislature appropriated $11.2 million for environmental conservation, but the amount was vetoed by Gov. Terry Branstad.

According to a report by the Iowa Policy Project, the state’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy needs more funding in order to succeed.