Iowa State’s solar car team prepares for 1,800-mile trek across Midwest

Members of Team PrISUm -- from left, Charlotte Brandenburg, Garret Coleman, Philip Gates, Arun Sondhi and Matt Goode -- are preparing their solar racing car for this summer's two races. Larger photo. (Christopher Gannon/Iowa State University News Service)
Members of Team PrISUm — from left, Charlotte Brandenburg, Garret Coleman, Philip Gates, Arun Sondhi and Matt Goode — are preparing their solar racing car for this summer’s two races. (Christopher Gannon/Iowa State University News Service)
Nick Fetty | July 21, 2016

Members of Iowa State University’s solar car team – PrISUm – are preparing for an 1,800-mile trek from Ohio to South Dakota.

Later this month Team PrISUm will compete in the Amesican Solar Challenge road race which will begin at Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Brecksville, Ohio and end at Wind Cave National Park in Hot Springs, South Dakota. The race is in collaboration with the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service and will include stops at national battlefields, monuments and historical parks. The route does not go through Iowa and instead cuts south across Missouri.

Prior to the American Solar Challenge (July 30-August 6), Team PrISUm will compete in a qualifying race at the Pittsburgh International Race Complex July 26-28. The team hopes to use these races to prepare them for the 2017 World Solar Challenge, a 1,900-mile trek across the Australian outback scheduled for next October.

Team PrISUm claimed its first overall victory last year during the Formula Sun Grand Prix in Austin, Texas. The team and its car, Phaëton, bested the second place team by more than 31 laps and also recording the fastest lap of any of its competitors by about 14 seconds. The car, Phaëton, is named for the son of Greek sun god, Helios.

The team’s newest model, Phaëton 2, improved upon several aspects from the previous design including a new motor, new batteries, and live telemetry which allows the public to use the internet to track location, speed, and other metrics measured by the car.

PrISUm team members Charlotte Brandenburg, right, and Matt Goode look over the car's batteries and fuses outside the team's Sweeney Hall garage. (Christopher Gannon/Iowa State University News Service)
PrISUm team members Charlotte Brandenburg, right, and Matt Goode look over the car’s batteries and fuses outside the team’s Sweeney Hall garage. (Christopher Gannon/Iowa State University News Service)

Technical assessment evaluates compliance with 2012 fuel economy, greenhouse gas standards

(Mike Mozart/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | July 20, 2016

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a draft of the Technical Assessment Report (TAR) to evaluate the compliance of the automobile industry with the Obama administration’s 2012 fuel economy and greenhouse gas standards.

The standards, finalized in 2012, covered all cars and light weight trucks sold in the United States between 2012 and 2025. The regulations were put in place to save Americans money at the fuel pump, reduce dependency on foreign oil, and to protect the environment. Initial goals required that vehicles get 54.5 miles per gallon and cut greenhouse gas emissions to 163 grams per mile.

EPA, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), and California’s Air Resources Board (CARB) released an in-depth TAR draft earlier this month in order to highlight sustainable automobile advances and to determine reasonable standards for future model year (MY) automobiles. TAR considers fuel-economy advancement cost, technologies, and market-changes in order to provide EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) with necessary information to write updated standards for MY 2022-2025 vehicles.

A recent EPA blog post outlined major findings of the industry assessment.

TAR found that many automakers are meeting fuel-economy and emissions standards several years ahead of schedule. There are upwards of 100 cars, SUVs, and trucks currently on the market that meet 2020 or later standards already. There was evidence that manufacturers can comply with standards “at a similar or even lower cost,” corroborating a 2015 study by that National Academy of Sciences. Finally, TAR concluded that automakers are seeing “record sales and fuel economy levels.” For the first time since the 1920’s, auto sales have increased for six consecutive years leading up to 2015.

A 60 day public comment period for all interested stakeholders has been established.

fuel economy standards
Fuel economy standards infographic (The White House)

Iowa solar advocate Tim Dwight featured in Sports Illustrated

Iowa Solar Energy Trade Association president Tim Dwight, right, during a CGRER 25th anniversary event presented by WorldCanvass at FilmScene in Iowa City on Tuesday, October 13, 2015. (KC McGinnis/CGRER)
Nick Fetty | July 12, 2016

Former University of Iowa football player Tim Dwight was featured in Sports Illustrated last week as part of the magazine’s “Where Are They Now?” series.

Dwight was born in Iowa City and attended City High where he excelled at track and football. Despite his relatively small 5-foot 8-inch frame, Dwight found a niche as a wide receiver and kick returner for the Iowa Hawkeyes before a decade-long stint in the National Football League.

Dwight attributed his interest in solar energy to his travels to Africa and the Middle East after his football career.

“The world runs on energy everywhere and energy runs everything so I knew that market was not going to go away,” Dwight told Iowa Environmental Focus in 2015.

The recent Sports Illustrated article discusses the ways in which solar has changed since Dwight got into the game, pointing out that solar modules have decreased from $4 per watt in 2008 to about 70 cents per watt today.

The piece also touches on the breadth of Dwight’s knowledge when discussing solar.

It also helps that Dwight can speak flawlessly and passionately about all sides of the industry. As we chat, he riffs on about electricity, amps, volts, wire sizes, how to pinpoint a connection to a grid, how to break down a single-line diagram, and how energy is currently bought, sold and created.

Throughout our conversation, the solar advocacy never slows. Just like his skills as a returner, you think he’s done and then he goes in a new direction, passionately and convincingly adding yet another reason to go solar. “It’s like, guys, you’re living in the 1800s, man. In Iowa we’re 50% coal. We dig from Wyoming, my money is going to Wyoming. With renewables, it’s local job creation, local investment.”

In addition to his role at president of the Iowa Solar Energy Trade Association, Dwight is also founder and owner of the California-based Integrated Power Corporation.

AMA: Proper LED steet light technology leads to environmental benefits

A LED street light in Tuscon, Arizona. (Bill Morrow/Flickr)
An LED street light in Tuscon, Arizona. (Bill Morrow/Flickr)
Nick Fetty | June 28, 2016

Proper LED – or light emitting diode – technology for street lights could benefit both human health and the environment, according to the American Medical Association (AMA).

During its annual meeting earlier this month, the AMA “adopted guidance for communities on selecting among LED lighting options to minimize potential harmful human and environmental effects.” About 10 percent of existing U.S. street lighting has been converted to LED which often have economic and environmental benefits compared to conventional lighting. However, despite these benefits, officials with the AMA feel that certain forms of LED technology in street lighting may actually cause more harm than good.

“Despite the energy efficiency benefits, some LED lights are harmful when used as street lighting,” said AMA Board Member Maya A. Babu. “The new AMA guidance encourages proper attention to optimal design and engineering features when converting to LED lighting that minimize detrimental health and environmental effects.”

The lighting from high-intensity LED designs can harm some bird, insect, turtle, and fish species that are naturally accustomed to a darker environment. To avoid these potential ecological threats, national parks in the U.S. have utilized optimal lighting designs in an effort to minimize the effects of light pollution on the environment. In addition to harming the environment, high-intensity LED lighting can cause distractions for drivers and also disrupt circadian sleep rhythms in humans.

Specifically, the AMA recommends that communities use LED technology with the lowest emission of blue light possible. AMA also recommends that LED lighting be properly shielded to reduce glare and that LED lighting be dimmed during non-peak time periods

In 2015, MidAmerican Energy announced plans to convert more than 100,000 Iowa streetlights to LED over a 10-year period.

UI engineering researcher works with California company to manufacture pure hydrogen energy

A diagram of HyperSolar’s electrochemical device that converts water into hydrogen energy. (HyperSolar, Inc.)
Jenna Ladd | June 22, 2016

A University of Iowa chemical engineering professor is working closely with a California start-up to produce clean energy using only sunlight and water.

With College of Engineering Professor Syed Mubeen as head scientist, the University of Iowa has signed a second one-year research contract with HyperSolar. In tandem with Iowa researchers, HyperSolar is working to commercialize low-cost renewable energy using hydrogen.

Hydrogen is considered a green energy source because its byproduct is water rather than carbon emissions. However, pure hydrogen is hard to come by. There is only a tiny fraction of 1% of pure hydrogen floating around in Earth’s atmosphere, therefore it must be produced.

The majority of hydrogen is manufactured through a chemical process that converts fossil fuels into hydrogen. This practice produces climate-changing greenhouse gases. Hydrogen can also be produced in a more sustainable fashion called electrolysis, using extremely pure water and electricity. While this method does not emit greenhouse gases, the costs associated with it are very high.

Mubeen and the HyperSolar team have discovered a much more environmentally sound and low-cost means of hydrogen production. Mimicking plants during photosynthesis, their electrochemical device can convert any type of water into hydrogen with a little help from the sun. Here’s how it works: the device sits in any type of water (freshwater, sea water, wastewater, etc.), and when sunlight shines through and hits the device water is converted into pure hydrogen. The hydrogen is then stored in the device and available for use.

Mubeen is striving to drive costs for this energy source down even further so that is may be available globally. He explains, “Currently, we understand how clean energy systems such as solar cells, wind turbines, et cetera, work at a high level of sophistication. The real challenge going forward is to develop inexpensive clean energy systems that can be cost competitive to fossil fuel systems and be adopted globally and not just in the developed countries.”

For a more detailed description of this process, watch the video below.

Report: Local regulations for wind energy projects can protect interests of rural landowners

Wind turbines in northern Iowa. (Brooke Raymond/Flickr)
Wind turbines in northern Iowa. (Brooke Raymond/Flickr)
Nick Fetty | June 9, 2016

Local regulations could be key to protecting the interests of landowners and communities when pursuing wind energy projects, according to a recent report.

Respect and Restore: Reassessing Local Wind Energy Standards was published last month by the Nebraska-based Center for Rural Affairs. The report’s authors outline the impacts that heavy construction vehicles and other equipment associated with wind energy projects can have on land and infrastructure not designed for such loads. The report also discusses various county and municipal ordinances that affect the construction and decommissioning of wind energy projects.

The report’s authors recommend that county and other local governments enact ordinances that better protect rural lands and roads, particularly during the construction of wind projects. The authors conclude:

“As wind development continues to grow, it is essential that developers and local officials work to tackle the concerns and issues experienced by community stakeholders. Continuing to develop renewable resources provides tangible benefits to rural communities across the nation. But to ensure that these benefits are not realized at the expense of landowners and community members, wind energy projects must be developed in a way that addresses the challenges presented by the construction process.”

The Center for Rural Affairs published a similar report last year which outlined zoning, methods for regulation of wind energy development, and state and local control of regulations on wind projects in Iowa and other Midwestern states.

Iowa was the first state in the country to produce more than 30 percent of its electricity from wind and currently leads in the nation in percentage of energy production from wind power.

Italian company to construct $56 million wind farm in Iowa

Wind Farm Construction
Wind farm construction in Northeast Iowa last year. (Tim Hynds/Sioux City Journal)
Jenna Ladd | June 3, 2016

Building Energy SPA has announced plans to partner with Des Moines renewable energy developer, Optimum Renewables, to build a multi-million dollar wind farm.

An Italian company, Building Energy SPA has constructed wind farms in the United States since 2013. This will be their first venture in Iowa. The group is financing the $56 million operation along with Capital One Bank. Capital One plans to put up more than half of the total cost, but will also reap Iowa’s wind energy tax credits.

The farm will stretch across Story, Boone, Hardin and Poweshiek counties, and consist of ten wind turbines total, equaling about 30 Mega Watts of energy. Developers expect the wind turbines to generate enough energy to power 11,000 U.S. homes, equal to taking roughly 21,ooo cars off the road. The project is on track to be completed by the end of 2016.

Iowa has long been a national leader in wind energy. Just this spring, it became the first state in the union to produce more than 30% of its energy using wind turbines. Governor Terry Branstand is optimistic about the resource’s future in his home state, stating that it has “the potential to jump above 40 percent in the next five years.” So far, wind farms have attracted $11.8 billion to Iowa’s economy.