Turning food waste into green energy


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Wasting Food (jbloom/flickr)
Kasey Dresser | January 3,  2018

Americans waste 133 billion pounds of food each year. Not only is that a waste of natural resources but food waste produces methane which is a harmful greenhouse gas. Researchers at Cornell University have been looking at more productive ways of using leftover food.

The process is a combination of hydrothermal liquefaction and anaerobic digestion.

Hydrothermal liquefaction is a process where the food is heated (kind of like a pressure cooker) to extract oil that can be used for fuel.

The anaerobic digestion process breaks down the microbes in the food waste into a mixture primarily composed of methane and carbon dioxide. This gas can be used to power heat and electricity.

Other methods of turning food waste into energy are also being developed but Roy Posmanik, a postdoctoral researcher at Cornell, is really excited about this quick new solution. “We’re talking about minutes in hydrothermal liquefaction and a few days in an anaerobic digester,” he said in a written statement. Posmanik says he could see a day where all food waste from homes, supermarkets, restaurants are immediately shipped to treatment plans. Posmanik needs to do more research before he discovers the cost but “government incentives for renewable energy credits can make a lot of difference.”

 

On The Radio – UNESCO Natural World Heritage sites threatened by climate change


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Many of the world’s greatest reefs have lost their colorful algae due to rising sea temperatures. (Robert Linsdell/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | January 1, 2017

This week’s segment discusses how climate change is becoming more threatening to natural wonders around the world. 

Transcript: Climate change now threatens one in four Natural World Heritage sites.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

There are a total of 206 Natural World Heritage properties elected by UNESCO or the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. The organization announced at November’s United Nations climate change summit in Bonn, Germany that sixty-two of these sites are now considered to be at risk due to climate change, up from 35 sites listed in 2014.

A variety of sites are threatened, but coral reefs and wetlands are among the most fragile ecosystems. Rising sea temperatures have killed off colorful algae that used to adorn the Belize Barrier Reef and Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. The Everglades are also threatened by climate change as sea level rise brings salt water into the wetland ecosystem.

Proper management can reduce risk for some threatened natural heritage sites. The report tells of replenished elephant and chimpanzee populations in Ivory Coast’s Comoé national park due to successful management and international support.

For more information, visit iowa-environmental-focus-dot-org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.

Iowan cities reducing pollution to fulfill Paris Climate Change Agreement


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Wind Power (Ian Hill/ flickr) 
Kasey Dresser | December 29,  2017

Since Trump has officially pulled support from the Paris Climate Change Accord, mayors within the U.S. are pledging for their cities to help meet the goals. 50 plus mayors signed the Chicago Climate Charter to meet Paris Climate Agreement’s pollution reduction goals during the North American Climate Summit. Des Moines, Dubuque, Fairfield, Iowa City, Cedar Rapids and several other Iowan mayors have now stepped up to do the same.

There are 3 main goals to reduce pollution:

  1. Utilizing Iowa’s wind power, achieve 100% renewable energy for municipal electricity needs by 2022.
  2. Buying Electric Vehicles (EV) to lower greenhouse gas emissions.
  3. Replacing buildings with incandescent bulbs to LEDS and getting rid of any old appliances or softwares.

The Environmental Law & Policy Center is excited that cities are stepping up and plans to make arrangement that will tailor to Iowa’s benefit.

China is taking influence from California’s cap and trade program to reduce carbon emission


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Smog (Hyun Jin Cho/flickr)
Kasey Dresser | December 26,  2017

Cap and trade is a government based program that controls the amount of carbon emissions that a company is allowed to emit. The company buys a permit that allows them to release a specific amount.

California, and parts of Canada and the UK already have cap and trade programs set up. China met with Governor Jerry Brown over the summer to discuss China’s carbon markets. Since the start of the cap and trade program in 2012, California has raised $4.4 billion by selling credits. The plan is to have greenhouse gas emissions cut by 80% in 2050. The program has also created more local jobs.  This progress is an example not only for states but more countries too.

The first steps in China’s cap and trade program will cover the electricity industry. This will focus on reducing coal-fire based energy. Later the program will expand to transportation and industrial sectors. Forbes predicted that if China can get the price of carbon to $10 on the national market and keep it there, they can eliminate a quarter of their emissions by 2030.

The United States and China are responsible for 42% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. President Xi’s actions have committed himself to the Paris Climate Change Agreement and since the United States has pulled support, he has pledged to have a larger international leadership position.

On The Radio – California lists glyphosate as a carcinogen


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Glyphosate is an active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup. (Mike Mozart/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | December 18, 2017

This week’s On The Radio segment discusses how some farm groups are suing California for considering glyphosate a cancer causing chemical. 

Transcript: Iowa and a dozen other state farm groups are suing California for listing glyphosate as a cancer causing chemical.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

California’s Proposition 65 law from 1986 requires the state to protect drinking water from chemicals that can cause cancer or reproductive harm. And businesses must warn their users about potential chemical danger.

Glyphosate is a herbicide used in 250 crops and a key ingredient in Monsanto’s top selling weed killer, RoundUp. Back in 2016 Monsanto sued California to block the glyphosate listing but in July of this year, California made the decision to list glyphosate as a carcinogen.

This decision will cost Iowa farmers around 5 billion dollars. Crops with glyphosate will have to be separated, meaning extra time and labor costs not to mention a drastic drop in sales. Products with even trace amounts of glyphosate will be required to be labeled by 2018 in the state of California.

Glyphosate is believed to be one of the safer herbicides. It was approved by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the 1970s and is frequently re-tested. However, the International Agency for Research on Cancer determined glyphosate as a potential cancer causing substance in 2015.

The debate about glyphosate and its effects on human health will likely continue following California’s actions.

For more information, visit iowa-environmental-focus-dot-org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.

On The Radio – United Nations Environment Programme seeks to tackle air pollution


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The United Nations warned of the many human health impacts pollution poses. (United Nations/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | December 11, 2017

This week’s On The Radio segment discusses how the United Nations released an anthology with suggested methods for reducing pollution worldwide. 

Transcript: As global pollution increases, action is needed now more than ever. 

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus. 

United Nations Environment Programme recently released The Executive Director’s Report: Towards A Pollution-Free Planet, an anthology that pulls environmental data from every continent and suggests general methods for reducing pollution globally. 

The report suggests that nobody is free from the effects of global pollution. Around one in four deaths globally are caused by environmental degradation, and governments must take action to reduce pollution in all its forms if they want to reduce the negative side effects of a damaged environment. 

Every aspect of global environmental damage must be examined and monitored, from waste disposal to the burning of fossil fuels. The people most effected by pollution are working class laborers in cities, since around 80% of big cities internationally do not meet the UN standards for clean air. 

Children, elderly and other vulnerable populations are disproportionately affected by air pollution. 

The statistics are sobering, but the report suggests that with better government control and a serious approach to pollution, we can all work together to better the environment and our health. 

For more information, visit iowa-environmental-focus-dot-org. 

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone. 

Record highs in Iowa track with global highs


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Yesterday’s record-setting hourly temperatures are highlighted in red. (Iowa Mesonet)
Jenna Ladd | December 6, 2017

Temperatures reached an all-time high of 69 degrees Fahrenheit in Des Moines on Monday.

Iowa Mesonet found that temperatures at 8 AM and 12 PM on Monday also reached an all-time hourly high for the state on the 131 year record. A cold front swept across the state Monday night, causing temperature highs to drop to 40 degrees Fahrenheit in Des Moines on Tuesday.

There are a couple of months left in 2017, but the year is expected to be the second or third warmest year on record. The World Meteorological Organization announced on November 3rd at the United Nations climate change conference that average temperatures from January through September 2017 were 1.98 degrees Fahrenheit higher than preindustrial levels. In fact, the five year period from 2013 through 2017 is expected to be the warmest five year period on WMO’s record.

Record high temperatures have come with an uptick of catastrophic weather events worldwide. WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said in the statement, “We have witnessed extraordinary weather, including temperatures topping 50 degrees Celsius [122 degrees F] in Asia, record-breaking hurricanes in rapid succession in the Caribbean and Atlantic reaching as far as Ireland, devastating monsoon flooding affecting many millions of people and a relentless drought in East Africa.”

Temperatures in December and January will determine whether 2017 is the second or third warmest year on record.