On the Radio- Removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere


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Heavy air pollution in Tianjin, China (Rich L/flickr)

Eden DeWald | July 16, 2018

This week’s segment explores a study focused on removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Transcript:

Scientists and engineers at Harvard believe they may have found a way to convert carbon dioxide pollution into usable fuel.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The Harvard study explains the process to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere at a very low cost — around one-hundred to two-hundred dollars per ton of carbon dioxide. Researchers told the Atlantic magazine this would be a game-changer, because it could mitigate climate change without requiring a shift in lifestyle or a major change in the energy industry.

In a pilot device, researchers were able to turn the atmospheric carbon dioxide into fuels like gasoline. When burned, this carbon-neutral fuel would return back to the atmosphere without adding new greenhouse gases.

The researchers believe they could implement this on an industrial scale by 2021, the Atlantic reported.

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

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Sara E. Mason.

Hawaii’s sunscreen ban


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Coral reefs provide food and shelter to numerous marine animals. (flickr/USFWS)

Eden DeWald | July 11th, 2018

Hawaii is making a move to protect its coral reefs. A bill banning the distribution or sale of synthetic sunscreens in Hawaii was signed by Governor David Ige earlier this month. The ban will go into affect in January of 2021, and will prevent the sale of sunscreens that contain oxybenzone and octinoxate.

There are two main types of sunscreen found in any drugstore—chemical and physical. Physical sunscreen, or mineral sunscreen, often has active ingredients such as titanium and zinc oxide, which reflect or scatter UV rays by forming a protective layer on the skin. Synthetic sunscreens, which often contain oxybenzone and octinoxate, soak into the skin. They protect the wearer by changing the electromagnetic affect of UV rays. Physical sunscreens are not at all affected by the ban and will still be available for retail sale and distribution.

According to a 2015 study, oxybenzone has been found to cause the bleaching of coral reefs, as well as endocrine damage. There have been fewer studies done concerning octinoxate, but similar damaging effects have been associated with this chemical. Approximately 14,000 gallons are estimated to end up in the waters off the coast of Hawaii each year, consequently banning sunscreens with oxybenzone and octinoxate has the potential to remove thousands gallons of coral reef damaging chemicals from the environment each year.

Seattle bans straws


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Five hundred million straws are used everyday in the US (Jeff G/flickr)

Eden DeWald | July 4th, 2018

Seattle is making a move to reduce single use plastics, by banning straws and any single use plastic utensils from restaurants and all other dining venues. Straws that are reusable or can be composted are still allowed, but the ordinance has a strong preference towards not providing any straws.  

Five hundred million plastic straws are used everyday in the United States. Because they are so lightweight, used straws find their way into the ocean quite easily. Once in the ocean, straws wreak havoc on marine life and seabirds. Approximately 70 percent of seabirds and around one third of turtles found have ingested, or gotten some kind of plastic superficially stuck on their body. There are around fourteen cities in the US that currently have straw bans, but Seattle is the largest city so far to place a ban on straws. However, New York City and the state of California have also gained momentum towards banning single use plastic utensils. 

The city of Seattle has made many other steps towards their mitigating impact on the surrounding ecosystem, including its efforts to help the salmon population. The Salmon in the Schools program allowed schoolchildren to hatch salmon and release them into, providing important environmental education to school children as well as helping to bolster the salmon populations numbers. 

 

Increase in nitrate pollution from Iowa


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The Mississippi River transports nitrogen to the Gulf of Mexico. (Ken L/flickr)

Eden DeWald | June 27, 2018

A new study from the University of Iowa finds that nitrogen pollution coming from Iowa has increased by close to 50 percent during the year of 2016 when compared to previous annual averages. The pollution from synthetic fertilizer made its way off of farms and into the greater water system. Twenty-three watersheds in Iowa were assessed, all of which drained either into the Mississippi or Missouri River, both of which eventually drain into the Gulf of Mexico.

Excess nitrogen in a water system spurs algae growth. After these algae blooms eventually decompose, bacteria or other small organisms feed on the dead algae and deplete oxygen within the water. This process is known as aquatic hypoxia, or eutrophication, and is responsible for the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. Iowa is not the only state that has problems with runoff, but with 72 percent of Iowa’s land being used for farming, Iowa is a major contributor to the eutrophication process.

The rise in nitrate pollution has occurred despite Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy, which just marked its five year anniversary earlier this year. The Nutrient Reduction Strategy is a voluntary program which involves 8,000 farmers and focuses on conservation methods such as cover crops and no-till techniques. Mike Naig, Iowa’s Secretary of Agriculture, wrote in a Des Moines Register article that he sees outreach and education about the effect that nitrates have on the water system as an essential aspect of improving Iowa’s water quality.

How clean cryptocurrency can help reduce pollution


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Cryptocurrency is the future, but many are concerned about the resources needed to create it. (/stock)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | May 29th, 2018

If energy farms used to power blockchain projects–an essential format for distributing cryptocurrency–switch to renewable resources, the impact on the environment would be significant.

“Blockchain” refers to a revolutionary form of technology that was pioneered by the person (or group of people) operating under the name Satoshi Nakamoto. It essentially allows information to be distributed, but prevents it from being copied, making it a perfect vehicle for digital currencies like Bitcoin and essentially acting as a way to prevent counterfeit.

“Mining” for cryptocurrency involves centers with a lot of computers processing tons of  data. These mining centers use a lot of electricity, and most are powered by fossil-fuel resources.

This is where organizations like GEAR step in to fix the problem. GEAR describes itself as “the world’s first closed loop Green Energy and Renewables-focused network.” The group’s vice-president, Vik Panthak, explains that the organization’s main goal is to take a traditionally dirty industry (such as data-mining or blockchaining) and find ways to power these practices with green energy, in the hope that this new model reduces the damage of constant fossil fuels.

As the future of digital currency draws near, Vik hopes that GEAR will pave the way for other digital currency companies and encourage them to go green, before it’s to late.

On The Radio – Energy consumption at Google


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Google

Kasey Dresser | May 21, 2018

This weeks segment looks at how Google was able to reuse more than 100% of the energy they consumed in 2017. 

Transcript:

Google has become one of the biggest corporate buyers of renewable energy.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The massive company planned to get 100% of their energy from renewable sources in 2017. At the end of the year, they exceeded that goal.

Google currently holds contracts to buy 3 gigawatts of renewable energy from a wind farm specifically built to power the corporation’s offices and satellite locations globally. The purchase is the largest investment in renewable energy by a corporation to date, making Google a top customer of green energy.

For 2017, the company ended up investing in and generating more green energy than it consumed, a cycle that keeps a steady supply of energy on hand. Google’s Senior Vice President Urs Holzle explained that they were working on over 25 green energy projects around the globe.

Other large companies are following in Google’s footsteps by investing in renewable sources.

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- Changing fuel emissions standards


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EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt

Kasey Dresser | May 14, 2018

This weeks segment looks at the EPA’s reevaluation of America’s fuel efficiency standards. 

Transcript: 

The EPA is reevaluating the national fuel efficiency standard for American automakers.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

As a result of the Clean Air Act, auto manufacturers have been required to increase the fuel efficiency of their vehicles. One third of states are required to operate under California’s strict emissions standards and the remaining two thirds operate under a less strict standard.

The Obama administration set a target goal of 54.5 miles per gallon by the year 2025. EPA director, Scott Pruitt is currently proposing a new lesser national standard. This proposition has evoked debate from all sides. 

California officials have announced they are not ready to drop their stricter standards. Financial advisors are worried weakening fuel economy would affect the U.S.’ stature in the auto industry. Automakers are worried they may not meet the Clean Air Act’s goal. 

Other politicians are concerned that if only one third of states are required to follow the California standard that might result in less fuel efficient cars being released in the remaining states.

At this point no changes have been made but the discussion continues.

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

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