The advantages of geothermal energy


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Geothermal energy is another viable–but unheard of–source of renewable power (shutterstock)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu| February 6th, 2018

Jim Turner, an operating officer with Australia’s energy company Controlled Thermal Resources, wants more people to know about Geothermal Energy–an often unheard-of source of renewable energy using the Earth’s core heat as its main source.

10 feet or so beneath the Earth’s surface, the ground stays at a near-constant temperature of 50 – 60 degrees Fahrenheit. There are a few different ways to use this temperature to generate electricity; the most common method is to siphon water from just under the surface and create steam to power turbines. Some companies use the heat itself to create a “heat pump” that helps regulate the temperatures in buildings.

Most geothermal energy sites are located in the West of the United States–places with remote stretched of hot desert where the ground is easier to dig into.

The Earth at Western desert sites also satisfy three necessary conditions for ground to actually hold its heat and become a candidate for geothermal farming:it’s hot, wet rock, with enough space and fractures throughout that allow water to flow beneath the surface.

The nation’s Energy Department recently established FORGE, an effort to increase the number of geothermal sites in the United States. Geothermal energy is traditionally overlooked and underfunded, but with some combined effort this natural resource can help continue to reduce our carbon footprint.

 

 

Clean energy requires better infrastructure


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Renewable energy is the way of the future, but infrastructure needs to improve (PDP)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | 1/23/2018

The U.S. Energy Information Administration released a statement that contained some encouraging news: Clean, renewable energy use is on the rise, and power plants using coal and fossil fuels are slowly but surely being shut down forever.

In 2017, around 25 gigawatts of utility-scale power was added to the overall power grid –generators capable of producing enough energy to run entire buildings or power grids in residential or business areas. Of those additions, nearly half used renewable energy sources, mostly wind and solar power.

Clean energy comes with some issues, most of them due to infrastructure. Curtailment is the practice of stopping a power plant once it’s produced its fair demand of energy to save on fuel. But this method works better with fossil fuels and consumables. Natural resources, such as wind and solar rays, are often wasted because of curtailment. There is currently no practical way to store excess renewable energy, and any potentially useful clean energy is “wasted” as a result.

Current predictions place wind energy use at around 5.5% nationally.

 

Australia’s carbon emissions continuing to rise


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Australia (Mauro/flickr)
Kasey Dresser | January 12, 2018

Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions rose for the 3rd consecutive year. According to the Environment Department, carbon rose 0.7% this year because of an increase in gas production and exports. In 2016, Australia’s levels rose 0.8% and they were warned they were off track to miss the 2030 target set by the Paris Climate Change Agreement. Australia’s government signed the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015 which outlined a plan to reduce emissions 26-28% by 2030.

Despite the increasing carbon levels, Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg claims they are still on track and, “the final decision on the timing and appropriate quantity and quality limits will be taken by 2020 following further consultation and detailed analysis.” “If you look on a yearly basis [it] is true [that emissions went up]. But if you look on the last quarter, they went down. If you look at the trend, it is improving.”

Minister Frydenberg’s statement is not congruent with the 2017 United Nations Emissions Gap Report that stated the “government projections indicate that emissions are expected to reach 592 [million tonnes] in 2030, in contrast to the targeted range of 429-440 [million tonnes]. The Environment Department‘s most recent review said that Australia is currently responsible for 1.3% of carbon emissions.

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.

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.

Iowa airports becoming more environmentally efficient


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Photo by Travelin’ Librarian, Flickr.
Kasey Dresser | December 20,  2017

The Eastern Iowa Airport is making important steps towards going green and saving energy costs. The next step in their $55 million remodel is adding 738 solar panels to the roof. A $579,870 grant from U.S. Department of Transportation will cover 90 percent of the solar panel installation.

The Eastern Iowa Airport recently installed 2 electronic car charging stations in short term parking and two more in long term parking.

The airport also plans on adding new heated pavement technology developed at Iowa State University that will save the cost of plowing, de-icing chemicals, and wastewater treatment for the chemical runoff.

In 2015 the airport partnered with the University of Iowa to grow and burn miscanthus in the UI power plant. The planting of miscanthus in the 2,000 acres of farmland and leasing out farmland for farmers to plant soybeans has also improved water quality. “We have found, through our partnership with ISU, that those prairie grasses really help improve water quality in terms of runoff and soil erosion,” Airport Director Marty Lenss said. “With our parking lot expansion that we just completed, we modified our stormwater detention basins and they will be planted with pollinators this summer.”

Another step towards more a more environmentally efficient airport is their lights. In February 2011, all halide lights installed in 1985 were replaced with LEDs. This project reduced energy by around 80 percent.