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.”

 

Integrating art and science: Climate Narrative Project explores new ways to communicate environmental issues


Jeff Biggers introduces the Fellows that took part in the Spring 2015 Climate Narrative Project. (Photo by Bethany Nelson)
Jake Slobe | April 12, 2017

In this episode of EnvIowa, we talk with Jeff Biggers, writer in residence at the University of Iowa and Natalie Himmel, an English and International Studies Major at the University of Iowa about the Climate Narrative Project.

The Climate Narrative Project, launched in 2014, is a special media arts initiative through the UI Office of Sustainability designed to train a new generation of climate storytellers. The project reaches across many academic disciplines using theatre, film, creative writing, spoken word poetry, yoga, and dance to grapple with how stories can change the way we view climate and spur action.

Over the past three years, Climate Narrative fellows have produced a wide variety of art projects including short films, theatrical monologs, and creative writing pieces. The projects center around localized themes related to climate change. Past themes have included the role of water and the Iowa River, soil carbon sequestration and prairie restoration, local food and regenerative agriculture, and climate migration.

This semester the project will focus on exploring ways in which we can live in regenerative cities in an age of climate change.

Since its inception, the Climate Narrative Project has brought in a wide range of undergraduates and grad students from many Colleges and departments including the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, College of Education, College of Engineering, College of Public Health, Tippie College of Business and Graduate College.

The Climate Narrative Project serves as a partner for the Yale Climate Connections nationally syndicated public radio program. In 2014, Yale featured the Climate Narrative Project: Climate As Local Narrative.

To learn more about the fellows and see the Climate Narrative Project outlines, discussions, and an archived research from previous projects visit https://sustainability.uiowa.edu/initiatives/climate-narrative-project/.

EnvIowa is available on iTunes and Soundcloud and a complete archive of previous episodes can be found here.

 

Tonight, University of Iowa students will discuss climate justice through film, theatre, and storytelling.


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Join the Climate Narrative Project Fellows tonight for an evening of film, theatre, art and storytelling focused on issues of climate justice and climate change.

Wednesdsay, December 7 
7:30 p.m. – 9 p.m.
Becker Communication Studies Building Rm 101

The Climate Narrative Project is a special media arts initiative through the Office of Sustainability designed to reach across multilpe academic disciplines and provide regenerative approaches to energy, food, agriculture, water and waste management, community planning, and transportation.

Jeff Biggers is the Writer-in-Residence at the University of Iowa’s Office of Sustainability, where he oversees the Climate Narrative Project.

This semester, eight fellows worked with Biggers on semester-long investigative projects. This year’s eight fellows include:

Shelby Cain:The Conscience and the Consumer
Carlo Acevedo: El clima y la justicia:Poemas
Shirley Wan: Voices of Huo
Nazira Coury: The Other Side: Las Voces
J. Creek Hoard: Four Walks
Solomon Worlds:Edu-nature-nal
Kate Gylten: The Art of Oil
Jeffery Recker: Not One or a Million

The Climate Narrative Project is an investigative initiative: What accounts for the gap between science and action on climate change, and what can we do more effectively to communicate informed stories and galvanize action?

Learn more about the fellows here and see the the Climate Narrative Project outlines and discussions visit https://sustainability.uiowa.edu/climatenarrative/

Pollution Prevention Intern Program saves Iowa businesses over $1.6 million


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The 2015 intern program consisted of 12 summer projects and 6 24-week projects. (Iowa DNR)

Businesses in Iowa have saved over $1.6 million dollars over the last year thanks to waste-reduction projects completed by interns from the DNR’s Pollution Prevention Intern Program.

The intern program matches up Iowa businesses interested in ways to reduce and eliminate waste from their operations that improve environmental performance and save money with engineering students. Since 2001, companies involved have saved more than $81.9 million from projects through the intern program.

Within the program, interns recommend and implement projects that will help Iowa businesses improve the ways in which they use resources. These projects divert waste from landfills, reduce hazardous waste, conserve energy and water, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  The annual environmental reductions generated in 2016 include:

  • 1.16 billion gallons of water
  • 1,215 tons of solid and special waste
  • 1,215 tons of hazardous waste
  • 1.2 million kilowatt hours
  • 4,220 MTCO2e (metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent)

“The real value of the intern program has been to obtain a talented engineering student to compile data and provide in-depth technical analysis, with actionable recommendations,” said Todd Fails, Site Services Team Leader at Zoetis Global Supply in Charles City. “The results from our projects have helped us to make informed decisions that improve our efficiency and reduce our operating costs.”

The engineering students from Iowa’s state universities, after a week of training and orientation with program advisors, work at selected businesses to analyze their current systems, research alternative processes and technologies, and recommend cost-effective strategies that will improve the way they produce, consume, reuse, and recycle their resources.

For more information about thePollution Prevention Intern Program, visit www.iowap2interns.com.

Iowa State’s agricultural and biosystems engineering program ranks best in country


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Bird’s eye view of Iowa State University’s new Biorenewables Complex which was completed in 2014. (Iowa State University.)
Jake Slobe | October 12, 2016

Iowa State University’s agricultural and biosystems engineering undergraduate program was recently ranked No. 1 in the country by U.S. News and World Report’s 2017 Best Colleges.

The report stated that, “Students who enroll at this major research, land-grant university experience a unique personal, welcoming environment, and a rich collection of academic and extra-curricular programs that help them discover their own individual greatness.”

Department Chair Steven Mickelson credits much of the ranking to the university’s new Biorenewables Complex. The complex, consisting of Elings Hall, Sukup Hall and the Biorenewables Research Laboratory, opened in 2014 and offers cutting-edge classrooms and laboratories.

While the new complex has been significant in boosting the level of ISU’s engineering department, it is just one of many changes within the program in the last few years.

In the summer of 2013, ISU teamed up with the Center for Industrial Research and Service (CIRAS) to invest in a 3-D metal printer that will contribute to students’ learning. The new laser printer has been building parts for Iowa manufacturers since last fall and allows students to learn about the advantages of adopting metal 3D printing as part of the design and manufacturing process.

The department has also recently acquired a state-of-the-art water flume.  The new water flume allows students to simulate Iowa streamflow which assists them in crop research.

“These two new pieces of technology are used for teaching and learning that gives great experience to help students with jobs and research,” Mickelson said.

Mickelson also attributes the ranking to the program’s growth in undergraduate and graduate students. The program has seen a 46 percent increase in undergraduate students and a 25 percent increase in graduate students over the last 5 years.

He emphasizes the importance of hands-on learning experiences in the classroom. He says hands-on learning curriculum accounts for 38 percent of all classes in the department.

“Hiring high-quality faculty, getting the right people on the bus to being with is what makes this department great.”

Soybeans may play bigger role in nitrate levels than previously thought


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IIHR’s water-quality monitoring network has generated interesting data that contradicts some widely-held beliefs regarding corn and soybeans and their impact on nitrate in Iowa’s streams. (IIHR)
Jake Slobe | September 28, 2016

New research shows that soybeans may play a key role in the transport of nitrate from farmed fields to the stream network.

As Iowa farmers have planted more acres of corn to meet the increasing demand, many models predicted that nitrate concentrations in Iowa streams would increase as a consequence. However, a new study conducted by the UI’s IIHR-Hydroscience & Engineering group and the Iowa Soybean Association, published in the Journal of Soil and Water Conservation, challenges many of these predictions.

As the amount of corn planted increased and the amount of soybeans decreased, fertilizer application increased by 24 percent in the watershed. Surprisingly, the nitrate levels in the river saw no increase and in some cases saw slight decreases.

The study evaluated 7,000 water samples in the Raccoon River Watershed from 1999- 2014 and had access to fertilization data for 700 fields in the watershed. The result from the study has led researchers to believe that nitrate levels are less dependent on corn production than previously thought.

IIHR —Hydroscience & Engineering researcher Chris Jones says that clues to the reduction in nitrate levels can be found in the differences between corn and soybean  growth, soil chemistry, and the decay of other crop residues. Conversely, the dead and decomposing soybean plants can increase the amount of nitrate in the soil vulnerable to loss.

“We know we can’t just focus on fertilization of corn. We need a systems approach to improve water quality. It also demonstrates the power of monitoring water quality. Without this data, we could easily have missed this important and counter-intuitive conclusion.” 

As a result, Jones says he believes that declining amount of soybeans planted may have reduced the cropped areas most susceptible to nitrate loss, more than compensating for the increased fertilizer inputs on corn production.

 

Water sustainability graduate program coming to University of Iowa


 

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The IIHR – Hydroscience & Engineering center which sits on the banks of the Iowa River in Iowa City. (University of Iowa)
 Jake Slobe | September 22, 2016

The University of Iowa recently won a $3 million grant to develop a Sustainable Water Development program for graduate students.

The grant comes from the National Science Foundation (NSF), a federal agency that provides funding for approximately 24 percent of all federally supported basic research conducted by America’s colleges and universities.

Set to launch in the fall of 2017, the program will train UI graduate students how to address the water, food and energy challenges that face communities with limited resources. This often includes rural areas, agricultural-based communities and developing countries. Around 50 master’s and doctoral students will be accepted into the program.

The new program will train a new, more diverse generation of water sustainability professionals to look at situations individually and apply solutions that are specific to each community, said engineering professor and Civil and Environmental Engineering Department Executive Officer Michelle Scherer, who is a co-principal investigator on the grant.

The Sustainable Water Development program curriculum will  get off to a running start taking full advantage of already existing resources UI campus resources including the UI Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and the world-renowned IIHR–Hydroscience & Engineering. The program curriculum is designed to be flexible, prepare students for, both, academic and non-academic careers, allowing them to choose and tailor their training paths to fit their particular goals. 

A graduate certificate in Sustainable Water Development also will be offered to students.

While the new program will be beneficial to the university, advances in water sustainability are not new to Iowa.  This grant comes shortly after a $96.9M grant was given to Iowa from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in order to develop a statewide watershed improvement program, the Iowa Watersheds Approach (IWA).

 

On the Radio: Water Communication Research


 

Photo by Tim Kiser; Wikipedia

This week’s On the Radio  segment covers research being done at the University of Iowa that explores how water quality issues are being covered in the media. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Continue reading

CGRER Student Research Focus – Samantha Westerhof


Samantha Westerhof, a senior in the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Iowa, discusses her research on poplar trees as a tool for phytoremediation.

UI School of Urban and Regional Planning looks to make Dubuque more sustainable


Dubuque, IA. – photo by Jenza, Flickr

Students will assist city on five yearlong green projects

University of Iowa graduate students will partner with the city of Dubuque on nine sustainability projects in the next two years, according to a UI release.

Their ambitious list of projects includes researching and mapping renewable energy sources that will help keep the city’s lights on when a power plant closes in 2015, and working with the four colleges and other major institutions in the area to link them with local food producers. Continue reading