DNR reports 3% increase in Iowa greenhouse gas emissions


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This pie chart shows 2017 greenhouse emissions in Iowa by sector (from the 2017 Greenhouse Gas Inventory Report). 

Julia Poska | December 28th, 2018

Greenhouse gas emissions in Iowa rose 3 percent from 2016 to 2017, according to a new report from the state Department of Natural Resources.  The report accounted for 131 million metric tons of emissions released throughout the state in various sectors including energy, agriculture and solid waste.

The largest sources of increase were waste and industrial processes. Emissions from waste rose 28.62 percent due to increased decomposition of older waste in landfills. Emissions from industrial processes rose 31.73 percent percent, largely due to increased production of ammonia, up over 180 percent from 2016. The only sector to see decrease was natural gas production and distribution, which decreased about 10 percent and accounts for only 1 percent of total emissions.

Agriculture contributes about 30 percent of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions,  mainly methane and nitrous oxide, which are respectively about 25 and 298 times more potent greenhouse gases than carbon dioxide. These emissions largely come from animal waste and soil management.

Despite this increase, total emissions are down 6 percent from 2008.  The DNR projects that emissions will continue rising through at least 2020, and drop a bit more by 2030.

Simple way to recycle methane discovered


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Methane flaring from a hydraulic fracking well in Pennsylvania. (WCN/flickr)

Jenna Ladd | February 9, 2018

Scientists have recently discovered a way to simply convert excess methane into the building blocks for plastics, agrochemicals and pharmaceuticals.

A study funded by the Department of Energy by researchers at the University of Southern California has identified a one-step chemical process to change methane into basic chemicals ethylene and propylene. Methane is known to be 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide, especially in terms of short-term greenhouse gas effects. The gas’ sources include hydraulic fracking wells, organic matter breaking down in landfills or large livestock operations.

The U.S. produces more methane than almost any other country, but the new research presents an opportunity to trap and use the gas. Currently, methane must be shipped via large pipelines from release points to processing areas in order to be converted into anything useful. The study’s authors point out that this practice is cost-prohibitive for many producers, but their research offers a solution. The one-step process means that methane can be captured on-site and transformed into ethylene and propylene without costly transportation.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, who sued the agency several times before becoming its leader, has spoken about the potency of methane as a greenhouse gas in recent public addresses. He claims the agency will work to address the issue, but government spending plans say otherwise. A 2019 federal budget plan proposes a 72 percent funding cut for the Department of Energy renewable energy and energy efficiency program, the very same program that funded this study.

Senate votes to preserve Obama-era methane gas regulation


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This methane gas collector near Tuscan, Arizona pipes methane from a landfill to Tuscan Electric Power where it is used to generate electricity. (Gene Spesard/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | May 12, 2017

The U.S. senate voted on Wednesday to uphold an Obama-era rule that limits the release of methane from oil and gas production on federal land.

The Republican-majority senate voted 51-49 to block the resolution. Three GOP senators, Susan Collins of Maine, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John McCain of Arizona voted with their democratic colleagues against the motion. Senate Republicans proposed  repealing the rule under the Congressional Review Act (CRA). So far in 2017, 14 regulations have been repealed under the CRA including a stream buffer rule aimed at keeping coal mining debris from entering waterways and another rule that gave the public some say about what happens to federal land.

President Obama updated the decades-old-rule that governs the venting and flaring of methane gas and regulates natural gas leaks. Upon the rule’s establishment, the Obama administration projected it could keep 41 billion cubic feet (BCF) of natural gas per year from going to waste. Methane, which is often released during the production of natural gas, is short-lived but 100 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

Republican senator John McCain agreed with those hoping to keep the rule in place. He said, “Improving the control of methane emissions is an important public health and air quality issue, which is why some states are moving forward with their own regulations requiring greater investment in recapture technology.”

Opponents of the rule say that it discourages U.S. energy production and hurts state and county revenue streams. However, the Western Value Project estimates that the U.S treasury would have lost out on $800 million in royalties from oil and gas production over then next decade if the rule had been revoked.

Warming ponds could speed up climate change


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Small ponds used by researchers at the University of Exeter and Queen Mary University. (University of Exeter)
Jenna Ladd | February 23, 2017

A recent study shows that when freshwater ponds warm, they release more methane and are able to store less carbon dioxide.

Researchers at the University of Exeter and Queen Mary University of London warmed a collection of man-made ponds by four to five degrees Celsius over the course of seven years. The first of its kind, the study found that the amount of methane released by the ponds increased by double while the amount of carbon dioxide the ponds could store decreased by half.

Professor Gabriel Yvon-Durocher was the study’s lead investigator. He said, “Given the substantial contribution small ponds make to the emission of greenhouse gases, it is vital to understand how they might respond to global warming.”

While ponds and lakes only account for about 0.008 percent of the total volume of water on Earth, they are major contributors of carbon dioxide and methane. Greenhouse gases from freshwater sources are mostly the byproduct of organic matter breaking down in low-oxygen environments.

Yvon-Durocher continued, “Our findings show that warming can fundamentally alter the carbon balance of small ponds over a number of years, reducing their capacity to absorb and increasing emissions of methane. This could ultimately accelerate climate change.”

The scientist noted that these findings are different than those normally observed on land, where the effect of rising temperatures lessen over time. In contrast, when ponds warm and release methane, a gas that is known to be 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide, they actually exacerbate warming.

Ponds of less than one meter, such as those used in the study, are responsible for the release of 40 percent of all inland methane emissions.

 

The professor noted, “This accelerating effect in ponds, which could have serious impacts on climate change, is not currently accounted for in Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change models.”

The complete study can be found in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Animal manure could create a new energy market in Iowa


A screenshot of the Iowa Biogas Assessment Model website potential for ag waste across the state. (Iowa Biogas Assessment Model)
A screenshot of the Iowa Biogas Assessment Model website potential for ag waste across the state. (Iowa Biogas Assessment Model)

Nick Fetty | April 23, 2015

Iowa could soon use the byproducts from two of its biggest industries – crop and livestock production – to create a new market in renewable fuel production, according to a report in Midwest Energy News.

This potential new market is the result of policy and economics. Last summer, a revision to EPA’s Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) increased the value of biogas in the fuel marketplace. The revision means biogas will be added to the list of advanced cellulosic biofuels which refineries must either produce or purchase credits for. The quantity of cellulosic fuels that must be blended with gasoline is expected to increase over the next eight years which means higher prices for renewable fuels. Amanda Bilek, government affairs manager at the Great Plains Institute in Minneapolis, said this change to the RFS has created a new market for fuels produced using manure and other organic waste.

A 2013 report by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory found that Iowa led the nation in manure production. The study also examined methane content in not just manure but also wastewater, landfills and industrial as well as commercial organic waste. The Hawkeye State ranked 8th nationally for methane generation potential.

Iowa State University teamed up with EcoEngineers out of Des Moines to create an interactive map and website which calculates the amount of methane-containing waste within up to a 50-mile radius. Biogas production in Iowa has been modest thus far but officials expect the industry to grow in the coming years.

Converting food waste into energy


Compost pile. Photo by Joi Ito; Flickr
Compost pile. Photo by Joi Ito; Flickr

Wastewater treatment plants are on the cutting edge of renewable energy production, using technology that allows them to convert trash into valuable energy.

Food waste is first shipped to wastewater facilities, where it is mixed with sewage. The combined waste produces a gas, composed mostly of methane, that can be burned as fuel. In addition to this biogas, some facilities, like Des Moines’ wastewater treatment plant, are even able to produce an organic mixture that serves as an effective fertilizer.

This method is also beneficial to the environment, since methane is a greenhouse gas and would contribute to global warming if released into the atmosphere.

There are currently 15 facilities in the United States that utilize this technology, compared to thousands in Europe. Experts predict that this trend, along with composting, will continue to grow and innovate.

For more information, read the article at Environment 360.

For instructions on how to create a compost bin for your home, click here.

White House announces methane emissions plan


Flickr; Charlie Coffey.
Flickr; Charlie Coffey.

The White House has released a plan to help reduce methane emissions in agriculture, along with other industries in an effort to combat climate change.

Methane accounts for 9 percent of the domestic greenhouse gas emissions, and has increased by 11 percent since 1990, the White House said.

The plan involves capturing livestock manure by using biodigesters to generate electricity. The White House then suggests using it to avoid fuel costs or provide an additional source of revenue.

Click here for more information on the proposed plan.