Tim Dwight and CGRER’s Scott Spak discuss renewable energy in Muscatine


Photo by holisticgeek, Flickr.

On November 8, former University of Iowa football star Tim Dwight, and University of Iowa assistant professor Scott Spak discussed alternative energy at a workshop in Muscatine.

Dwight, who now owns a solar power company, spoke about Iowa’s potential to increase its use of solar power.

Spak focused on the importance for Iowa to become producers rather than just consumers of energy, and also discussed the air quality benefits of switching to alternative energy sources.

Read more here.

CGRER members’ research creates clearer picture of sugarcane ethanol’s environmental impact


Photo by Sweeter Alternative, Flickr

New research shows that sugarcane ethanol production creates more pollution than previously estimated. University of Iowa faculty members, and Center For Global and Regional Environmental Research members, Greg Carmichael and Scott Spak teamed with researchers from the University of California and Chile’s Universidad Andrés Bello for this study.

Prior to this research, sugarcane ethanol was considered a more environmentally friendly fuel alternative to corn ethanol. The new data raises questions to that assessment.

Scott Spak explained the importance of these findings:

 . . . the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers sugarcane ethanol an ‘advanced biofuel’ with fewer greenhouse gas emissions than conventional biofuels like corn ethanol. These new findings help us refine those estimates and move closer to making more informed comparisons between different fuel sources, and ultimately make better decisions about how to grow and use biofuels.

 Read the full University of Iowa news release on the study here.

UI faculty members receive grant to study black carbon


Photo by bcmacsac1, Flickr

CGRER members Greg Carmichael and Scott Spak received a three-year $900, 000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to study the pollution and climate effects of black carbon aerosol. Specifically, the project looks to determine how black carbon effects human health and climate in California, India and the Arctic.

It is believed that understanding and controlling black carbon could slow the rate of global warming. Continue reading

On the Radio: UI hosts climate workshop for science teachers


Iowa middle school science teachers participate in a presentation lead by UI Professor Scott Spak. Photo by Brynne Schweigel.

Listen to this week’s radio segment on a UI workshop that helped Iowa science teachers incorporate environmental and climate issues into their classroom.  You can also check out some lesson plans and classroom activities here.

It’s never too early to start educating children about science and their environment, which is why the University of Iowa is working to improve the skills and knowledge of middle school science teachers. Continue reading

UI hosts workshop for middle school teachers


UI Professor Scott Spak demonstrates a potential classroom experiment for the 24 teachers in attendance. Photo by Brynne Schweigel.

The University of Iowa is doing their part in preparing science teachers to cover environmental issues in the classroom. Professor Charlie Stanier and PhD candidate Morgan Yarker recently led a workshop helping middle school teachers develop curricula covering climate, weather and energy. While Professor Stanier was required to conduct an outreach activity as part of a grant, Yarker explained that the workshop went beyond the call of duty:

“Charlie Stanier received a National Science Foundation grant given to scientist who aren’t tenured yet, so that they’ll have money to do research,” said Yarker. “Like almost all NSF grants, you have to have an outreach component. I don’t know what most scientists do, but you don’t usually go to the extent of starting a workshop for teachers.”

Stanier and Yarker decided to focus their efforts on middle school teachers in order to help them adapt to Iowa’s upcoming education changes. Iowa is going to implement new state education standards called Iowa Core, whose goals include making middle school students more informed on Earth science topics, such as weather and climate. Continue reading

CGRER researchers develop air pollution prediction system for Santiago, Chile


Santiago, Chile. Photo via http://www.weltreis.ch

Quicker predictions will help officials protect public health

In the Southern Hemisphere, the months of April, May and June mark the transition from summer to winter and usher in masses of stagnant air that often give rise to urban air pollution.

That’s why a study conducted by CGRER researchers — and published in the May issue of the journal Atmospheric Environment — that describes a system to predict periods of high air pollution is attracting attention in Santiago, Chile, a city of nearly 6 million people. Continue reading

Proposed hyperion oil refinery doubles methane estimates


Methane emissions estimates increased twofold for the proposed tar sands oil refinery in Elk Point, S.D., which is near the South Dakota-Iowa border. (Photo: The City of Elk Point, SD.)

If it is ever built, it will be dirtier.

Texas-based Hyperion Refining LLC has altered its methane emission estimates on its proposed 400,000 barrel-a-day tar sands oil plant near the Iowa-South Dakota border.

It had previously omitted details about part of the refining process, reports the Sioux City Journal.

The company now expects the refinery to produce alsost twice as much methane – 980 tons per year instead of 498. That is significant, because as the Sioux City Journal reports:

Methane, an odorless gas, is considered a more potent greenhouse gas, trapping heat in the atmosphere at a rate 20 times greater than carbon dioxide over a 100-year period, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Hyperion said it had inadvertently left coke drum steam vents out of its original estimates to the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Continue reading

IEF Exclusive: Despite high emotions, tar sands refinery near Iowa border far from realized


Pristine Elk Point, SD is the site of a cross-state dispute over an oil refinery that may not be built for years, if at all. (Photo: The City of Elk Point, SD.)

By Jim Malewitz

Elk Point was never in the spotlight before. But for three years, this quiet South Dakota town of just 750 families and a handful of restaurants has become the focal point in a dispute over a proposed 400,000 barrel-a-day tar sands oil refinery.

It would be the first tar sands plant built the United States since 1976.

Proposed by Dallas-based Hyperion LLC, the refinery has spurred an ideological clash between those hoping to add jobs to a still stagnant economy and those concerned about the health of the near pristine environment of this town, just 15 miles Southwest of Sioux City, and its nearby national parks and recreation areas.

Tar sands is an extra dark, heavy oil that researchers like Scott Spak, at the University of Iowa Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, call “absolutely filthy.” Hyperion has said the refinery will use new technology that will limit emissions.

Disagreements over the proposal haven’t been confined to Elk Point or surrounding Union County, where 58 percent of voters approved a zoning ordinance that set aside 3,292 acres of land for the Hyperion refinery. Bickering over the refinery has crept across the border into Iowa and into the rhetoric of lawmakers, and was heightened by the recent midterm elections.

But a review of documents on Hyperion’s permitting process show that the refinery likely won’t be built for years, if at all. Since announcing Elk Point as a finalist for the refinery in June 2007, Hyperion has received just one of seven major permits required for its operation, and even that permit is tenuous. Continue reading

On the Radio: Helping the World to Breathe


Listen to this week’s radio segment – a tid bit about an especially cool CGRER research project in Delhi, India:

Thanks to a group of Iowa researchers, thousands of athletes in India were able to breathe a bit easier.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

That’s because a team at the University of Iowa’s Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research provided official air quality forecasts for this year’s Commonwealth Games in Delhi – one of the most polluted cities in the world.

Air pollution can lead to serious health risks, including asthma and heart and lung disease.

But researchers, led by Greg Carmichael, designed an automated system that maps pollution and warns athletes and visitors about air quality problems a full day in advance.

And the system isn’t just important for the Games, says Carmichael. It’s one of the most important tools for understanding how huge cities affect air quality and climate.

The technology can be used around the globe, and even right here in Iowa.

It’s this type of ingenuity that can keep our state healthy.

I’m Joe Bolkcom from the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research.

Thank You.