Scientists construct massive fake sun to develop new renewable energy source


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“Synlight,” the world’s largest artificial sun, was created by scientists to develop new ways to create hydrogen fuel. (Bruno Amaru/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | March 24, 2017

Scientists in Germany have constructed the world’s largest artificial sun in order research how to produce a developing renewable energy source.

Hydrogen is regarded as the renewable fuel of the future, mostly because it does not produce greenhouse gas emissions when burned. However, the gas isn’t found alone in the nature so scientists must split the molecules that make up water (H2O) in order to harness its power. Separating H20 molecules requires a great deal of energy; the German scientists hope to learn how to get that energy from sunlight.

The artificial sun, called “Synlight,” is comprised of 149 high-powered film projector spotlights and is able to generate 350 kilowatts. Bernard Hoffschmidt is research director at the German Aerospace Center, Synlight’s home. Hoffschmidt told the Guardian, “If you went in the room when it was switched on, you’d burn directly.”

The researchers will point all of the artificial sun’s energy at a single 8 by 8 inch spot where it will emit 10,000 times the amount of light that reaches Earth naturally from the sun. Using these strong rays, the scientists will be able to experiment with new ways of creating hydrogen fuel using energy from the sun.

In the short term, Synlight uses an incredible amount of energy: four hours of operation is equivalent to how much electricity a family of four would use in a year. Long term, the researchers anticipate it could help them learn how to use naturally occurring sunlight to produce hydrogen fuel without the use of any fossil fuels.

Hoffschmidt said, “We’d need billions of tons of hydrogen if we wanted to drive airplanes and cars on CO2-free fuel. Climate change is speeding up so we need to speed up innovation.”

On The Radio – CGRER honored by Iowa United Nations Association


CGRER Co-director Jerry Schnoor (left) and newly appointed Iowa United Nations Association President John Frazier during an award ceremony in Cedar Rapids on May 14, 2016. (Nick Fetty/CGRER)
CGRER Co-director Jerry Schnoor (left) and newly appointed Iowa United Nations Association President John Fraser during an award ceremony in Cedar Rapids on May 14, 2016. (Nick Fetty/CGRER)
Nick Fetty | May 23, 2016

This week’s On The Radio segment discusses a recent award CGRER received for its communication and outreach efforts on behalf of the scientific community. 

Transcript: CGRER honored by Iowa United Nations Association

The University of Iowa’s Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, or CGRER, was recognized by the Iowa United Nations Association for its communications and outreach efforts.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

CGRER director Jerry Schnoor accepted the Garst Media Award for the Iowa Environmental Focus, CGRER’s blog devoted to environmental news and research. Schnoor along with CGRER’s two journalism graduate students attended the COP21 climate conference in Paris last December and produced daily video recaps and other blog posts to connect Iowans to the international climate discussion. In addition to accepting the award, Schnoor presented on the climate conference and how to move forward.

Jim Olson, Executive Director of the Iowa United Nations Association, said he thinks journalists and other writers play an important role in sharing complicated scientific material with the general public.

Olson: “Journalists really have an important role in serving as a bridge between scientists and the general public. It’s a very important role because a lot of members of the general public are not particularly literate in scientific matters, and so when journalists can take scientific research and translate it into terms that the public can understand and absorb, that is really an important function.”

The award was presented during a ceremony earlier this month in Cedar Rapids.

For more information about this award and about CGRER’s efforts, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org

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

CGRER members to present on COP21 experience


Paris Climate Change Talks FINAL

Brittany Simmons | March 9, 2016

Two University of Iowa graduate students will give a presentation on Thursday to discuss their experience at the COP21 (Conference of the Parties) climate conference in Paris last December and how both the United States and Iowa fit into the international climate discussion.

Speakers for the event include Nick Fetty and KC McGinnis, both of whom are master’s students in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Fetty and McGinnis represented the UI’s Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research (CGRER) by blogging and producing video reports of the events they covered while in Paris.

Kelsey Kramer McGinnis with the UI’s Center for Human Rights will also present. Kramer McGinnis attended COP21 and covered events from a human rights perspective.

During COP21 representatives from 196 parties came together to approve an accord that “limits average global warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial temperatures and strives for a limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) if possible.” COP21 took place from November 3o through December 13.

Thursday’s event begins at 12:40 p.m. in room 225 of the Boyd Law Building. Sponsors include the International Law Society, International & Comparative Law Programming, the Office of Sustainability, and the UI Center for Human Rights.

Fetty along with Andrea Cohen – a PhD student in social studies education who also attended COP21 as a representative for CGRER – discussed their experiences and its relevance to Iowa during an event hosted by the Iowa United Nations Association in Cedar Falls last month.

Brittany Simmons is a student in the UI College of Law and the main organizer of Thursday’s event.

UI scholars present findings from COP21


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University of Iowa Social Studies Education Ph.D student Andrea Cohen presents her findings from COP21 at the University of Northern Iowa in February 2016.
KC McGinnis | February 25, 2016

University of Iowa graduate students Andrea Cohen and Nick Fetty discussed their trip to Paris for the COP21 climate conference last week during a presentation hosted at the University of Northern Iowa.

Cohen, who represented the Iowa United Nations Association at the conference, talked about the importance of carbon literacy in helping everyday Iowans address climate change. Cohen looked to a program in Manchester, United Kingdom: The Carbon Literacy Project, which she was introduced to during a presentation at COP21.

Fetty, a graduate student in the University of Iowa School of Journalism & Mass Communication, talked about his efforts to tell stories from COP21 through daily updates at the IowaEnvironmentalFocus blog. During COP21 Fetty interviewed UI researcher and CGRER co-founder Jerry Schnoor, Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie and Dubuque Mayor Roy Buol. You can see his interviews and more content from COP21 at the CGRER YouTube page.

You can watch Cohen and Fetty’s presentation at UNI below:

On the Radio: World Farmers’ Organization president stresses role of conventional farming in global agriculture solutions


World Farmers' Organization President Evelyn Nguleka is interviewed by CGRER after a session at COP21 in Paris in December 2015. (KC McGinnis / CGRER)
World Farmers’ Organization President Evelyn Nguleka is interviewed by CGRER after a session at COP21 in Paris in December 2015. (KC McGinnis / CGRER)
KC McGinnis | January 11, 2016

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at comments on conventional farming that may be relevant for Iowa agricultural producers from World Farmers’ Organization President Evelyn Nguleka during an interview by CGRER at COP21. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Conventional, large-scale agriculture like what is practiced in Iowa has a role in solving environmental crises caused by climate change, according to the president of the World Farmers’ Organization.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Evelyn Nguleka, president of the World Farmers’ Organization and a native of Zambia, spoke to CGRER last month at COP21, the U.N. climate summit, about agriculture’s role in fulfilling the goals of the landmark summit.

“In 2030 we’re going to have more than 9 billion people, and we need that kind of agriculture to be able to produce the food so that people can be able to be nourished and be fed properly. For us what is important is that we do it in a manner that we do not destroy the soils for the next generation.”

Nguleka stressed the importance of agricultural innovations and technologies making their way to countries like Zambia, which has struggled to produce food due to issues like livestock disease. But it’s essential that innovations in sustainability also make their way to farmers.

“I’ve heard some people saying that we stop doing livestock production so that we can save the planet, or that we stop this kind of agriculture to save the planet. That is not the idea. We have people with brains. We have innovators, and we need to put all of those ideas together and try and find a solution of reducing the emissions making sure that we produce more for less.”

Nguleka was joined by dozens of panelists and researchers at COP21 who gave presentations on expanding sustainable agricultural innovations. For more coverage of these and other presentations from CGRER’s visit to COP21, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

From the UI Center for Global & Regional Environmental Research, I’m KC McGinnis.

On The Radio – Dubuque mayor calls for efforts to mitigate human-induced climate change


CGRER's Nick Fetty interviews with Dubuque mayor Roy Buol at the COP21 confernece in Paris on December 8, 2015. (KC McGinnis/CGRER)
CGRER’s Nick Fetty (left) interviews with Dubuque mayor Roy Buol at the COP21 confernece in Paris on December 8, 2015. (KC McGinnis/CGRER)
December 28, 2015

This week’s On The Radio segment looks at Dubuque mayor Roy Buol and efforts his city has taken to address human-induced climate change.

Transcript: Dubuque’s Mayor Buol says action needed to address climate change

Dubuque Mayor Roy Buol was among more than 500 mayors from around the world in Paris earlier this month as part of the COP21 international climate conference.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

During his visit to the City of Light, Mayor Buol met with three other mayors from the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative – as well as mayors from other river basins around the world – to discuss clean water, food production, and other environmental sustainable initiatives that the different communities have undertaken.

Buol discussed some of the efforts taking place in his northeast Iowa city of nearly 60,000 residents such as the Bee Branch Storm Water Project which aims to redirect water flow in one of the city’s more flood-vulnerable neighborhoods following heavy rains and flash flooding.

Buol shared this effort with other mayors with the hope they might be able to pursue similar projects in their own communities. He said that human-induced climate change is something that needs to be addressed and that can be done through measures implemented by city-level governments.

BUOL: “The reality is that the climate is changing and it’s changing at a rate that has really accelerated compared to past history. The ebbs and flows of climate. I’m convinced man is a part of that process and we’re already seeing those changes occurring across the country, across the world. Extreme rains events, extreme drought events, temperature rises, sea-level rises. If we don’t start to mitigate those things now we’re going to be a point soon that it’s irreversible.”

For full text and video from the interview with Mayor Buol, visit Iowa-Environmental-Focus-dot-org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Nick Fetty.

UI alum and COP21 negotiator marks summit “beginning of the end of the fossil-fuel era”


A COP21 attendee walks along a corridor connecting sections at the COP21 climate summit in Paris in December. (KC McGinnis / CGRER)
A COP21 attendee walks along a corridor connecting sections at the COP21 climate summit in Paris in December. (KC McGinnis / CGRER)
KC McGinnis | December 22, 2015

A University of Iowa alum and member of the UI Center for Global & Regional Environmental Research (CGRER) called the recent COP21 summit at which he was a delegate, “the beginning of the end of the fossil-fuel era.”

That quote, which appeared in a New York Times summary of the climate talks, came from Marcelo Mena-Carrasco, a civil and environmental engineering graduate with masters and doctoral degrees from the University of Iowa. Mena-Carrasco is now serving in a Chilean cabinet post as its Undersecretary of the Environment.

Mena-Carrasco met with CGRER co-director Jerry Schnoor at the climate summit to hear what Latin American countries thought of the agreement as it was in progress.

“Mostly they’re trying to get it to be a bit more ambitious,” he said in a CGRER interview from COP21.

Many Latin American countries are among those most affected by global climate change, made especially vulnerable by rising temperatures, deforestation and expanding deserts. Last year Chile approved the first carbon tax in South America at a modest $5 per metric ton of carbon dioxide emissions. The largest solar plant in Latin America is currently under construction in the Chilean desert.