Scientists construct massive fake sun to develop new renewable energy source


5795192960_5ccb09257e_o
“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.”

UI to hold Media Workshop and Forum on post-truth culture this Friday


media
Jake Slobe | March 22, 2017

Friday, March 24, 2017
11:30am – 2:00pm
UI Main Library
TILE Classroom 1140

This Friday, POROI (Project on the Rhetoric of Inquiry) will host “A Moment of (Post) Truth: a Media Workshop and Forum.” The event will focus on new challenges that audiences and journalists are facing in a moment when the legitimacy of the press, science and facts themselves are vigorously  opposed. The forum will open up a dynamic space for students, researchers, journalists, faculty, scientists and politicians to reflect together on the stakes of post-factualism in a democracy, along with issues of dissent, authority and authoritarianism.

During the event will be a panel with three speakers from the University of Iowa. First, will be Jiyeon Kang’s speech titled, “Desires Gone Viral: Reading Fake News, Rumors and Internet Bubbles as Political Symptoms.”  Second John S. Nelson will give a presentation titled, “Truth as Common Sense and Fervent Feeling in American Populism, Left and Right.” Lastly will be a presentation by Jerry Schnoor titled, “Climate Change: The Truth and Post-Truth from the Trump Administration, and How the Press Should Report It.”

The event is free and open to the public. Click here to register for the event.

Participants

  • Jeff Charis-Carlson, reporter, Iowa City Press-Citizen
  • Jiyeon Kang, Assistant Professor, Communication Studies, University of Iowa
  • Frank Durham, Associate Professor of Journalism and Director, Masters Program in Strategic Communication, University of Iowa
  • Meenakshi Gigi Durham, Professor of Journalism and Associate Dean of CLAS, University of Iowa
  • John S. Nelson, Professor of Political Science and founder of POROI, University of Iowa
  • Jerald Schnoor, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Iowa

SCHEDULE

11:30 – Interactive Media Workshop
12:15 – Drinks & snacks
12:20 – Panel: Truth & Consequences
1:10 – snacks & drinks
1:15 – Roundtable & Group Discussion
1:50 – Collective Reflections

On The Radio – UI announces it will be coal-free by 2025


zero-coal-timeline
Infographic of the University of Iowa’s path to zero coal. (Josh Brdicko, Marketing & Design, BFA ’18)
Jake Slobe | March 20, 2017

This week’s On The Radio segment discusses the university’s recent announcement to get rid of coal by 2025.

Transcript: University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld announced late last month that the university will be coal-free by 2025.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The UI has taken steps to reduce its dependence on coal. In 2008, the university established seven “sustainability targets” to be achieved by 2020.

Since 2008, the UI has managed to reduce its use of coal by 60 percent.

The university’s current energy portfolio includes oat hulls, miscanthus grass, wood chips and green energy pellets.

UI partnered with Iowa State University in 2013 to develop a miscanthus grass energy crop. Working with farmers within 50 miles of Iowa City, the university has planted 550 acres of the miscanthus and will plant an additional 250 to 350 acres this spring. The goal is to establish up to 2,500 acres locally by 2020.

To learn more about the university’s plan to go coal free, visit iowaenvironmentalfocus.org

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

President Trump’s budget plan slashes EPA budget


SG On route to Ilulissat
Quickly melting ice sheets in Illulissat, Greenland are evidence of Earth’s warming climate. (United Nations/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | March 17, 2017

President Donald Trump plans to cut U.S. Environmental Protection Agency funding by 31 percent according to his budget plan released Thursday.

In all, the proposed plan would cut $2.6 billion dollars from the agency and eliminate some 3,200 EPA jobs. Gina McCarthy was EPA administrator during the Obama administration. She said, “Literally and figuratively, this is a scorched earth budget that represents an all out assault on clean air, water, and land.”

While funding will be slashed for climate change research and Superfund site reclamation, some EPA programs will be eliminated all together. Among them are urban air quality improvement efforts, infrastructure projects on Native American reservations, energy efficiency improvement programs and water quality improvement work in the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay.

President Trump’s Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said, “Regarding the question as to climate change, I think the President was fairly straightforward. We’re not spending money on that anymore. We consider that to be a waste of your money to go out and do that.’ So that is a specific tie to his campaign.” More than 97 percent of climate scientists agree that climate warming over the last century are due to human activity, according to NASA.

In line with a recent report written by over 400 medical doctors, Bill Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies said, “If such cuts are realized, many more people will die prematurely and get sick unnecessarily due to air, water and waste pollution.”

Other environmental activists and scientists were also quick to speak out against the proposed cuts. Fred Krupp is the director of the Environmental Defense Fund, he said, “This is an all-out assault on the health of our planet and the health and safety of the American people.” Krupp continued, “Cleaning up our air and protecting our waters are core American values. The ‘skinny budget’ threatens those values — and puts us all at risk.”

President Trump’s budget outline still must be approved by Congress and is expected to change. The Administration’s final budget will be released in May.

More than half of world’s food calories produced by small farms


pic1
Map of mean agricultural area by farm size in three global regions. (Environmental Research Letters)
Jake Slobe | March 8, 2017

A new study published in Environmental Research Letters (ERL) estimates that more than half the food calories produced worldwide come from regions where the average farm size is less than five hectares.

Despite the importance of this farming activity in providing food security to millions – particularly in South and East Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America – information on the subnational distribution of smallholdings can be hard to find. To address this, researchers based in the US, Canada and Australia joined forces to generate a map of the mean amount of land per farming household.

The team showed that the combined output of developing world regions dependent on small-scale farming (with an average farm size of less than 5 hectares) contributes more than 80% of global rice production and 75% of the world’s output of groundnuts and palm oil. Small-scale farming regions also provide a large proportion of the world’s millet (60%), cassava (60%), cotton (40%) and sugarcane (40%) found to the study.

The study drew on household micro-data and satellite images of landcover to classify agricultural activity in a way that highlights smallholder contributions to the global food picture. The data cover 2412 subnational units in 83 countries across South and East Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, and Latin America.

To evaluate the prevalence of smaller or larger farms, the scientists use a metric dubbed “mean agricultural area” (MAA), which is defined as hectares of agricultural land divided by the number of farming households.

Units with an MAA of less than five hectares play a dominant role in Asia, the researchers found. In sub-Saharan Africa, the proportion drops slightly with smallholder units producing half of the food calories in the region – supported by places with a medium-density of farm households, which account for another 26%. The situation changes again in Latin America, with 70% of food calories produced in regions with large and very large MAAs.

The team hopes that its results will help not just policy makers, but also technology developers in tackling issues such as food security, poverty reduction and conservation. One of the next steps in the project is to identify factors that lead smallholder regions to be successful.

Study finds Iowa groundwater is extracted at unsustainable rate


jordan-aquifer
The Jordan Aquifer lies beneath most of Iowa; locations with water use permits for tapping into the aquifer are shown above. (Iowa DNR)
Jenna Ladd | February 7, 2017

A recent study found the groundwater in Iowa’s Jordan Aquifer to be much older than previously known, and scientists say that could have implications for water use in the state.

Researchers from the Iowa Geological Survey at the University of Iowa in collaboration with Grinnell College, the UI Geology Department and Iowa Department of Natural Resources used isotopic age dating to estimate the age of groundwater in the Jordan Aquifer. The study measured major and minor ions, stable isotopes (d18O and dD) and
the radioactive isotope Chlorine 36 in eight wells scattered across the aquifer. The peer-reviewed journal article explains that the groundwater in northern and central Iowa is somewhere between 70,000 to nearly 180,000 years old.

The study points out that ethanol production in the state relies heavily on groundwater from the Jordan aquifer, which also provides roughly 300,000 residents with drinking water. From 2003 to 2013, annual use of groundwater from the aquifer for ethanol production increased by 7.4 billion liters per year.

Keith Schilling is a research scientist at the Iowa Geological Survey at the University of Iowa and the study’s leading author. He said,

“The implications for biofuel refineries and any water use of the aquifer is the realization that the groundwater is very old. It is not going to be recharged in any human timeframes so we should make sure that water from the aquifer is being managed appropriately.”

Beyond the lagging groundwater regeneration rate, the study also notes that increased groundwater pumping can result in detrimental water quality changes such as radium contamination. The authors conclude with a call for new ethanol refineries to steer clear of the Jordan Aquifer and utilize more sustainable groundwater sources instead.

Indian factory captures and utilizes carbon dioxide


2134213496-carbon_1024
An Indian chemical plant has figured out how to turn its carbon emissions into baking soda. (Ramkumar/Flickr)
Jake Slobe | January 30, 2017

This week’s On The Radio segment discusses a chemical plant in India that has discovered how to capture and utilize carbon dioxide emissions.

Transcript: An industrial plant in India has become the first in the world to capture and utilize carbon dioxide emissions to turn a profit.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The factory, located at an industrial port in southern India, captures carbon dioxide emissions from its own coal-powered boiler which are then used to make baking soda, and other chemical compounds found in detergents, sweeteners and glass. Two young Indian chemists developed a new way to strip carbon dioxide from emissions using a form of salt that binds with carbon dioxide molecules in the boiler’s chimney. According to the inventors, the new approach is less corrosive and much cheaper than conventional carbon capturing methods.

Carbon Capture and Utilization at the 3.1 million dollar plant is projected to keep 60,000 tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere each year. Carbonclean, the London-based group that invested in the project, predicts that capturing and utilizing carbon dioxide could offset five to ten percent of the world’s total emissions from burning coal.

For more information about this breakthrough system, visit iowaEnvironmentalfocus.org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Jerry Schnoor.