EnvIowa Podcast: Dr. Gregory Carmichael


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Dr. Gregory Carmichael has worked closely with scientists in East Asia since 1983 to address pressing air quality problems in that region. (Tim Schoon/University of Iowa)
Jenna Ladd | February 17, 2017

In Episode 5 of EnvIowa we speak with Dr. Gregory Carmichael, Karl Kammermeyer Professor of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering and Co-Director of the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, about his extensive research on global air pollution.

Dr. Carmichael shares his experiences collaborating with scientists in China, explains why air quality issues in East Asia should matter to Iowans and offers some perspective about what climate science research may look under the new federal administration.

India makes two clean energy breakthroughs


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The Topaz Solar Farm in California was the largest in the world prior to the completion of southern India’s solar power plant, which has the capacity to generate 648 Megawatts of energy. (Sarah Swenty/USFWS)
Jenna Ladd | January 5, 2017

The south Indian state of Tamil Nadu has recently established two breakthrough clean energy projects.

The first is the world’s largest solar power plant, which was completed in early December. Built in just eight months, the solar plant is expected to power up to 150,000 homes and is comprised of 2.5 million individual solar modules. Located at Kamuthi in Tamil Nadu, the solar plant’s area tops the previous world leader, Topaz Solar Farm in California. The operation has the capacity to generate up to 648 Megawatts of energy.

As a whole, India generates more than 10 Gigawatts of its energy from solar power and is expected to become the world’s third leader in solar power generation, behind only the United States and China.

Just 60 miles away from the solar farm is the world’s first large-scale industrial plant to capture carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and utilize them to make a profit.

The factory, funded by London-based investors, Carbonclean, 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. Carbon Capture and Utilization (CCU) at the 3.1 million dollar plant is expected to keep 60,000 tons out of the atmosphere each year. Previously, CCU was too costly for many business owners.

In an interview with BBC news, Ramachadran Gopalan, owner of the chemical plant, said, “I am a businessman. I never thought about saving the planet. I needed a reliable stream of CO2, and this was the best way of getting it.”

Two young Indian chemists developed the 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. Carbonclean expects that systems like these have the potential to offset five to ten percent of the world’s total emissions from burning coal.

These developments follow the presentation of India’s ten solutions for breathable airIndia’s ten solutions for breathable air at the World Sustainable Development Summit in New Dehli during October 2016. The goals are a part of a larger governmental initiative called Swachh Bharat Abhiyan or Clean India Mission.

CGRER researchers improve predictability of extreme winter haze events


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Fine particulate pollution creates a winter haze over Hong Kong during December of 2009. (Jason Thien/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | December 27, 2016

Meng Gao and Gregory R. Carmichael have published research in Science Advances, an open-access peer-reviewed multidisciplinary scientific journal, that further explains extreme winter haze events in China.

Carmichael is a Karl Kammermeyer Professor of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering and co-director of the University of Iowa Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research (CGRER). Gao is a former University of Iowa postdoctoral research scholar that is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences of Harvard University.

While working with Carmichael at the University of Iowa, Gao researched how well extreme winter haze pollution events in China could be predicted using state-of-the-art scientific models.

Sulfates are formed by reactions in the atmosphere or on aerosol surfaces. Prior to their recently published research, predicting rapid and heavily concentrated sulfate particulate formation was difficult. The report explains that previous models relied on photochemical oxidants, but because there is limited photochemistry activity during heavy haze events, they are not able to predict those events with the highest sulfate concentrations very well. Carmichael and Gao were only able to predict the correct number of sulfate particulates if they created an additional reaction pathway to create sulfate on particles.

The researchers note that winter haze poses health risks for more than 400 million people in the North China Plain. Sulfate is a major element in fine haze particles. This research follows record sulfate concentrations which led to the extreme winter haze event of 2013 in Beijing.

Carmichael explained, “By incorporating this new reaction pathway into our air quality model, our ability to predict winter time haze events has improved dramatically. Furthermore this more detailed understanding of how fine particles are formed will help guide more effective control measures.”

EPA emissions plan less strict on Iowa


Nick Fetty | June 3, 2014
Photo via Payton Chung; Flickr
Photo via Payton Chung; Flickr

A plan by the EPA to reduce carbon gas emissions would be less stringent on Iowa because of a proactive investment in renewable energies, according to an article in the Des Moines Register.

The Plans calls for power plants nationally to reduce carbon emissions by an average of 30 percent by 2030. Iowa’s rate is nearly half the national average at 16 percent. Rate reductions for neighboring states are: Missouri by 21 percent, Nebraska by 26 percent, Illinois by 33 percent, Wisconsin by 34 percent, South Dakota by 35 percent, and Minnesota by 41 percent.

This interactive map shows what percent of each state’s energy comes from coal.

Advancing Iowa’s Solar Power


Photo by Luther College Photo Bureau; Flickr
Photo by Luther College Photo Bureau; Flickr

Howard Learner of the Environmental Law and Policy Center believes Iowa risks missing a key role in solar power.

“It’s time for Iowa policymakers to step up with supportive policies to seize the solar energy development opportunities and reject attempts to impose regulatory barriers that would stifle this clean new technology,” Learner writes.

For the full piece, visit the Des Moines Register.