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.
This episode offers listeners the chance to learn more about Dr. Carmichael’s long and esteemed career in climate science prior to his delivery of the 34th Annual Presidential Lecture this weekend. His lecture, titled “What Goes Around, Comes Around: The Global Reach of Air Pollution,” will take place this Sunday, February 19th at 3:30 pm in the fourth-floor assembly hall of the Levitt Center for University Advancement.
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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.
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.”
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.
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.