TAP project helps Rendleman Orchard get surplus fruit to food banks

Boxes are loaded onto a truck for delivery to the food bank (photo credit: Zach Samaras)
Rendleman Orchards worker loads boxes onto a truck for delivery to a food bank (photo credit: Zach Samaras)

ISTC and Feeding Illinois partnered with Rendleman Orchards during the 2021 growing season to ensure no fruit went to waste. Through the USDA’s Farm to Food Bank grant, Feeding Illinois was able to pay Rendleman Orchards its picking and pack-out costs (PPO) which represent the farm’s costs to harvest and package the product and enabled the donation of the peaches, nectarines, and apples. The fruit was either off-spec, meaning it did not qualify to be sold in typical primary markets due to size/weight/blemishes, or surplus, meaning that the farmer did not have a buyer or market outlet for the fruit. The project team helped Rendleman Orchards avoid waste, recoup their costs, and provide fresh local nutritious fruit to Illinois neighbors in need.

Rendleman Orchards started by providing 48 cases of peaches to Tri-State Food Bank’s Vienna, IL hub. After initial success, St. Louis Area foodbank and Northern Illinois Food Bank began receiving cases of peaches and nectarines as well. As demand grew from the food banks, Rendleman Orchards aggregated peaches and nectarines from neighboring Flamm Orchards.

Each week Rendleman Orchards reached out to a specific contact at each food bank with quantities available. Interested food banks placed orders with Rendleman Orchards by the end of the week and either pick-up or receive a delivery the following Tuesday. Tri-State Food Bank and Northern Illinois Food Bank orders were delivered, while St. Louis Area foodbank picked up directly from the farm. All invoices were sent to Feeding Illinois and were paid upon confirmation of receipt from the food banks.

By the end of the 2021 growing season, Feeding Illinois reimbursed Rendleman Orchards $272,182 to cover the PPO costs for the donation of 567,085 pounds of Illinois-grown fresh fruits: 7,458 cases (372,900 lbs) of peaches; 539 cases (26,950 lbs) of nectarines; and a combined 167,235 pounds of bagged and bulk apples. An additional $10,420 was paid for associated deliveries to the four recipient food banks.

Read the full case study.

Scientists study ways to reduce PPCPs transferred from soils to food plants

Plant growing in soil

The debate continues: how much risk to human health is the transfer of pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) through soils to food plants when biosolids, sewage effluents, and animal wastes are applied to fields? As scientists speculate and study the factors that affect risk, researchers at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) are finding innovative solutions to remove PPCPs before they contaminate the vegetables and fruits we consume.

PPCPs are the chemicals that make up fragrances, cosmetics, over-the-counter drugs, and veterinary medicines. These chemical residues in the environments are considered emerging contaminants because they are not yet regulated by state and federal agencies.

Organic wastes like biosolids, sewage effluent, and animal waste contain PPCP residues. When these are applied to farm fields, some of the chemicals may degrade, while others may transfer from soils to roots of vegetables and fruits, and then possibly accumulate in edible plant tissues.

Field studies have shown that pharmaceutical concentrations in soils were lower than predicted because PPCPs may degrade in soils, latch on to soil particles, or run off/leach into surface and groundwater. Yet continued and long-term application of PPCP-containing biosolids, animal wastes, and wastewater effluents may increase their concentration levels in plants, according to Wei Zheng, ISTC scientist.

“There has been much argument and debate if PPCPs derived from organic waste application in crop fields can cause risks on public health,” Zheng said. “This issue will become even more at the forefront as the use of biosolids and sewage effluents in crop production systems increases. More studies are necessary because PPCPs vary in their toxicity and physicochemical properties in the environment. In particular, the compounds that are highly persistent and toxic will be a concern.”

Zheng reviewed the literature, summarized the research findings, and made recommendations for future research in a recent article published in Current Pollution Reports.

Factors affecting PPCP transfer

In his review, Zheng reiterated that the factors that have the greatest effect on PPCP transfer are the properties of the PPCPs and soils as well as plant species. Plants grown in sandy soils have higher levels of PPCPs than those grown in high organic matter and clay soils. For certain PPCPs that are destroyed in soils, the process breaks down the original compound into metabolites that may be more toxic and mobile. Metabolites with lower molecular weights could be taken up by plant roots more readily.

Studies have also found that leafy vegetables, such as lettuce and cabbage, tend to have a higher potential to take in PPCPs than root vegetables. Furthermore, certain chemicals accumulate in the roots and have little effect on human health, while others can be transferred to leaves. Further research is needed to develop thresholds for accumulations of PPCPs in food crops when biosolids, effluents, and animal manure are used on fields.

Mitigation efforts

At ISTC, Wei and colleagues are studying several technologies to remove PPCPs, either before they reach the soils or after sewage waste application. The study is being supported by a project funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

In the project, Wei is studying the feasibility of using inexpensive oils to capture hydrophobic PPCPs from wastewater effluents. The treatment, which would be used at water treatment plants, is especially low cost when applying used cooking oils, such as those from restaurants.

One advantage of this process is that oils remove PPCPs from rural sewage water while leaving behind the nutrients that fertilize crops. After capturing PPCPs, the spent oils can be used as fuel for diesel engines. The process can eliminate the captured contaminants.

Carbon-rich biochar produced from forest and agricultural residues can be used as a filter to absorb PPCPs from sewage water.  Biochar can also be directly applied to soils.

Studies found that the average PPCP concentrations in lettuce leaves decreased by 23 to 55 percent when biochar was used in the soil compared with the soils without biochar. Biochar can also be composted with solid waste to immobilize PPCPs and reduce their transfer in soil-plant systems.

In the USDA project, scientists will conduct laboratory, field, and numerical modeling studies to better understand the transfer of PPCPs to crops when rural sewage effluents are applied to agricultural lands. The results will help federal and state agencies and farmers evaluate their current nutrient management and nontraditional water-use practices, inform science-based regulatory programs, and suggest best management strategies to minimize risks and promote the safe and beneficial use of nontraditional water in agriculture.


Media contact: Wei Zheng, 217-333-7276, weizheng@illinois.edu
news@prairie.illinois.edu

This story originally appeared on the PRI News Blog. Read the original story.

U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm tours PRI carbon management projects

Pictured during the tour are, left to right, ISWS and ISTC Director Kevin C OBrien, principal investigator for the carbon capture project; Stephanie Brownstein, ISTC Assistant Scientist-Research Engineer; Secretary Granholm; Susan Martinis, Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation; and Jeff Stein, PRI Interim Executive Director.
Pictured during the tour are, left to right, ISWS and ISTC Director Kevin C OBrien, principal investigator for the carbon capture project; Stephanie Brownstein, ISTC Assistant Scientist-Research Engineer; Secretary Granholm; Susan Martinis, Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation; and Jeff Stein, PRI Interim Executive Director.

On Dec. 9, U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm toured several U of I sustainable energy projects, including PRI’s carbon capture efforts at Abbott Power Plant. During the visit she also heard about PRI’s extensive work in carbon sequestration.

Read more about PRI’s carbon management and sustainable energy research.

Read more about Secretary Granholm’s visit to U of I from The News-Gazette and Illinois Newsroom.

U.S. Department of Energy announces investment to further develop carbon capture technology via FEED study

The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (DOE-NETL) selected the University of Illinois for $4 million in funding, in addition to cost share contributions by LafargeHolcim and Air Liquide, for research and development to support a front-end engineering design (FEED) study of a carbon capture retrofit at an industrial facility in Missouri.

Read the LafargeHolcim news release.

DOE publishes survey of U.S. federal and state-level solar system decommissioning policies

DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) recently published A Survey of Federal and State-Level Solar System Decommissioning Policies in the United States. ISTC’s Jennifer Martin was one of the report’s peer reviewers.

The report provides a survey and brief overview of both Bureau of LM and U.S. statewide solar decommissioning policies, and a discussion of some of the potential impacts different policy designs may have on utility-scale solar development, including impacts that might influence construction timelines and over project costs.

Read the full report on the NREL website.

Champaign County group receives funding, seeks participants for commercial food scrap compost pilot

CCES logo

This fall, the Champaign County Environmental Stewards (CCES) received a ‘Land, Health, Community’ Lumpkin Family Foundation Grant to help launch a commercial food scrap compost pilot project at the Landscape Recycling Center (LRC) in Urbana, IL. This grant will primarily be used toward the construction of a concrete bunker at the LRC for the processing of food scraps collected from pilot participants.

CCES is a non-profit community organization formed in 2019 to support efforts to provide area citizens with safe and convenient collection options for household materials that pose potential problems at the end of their useful life. CCES is an organizational member of the Illinois Food Scrap Coalition.  Joy Scrogum, a member of the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center Technical Assistance Program (TAP) who works primarily on zero waste projects, serves on the CCES board of directors.

The pilot project will provide pre-consumer (i.e. back-of-house) food scrap collection service to recruited commercial food scrap generators (e.g., grocery stores, commercial kitchens, and restaurants) located within or nearby Urbana. CCES will collaborate with the City of Urbana Public Works Department, which operates the LRC, and local sponsors.

CCES is currently recruiting participants for the pilot project and coordinating collection service details with the selected local waste hauler Dale Levitt Disposal (DLD) in Urbana. DLD will offer pilot project participants flexible collection options (weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly) at a service subscription rate of $6 per each 32-gallon container.

Additional funding received from the Community Foundation of East Central Illinois will allow CCES to provide 32-gallon collection containers for separate stream collection of commercial food scrap at no cost to pilot project participants.

Benefits of participation include:

  • Less odor, weight, and volume of landfill-bound trash, resulting in a potential reduction of waste hauling costs
  • Recognition as an organization that composts
  • Benefits to the environment–less food in landfills means less greenhouse gas emissions
  • Benefits to the local community–gardens and landscapers purchase locally-sourced compost from the LRC, and pilot participants will be contributing to the production of that compost

CCES recruiting participants

Businesses interested in being part of this pilot project should contact Scott Tess, srtess@urbanaillinois.us, (217) 384-2381.

Development of this pilot project was spearheaded by CCES board member Grace Wilken, in collaboration with CCES Executive Director and Champaign County Recycling Coordinator Susan Monte, and City of Urbana Sustainability & Resilience Officer, Scott Tess.

Lessons learned from the pilot will hopefully allow for the development of permanent commercial food scrap composting service in the area in the future.

To learn more about CCES, visit https://www.ccenvstew.com/. Sign up for the CCES newsletter to receive updates on this and other initiatives at https://mailchi.mp/ace7dcc98d86/newsletter.

This post originally appeared on the Illinois Food Scrap Coalition (IFSC) Blog. Thanks to IFSC and the CCES Board of Directors for allowing ISTC to share this post.

New project uses flue gas and wastewater to make algae

Aerial image of an algae cultivation system from Global Algae Innovations
Aerial image of an algae cultivation system from Global Algae Innovations

A three-year, $2.5 million Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) engineering-scale project will be one of the first and largest to combine carbon dioxide (CO2) from a coal-fired power plant with nutrients from wastewater treatment plants to cultivate algae for animal feeds. The project will demonstrate that producing algae for commodity animal products can be cost-effective and has added environmental benefits.

Algae has been used for decades in the niche markets of health and beauty. A more recent focus is its ability to use CO2 from coal-fired power plants to make biofuels and protein-rich food products.

Algae is fast-growing compared with traditional terrestrial feed crops, so it’s an attractive alternative for use in taking up CO2 from power plants because it requires less land, according to ISTC principal investigator Lance Schideman. Researchers will use the algae species Spirulina because it is already FDA approved for use as a food ingredient and has a high protein content, which commands higher prices.

The algae cultivation system will be integrated with the City Water, Light and Power plant in Springfield, Illinois. Schideman is collaborating with University of Illinois researchers Joshua McCann and Carl Parsons, who will conduct the animal feed studies. Global Algae Innovations will provide the algae biomass production system to be demonstrated at field scale for this project. The project is co-funded by the U.S. Department of Energy National Energy Technology Laboratory.

In the past, ISTC scientists have researched wastewater algae systems that are now used at 10 full-scale operating wastewater plants. They’ve also been a leader in recycling the byproducts of hydrothermal biofuel production to enhance algal biomass productivity. Global Algae Innovations is a leading designer and equipment supplier in the algae industry that has developed and demonstrated cost-effective, large-scale algae production systems.

“We’re putting all the pieces together in a coordinated fashion and lowering the net costs of growing algae using industrial and municipal by-products as inputs to improve the economic environmental sustainability of algal carbon capture,” Schideman said.

This approach reduces pollution and replaces the costly CO2 and nutrient inputs used in most algae cultivation systems. In the current commercial technology, managers buy liquid CO2 and various commercial fertilizers for the nutrient supply.

The wastewater, which is full of organic nutrients that support algae growth, will come from a local wastewater treatment plant.

“Using wastewater is a cost savings in the production process and it helps to solve problems that wastewater treatment plants are experiencing in trying to minimize nutrient discharges in the environment,” Schideman said. “In Illinois, the treatment plants are under increasing scrutiny, and regulations that are now voluntary are expected to become more stringent and potentially mandatory within the next decade.”

Ultimately, the system will produce feed especially for cattle and chickens. The product will be dry, which helps reduce spoilage, and will have a high nutritional value compared with some other feeds.

The typical price range for most bulk animal feed ingredients is $150–350 per ton, and certain high-value products can have a market value of $1,000–$2,000 per ton. Algae has the potential to command prices near the top of the range since some species contain highly nutritional components such as antioxidants and poly-unsaturated fatty acids. However, algal animal feeds are not yet established in the market, and the value of these products must be demonstrated through research studies like this one.

Schideman notes that the size of the animal feeds market is quite large and is a good match with the amount of CO2 produced by power plants around the country. Thus, using CO2 from flue gas in algae production has the potential to significantly reduce greenhouse gasses.


Media contact: Lance Schideman, 217-390-7070, schidema@illinois.edu
news@prairie.illinois.edu

Illinois Farm to Food Bank Project connects specialty growers with food banks

Peaches being washed in a crate
Photo credit: Zach Samaras

This fall, the Illinois Farm to Food Bank program wrapped up its pilot project with Rendleman and Flamm Orchards in Union County. Nearly 375,000 pounds of peaches and nectarines were distributed to food banks throughout Illinois.

Michelle Sirles of Rendleman Orchards said, “The Farmer to Food Bank Pilot was a HUGE Success. Every single person we worked with went above and beyond to make this a successful pilot year. It could not have come at a better time with the over abundance of peaches nationwide. It prevents a lot of peach dumping. It recouped farmers costs while providing fresh and healthy food for those in need. As a farmer we felt completely supported by Illinois Farm Bureau, our politicians, our state university, and our food bank partners. I truly feel this could be a shining star program for our state.”

The program also connected Roth Countryside Produce, located in Tazewell County, with a Peoria Area Food Bank agency to purchase $1750 worth of sweet corn, green cabbage, red cabbage, green beans, cantaloupe, bell peppers, green zucchini, golden zucchini, and seedless cucumbers.

Keep up to date with the program through the Farm to Food Bank Feasibility Study newsletter. If you’re a grower who wants to participate in the project, contact TAP.

US EPA releases report on environmental impacts of US food waste

EPA infographic on environmental impacts of US food waste
Image from US EPA Office of Research and Development.

On November 30, 2021, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a new report entitled “From Farm to Kitchen: The Environmental Impacts of U.S. Food Waste (Part 1).”

This report reveals the climate and environmental impacts of producing, processing, distributing, and retailing food that is ultimately wasted and projects the environmental benefits of meeting the US goal to prevent 50 percent of food waste by 2030. The report was prepared to inform domestic policymakers, researchers, and the public, and focuses primarily on five inputs to the US cradle-to-consumer food supply chain — agricultural land use, water use, application of pesticides and fertilizers, and energy use — plus one environmental impact — greenhouse gas emissions.

This report provides estimates of the environmental footprint of current levels of food loss and waste to assist stakeholders in clearly communicating the significance; decision-making among competing environmental priorities; and designing tailored reduction strategies that maximize environmental benefits. The report also identifies key knowledge gaps where new research could improve our understanding of US food loss and waste and help shape successful strategies to reduce its environmental impact.

The new report reveals that each year, the resources attributed to US food loss and waste are equivalent to:

  • 140 million acres agricultural land – an area the size of California and New York combined;
  • 5.9 trillion gallons blue water – equal to the annual water use of 50 million American homes;
  • 778 million pounds pesticides;
  • 14 billion pounds fertilizer – enough to grow all the plant-based foods produced each year in the United States for domestic consumption;
  • 664 billion kWh energy – enough to power more than 50 million US homes for a year; and
  • 170 million MTCO2e greenhouse gas emissions (excluding landfill emissions) – equal to the annual CO2 emissions of 42 coal-fired power plants

In short, significant resources go into growing, processing, packaging, storing, and distributing food. Thus, the most important action we can take to reduce the environmental impacts of uneaten food is to prevent that food from becoming waste in the first place.

A companion report, “The Environmental Impacts of U.S. Food Waste: Part 2,” will examine and compare the environmental impacts of a range of management pathways for food waste, such as landfilling, composting, and anaerobic digestion. EPA plans to complete and release this second report in Spring 2022. Together, these two reports will encompass the net environmental footprint of US food loss and waste.

Read the full report at https://www.epa.gov/system/files/documents/2021-11/from-farm-to-kitchen-the-environmental-impacts-of-u.s.-food-waste_508-tagged.pdf.  (PDF document, 113 pages)

For questions, contact Shannon Kenny, Senior Advisor, Food Loss and Food Waste, US EPA Office of Research and Development.

ISTC-led team to design large-scale system for direct air capture and storage of carbon dioxide in the U.S.

Climeworks’ Orca plant, the world’s largest direct air capture and CO2 storage plant, in Hellisheiði, Iceland. ©Climeworks
Climeworks’ Orca plant, the world’s largest direct air capture and CO2 storage plant, in Hellisheiði, Iceland. ©Climeworks

Carbon emissions continue to rise, ratcheting up temperatures and driving increasingly extreme weather events worldwide. Therefore, carbon capture and management will be a crucial step in curbing climate change.

There are two main categories of carbon emissions: point-source and nonpoint-source. Point-source emissions come from a single source such as a power plant or a factory. Nonpoint-source emissions are harder to pinpoint and to address because they cover a widespread area and can come from a variety of sources like automobiles, airplanes, boats, and more.

“In order to offer a more robust solution to carbon management, you have to be able to address both point-source emissions and nonpoint-source emissions,” said Kevin OBrien, director of the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC).

The U.S. Department of Energy National Energy Technology Laboratory (DOE-NETL) has partnered with ISTC in a nearly $2.5 million project to develop preliminary designs and determine feasibility for the first commercial-scale direct air capture and storage system (DAC+S) for CO2 removal in the United States.

This 18-month project will explore the possibility of pulling 100,000 tonnes of CO2 from the air annually. Project principal investigator OBrien believes this amount will help offset steep upfront costs and make the service profitable, at least at a commercial scale.

“The potential impact this could have would be immense, because now you can address unavoidable nonpoint sources by pulling CO2 out of the air, hopefully in any type of climate anywhere around the world,” said OBrien.

The project will use DAC technology provided by the Swiss company Climeworks. Climeworks has built and operated several DAC plants in various climates across Europe, among them the world’s first industrial-scale DAC plant in Hinwil, Switzerland, and the world’s largest DAC+S plant, Orca, in Hellisheidi, Iceland.

Three different climates, different renewable energies, and different approaches to carbon storage

Widespread deployment of DAC systems in the U.S. must account for wide variations in regional climates. Temperature and relative humidity can impact the efficiency of CO2 removal technologies.

The ISTC-led team will address climate efficiency challenges by testing the large-scale DAC systems and storing the captured CO2 at three test sites across the U.S., examining the effects of different climate conditions on CO2 storage.

  • Hot and very dry climate – A test site in southern California near the Salton Sea will be powered by geothermal energy, with the captured CO2 stored in a saline aquifer.
  • Hot and humid climate – A test site in Louisiana will use solar energy to power the DAC system while storing the captured CO2 in a saline aquifer.
  • Midcontinental climate – A test site in Wyoming will operate using wind power and store the captured CO2 in a depleted natural gas reservoir.

In addition to Climeworks, major partners in the project consortium include Kiewit Power Engineers, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Gulf Coast Sequestration, North Shore Energy, Sunpower, Ormat, and Sentinel Peak.

For more information, read the entire DOE announcement.

Media contacts: Kevin OBrien, kcobrien@illinois.edunews@prairie.illinois.edu