ISTC is part of a national team to develop artificial intelligence technologies to sort non-recyclable plastics so they can be reused for fuels. The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded the team $2.5 million to complete the three-year project.
Plastics recycling in the U.S. typically requires manual sorting as workers pick out the useful kinds of plastic from conveyor belts and discard the non-recyclable types. This process is labor-intensive and expensive. In this new project, scientists are using high-tech sensors developed by UHV Technologies, Inc. and commercialized through its spin-off Sortera Alloys that will detect specific chemical-based “fingerprints” of each kind of plastic polymer, classifying them through a new system and sorting them into different bins.
“Sensor fusion and artificial intelligence algorithms used in the process will increase the speed and accuracy of plastic sorting, eventually making the technology more economical with a cost goal of less than $30 per ton,” said BK Sharma, co-principal investigator of the project.
Sensor fusion will generate a unique fingerprint for plastic pieces, while deep learning and artificial intelligence algorithms will create a novel classification system for the plastics.
Another challenge for the project is to reduce plastic contamination, a major reason why plastics end up in landfills. One of the project goals is to develop low-cost methods that decrease contamination to less than 5 percent. Improving the purity of plastic waste increases its potential and value for reuse.
A successful process that produces clean plastics, separated by type, could offer marketable products while diverting non-recyclable materials (plastics #3–#7) from landfills. Sharma’s primary role will be to use the catalytic pyrolysis process to determine if the plastics can be used to produce valuable products, primarily diesel or aviation fuels along with gasoline, naphtha, and waxes.
Besides ISTC, the team includes:
UHV Technologies, which has created sorting technologies for other products;
The Idaho National Laboratory, to complete chemical composition analysis and screening techniques; and
The Solid Waste Authority of Palm Beach County, which will help to integrate the proposed technology into the existing recycling industry.
“At the end of the project, if we can come up with a process that can convert mixed plastic into a low-cost feedstock to produce different types of fuels and other products, that will be a big success,” Sharma said.
The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago has published a story about their water quality projects in Fulton County. ISTC researcher Wei Zheng is one of the researchers involved in this collaborative effort.
In addition to deploying new nutrient recovery technology, the MWRD voluntarily established a program at its Fulton County site to foster collaboration with the agricultural sector to develop and expedite nutrient reduction practices in non-point source areas.
The 13,500-acre property, located in Fulton County between Canton and Cuba, Illinois, was originally purchased in 1970 to restore strip-mined land and approximately 4,000 acres were converted to productive farmland. Years later it became the ideal site to use some of the farm fields to develop and test best management practices to reduce non-point source nutrients.
Since 2015, research and demonstration projects have been established at the site in collaboration with many partners such as the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) Crop Science Department, UIUC Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, Illinois Sustainable Technology Center, Illinois Central College, Ecosystem Exchange, IFB, and Fulton County Farm Bureau. The projects established include inter-seeded cover cropping, riparian grass buffer, denitrifying bioreactors, runoff irrigation, subirrigation, drainage water managements, designer biochar, and watershed-scale nutrient reduction demonstration.
A multi-institution team has released a plan to build a 109-mile walking and biking trail connecting five communities along the lakeshore in northern Illinois to promote safer, healthier, and friendlier neighborhoods and allow better access to Lake Michigan beaches and parks.
The Northern Lakeshore Trail Connectivity Plan recommends the investment of $100 million to reduce the number of vehicle crashes that involve pedestrians or bicyclists, increase physical activity, eliminate sidewalk gaps within a one-quarter mile of schools and parks, and lower transportation costs for residents, among other goals.
The trail would connect Winthrop Harbor, Zion, Beach Park, Waukegan, and North Chicago, as well as Illinois Beach State Park, a 4,000-acre park north of Chicago. The plan project was funded in part by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) Coastal Management Program with support from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration with match funds from the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP).
“A lot of people in these communities have not had the chance to take advantage of the precious gem that is the Lake Michigan shoreline,” said Vidya Balasubramanyam, Prairie Research Institute (PRI) coastal hazard specialist working with the IDNR Coastal Management Program. “This plan gives them an avenue to access the coastline, enjoy recreational activities offered, and appreciate nature.”
The plan also creates a shift away from the culture of vehicles and addresses equity issues involving those who don’t have a vehicle or a safe space to walk or bike to other locations.
“It envisions a more accessible, friendlier vibe for communities,” said Balasubramanyam, manager of the project.
Starting in early 2019, committees of numerous organizations and community stakeholders convened with design teams to create their vision of a year-round infrastructure. Now that the plan has been developed, it offers a unified plan linking the sites and outlines recommendations and actions necessary to complete the plan. The plan also provides maps of trails and details about potential funding sources for the project.
The plan’s strength is its representation from various communities that buy in to the purpose of improving trail infrastructure and bus stops and shelters, while improving trail signs, intersections, and bike parking.
The project team included representatives from IDNR; PRI; IDNR Coastal Management Program; CMAP; Epstein, an engineering firm; the Lakota Group, an urban design team; and Active Transportation Alliance, which promotes walking and biking. The steering committee included Balasubramanyam and representatives from the five communities.
In a related IDNR project, PRI ecologist Danielle Nelson manages the Lake Michigan Water Trail project, which encourages Illinoisans to kayak, canoe, or sail on the water trail near the shoreline of Lake Michigan.
In the PRI Coastal Management Program at the University of Illinois, scientists study the mitigation of polluted water runoff in coastal areas, collect data on groundwater contamination, and create shoreline erosion and habitat vulnerability models for Illinois Beach State Park to inform decisions on shoreline management.
The Urban Action Network has partnered with Lincoln Land Community College’s GIS Program since 2017 to provide an online map of all things “green” in Springfield. The Sustain Springfield Green Map (SSGM) is a user-friendly, GIS-based, online resource that guides residents, visitors, organizations, and businesses to sustainable or environmentally-friendly services, sites, and amenities. Map users can easily find recycling locations, community gardens, car charging stations, and much more. The SSGM has been redesigned to make searching even easier.
This completely redesigned Map streamlines category headings, tells its story better with tabs and graphics, and includes a new Special Projects section in the Gallery. The special projects mini-maps currently include Springfield’s tiny libraries and micro-pantries and the section provides an opportunity for more LLCC GIS students, the public, and special audiences to contribute to its development through emailing suggested additions. A Steering Committee (see Supporters tab in the online map) formulates new ways to expand Map content and engage the public.
The Sustain Springfield Green Map is a project of the Urban Action Network (UAct) which provides executive oversight and operational support. The original map was created as a classroom project by Jordyn Lahey, an LLCC GIS student. The SSGM is hosted by LLCC under the guidance of Geography Professor, Dean Butzow and is maintained as an in-kind service by LLCC GIS Instructor, Rey de Castro and Think GeoSpatial Educator, Jenni Dahl, who are also members of the Steering Committee.
“Springfield is remarkably green for a city of its size and we must continue to cultivate and support sustainability in Springfield. The Sustain Springfield Green Map is a dynamic tool that showcases Springfield’s environmental services, sites, and amenities placing the information at our fingertips,” said UAct President Sheila Stocks-Smith. “Please share the Map widely with your family, friends, and social networks, and perhaps the Sustain Springfield Green Map can help inspire us all to make conscious choices and act collectively to make every day Earth Day.”
America Recycles Day is celebrated on November 15 annually and serves as an opportunity to raise awareness of consumption, proper materials management options, and procedures, and to encourage Americans to commit to increasing and improving their recycling actions in the coming year. It’s also an opportunity to highlight the importance of recycling not only for environmental integrity but also for the US economy. According to the US EPA, on a national average, there are 1.17 jobs, $65,230 wages, and $9,420 tax revenues attributable, for every 1,000 (US) tons of recyclables collected and recycled.
To provide some context, EPA regularly releases updated data on the management of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW), or the discarded materials generated, landfilled, or recycled from US residences. Because it takes a great deal of effort and coordination to gather and analyze all the data required for a national overview, reports typically reflect the reality of material flows from a few years prior. Last week, EPA released the 2018 Advancing Sustainable Materials Management: Facts and Figures report. The data reveal that “the recycling rate (including composting) was 32.1 percent in 2018, down from 34.7 percent in 2015.”
Increasing the recycling rate to 50% in the US would be a significant improvement. Seeing our national recycling rate increase, instead of continuing the disappointing downward trend, would be great news for those of us who care about sustainable materials management.
The reasons behind the underwhelming US recycling rate are many and complex, and we’ll only touch on some of the factors here. As is the case with so many environmental issues, there is a patchwork of policies and laws across the different states. With no federal policy or national or global coordination among impacted industries about labeling and product design to facilitate material reclamation at the end of a product’s life, there are a number of issues. These include confusion about what can be recycled, technical issues related to differing product structure, mixed messages, and inefficient implementation of programs.
Even within states, materials accepted in recycling programs often differ widely from one municipality or county to another. That’s because even materials that are technically recyclable (able to be recycled scientifically) may not be practicallyrecyclable in a given location, due to lack of processing infrastructure, economic factors that make collection and processing of materials infeasible (e.g. availability of end markets, the volume of a material that can be collected in a given timeframe, etc.), and lack of clear, effective information for consumers to follow.
There are also issues of “wishcycling”–when people want to believe an item is recyclable and put it into their bins without knowing if it’s accepted in their local program. This leads to contamination of batches of genuinely recyclable materials, potentially rendering them useless, as well as posing risks for recycling facility workers.
The way materials are collected can impact contamination levels and the quality or marketability of recycled feedstocks. Single-stream collection, for example, in which all materials accepted for recycling by a program are placed in the same collection bin, leads to higher contamination. In the case of glass, this often leads to breakage and a reduced rate of reclamation alongside increased hazards.
International policies, such as the infamous “China ban” in which China stopped accepting imports of certain materials from countries like the US, have left recyclers and program coordinators with a domestic glut of materials for which there aren’t adequate end markets. In some cases that means materials separated by consumers for recycling have been sent to landfills. In the worst cases, recycling programs have ended due to budget constraints. All of this has lead to a lack of faith in recycling programs and options among US consumers, even where programs are available.
Today, recommended actions within the draft National Recycling Strategy are organized under three strategic objectives:
Reduce contamination in the recycling stream
Increase processing efficiency
The draft National Recycling Strategy is open for public comment until December 4, 2020. To leave a comment, go to https://www.regulations.gov/and search for the docket EPA-HQ-OLEM-2020-0462. This is your opportunity to let EPA know your concerns, perceived challenges and barriers to progress, ideas to effectively increase our national recycling rate, and any suggestions for additions or improvement to the actions already outlined.
When you enter the docket number as listed above, you’ll see a “Memo Opening Docket for Public Comment” in the search results. Open that, and if you see “Open Docket Folder,” open that as well so you can view the primary document (Memo Opening Docket for Public Comment, with a “Comment Now” button next to it) plus two supporting documents–the actual text of the draft National Recycling Strategy and an executive summary of the text. (Note, if you’re redirected to a beta version of the new regulations.gov website, the process will be slightly different and you won’t have to open the docket folder to see the three relevant documents). You will also be able to view all previously submitted comments if you choose. Comments can be made anonymously.
To simplify the submission process, you may want to prepare your comment in Microsoft Word, Google Docs, or similar program ahead of time, and copy and paste your thoughts into the online form. Note that if you want to refer to documents in your comment, you can upload supporting files via the comment form as well. For example, if your community has a particularly effective consumer education publication, you might want to provide it as an example or include a copy of a recycling policy, journal article, etc. For further guidance, consult the regulations.gov “Tips for Submitting Effective Comments” document, available in PDF format. Additional guidance on the comment submission process and contact information if you experience difficulty is available at https://www.regulations.gov/help.
Meanwhile, if you represent a US-based organization interested in working toward a more resilient materials economy, consider signing the America Recycles Pledge. This signifies your willingness to participate in ongoing dialogues and to take action with other pledge signers to improve America’s recycling system. Learn more at https://www.epa.gov/americarecycles/forms/america-recycles-pledge.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has awarded $25 million to a three-year project led by the Prairie Research Institute that will design a next-generation power plant in Springfield, Illinois. The innovative plant design combines multiple techniques to both reduce emissions and capture and re-use carbon dioxide.
“With this project, we’re bringing together different pieces of the sustainable energy puzzle,” said Kevin OBrien, who is principal investigator of this project and leads the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) and Illinois State Water Survey (ISWS). “PRI’s scientists have been advancing emissions reduction, carbon capture, and carbon utilization, and this gives us an opportunity to combine all of our expertise and experience in these areas to deliver greater impact.”
The project (Front-End Engineering Design Study for Hybrid Gas Turbine and USC Coal Boiler (HGCC) Concept Plant with Post Combustion Carbon Capture and Energy Storage System at City, Water, Light and Power Plant) is part of DOE’s Coal FIRST (Flexible, Innovative, Resilient, Small, Transformative) initiative, which aims to spur innovation in coal-fired plants. While renewable energy sources, like solar and wind, account for an increasing proportion of U.S. electricity generation, these sources are variable; coal provides a stable source of power, ensuring that consumer demand can be met consistently.
Components of the design proposed by PRI scientists and their collaborators include:
A 270-megawatt ultra-supercritical coal boiler subsystem
An 87-megawatt natural gas combustion turbine generator subsystem
A 50-megawatt energy storage subsystem
A post-combustion carbon dioxide (CO2) capture subsystem
An algae-basedCO2 utilization subsystem
“While these individual components have been used before, they’ve never been combined in this way,” OBrien said. “Part of our aim with this project is to standardize and modularize these components, so this design can be replicated and more easily maintained. We hope this could become the global standard for innovative, low-emission coal-fired power.”
An ultra-supercritical system operates at intense pressure, which means steam is more efficiently converted to the mechanical energy that drives the turbines to produce electricity. Increased efficiency means less coal is needed for each megawatt of power produced, reducing emissions.
Including both natural gas combustion and energy storage will provide greater flexibility and resiliency. Varying demand is tough on coal-fired boilers, because frequent shut-downs and start-ups cause huge swings in temperature and pressure that cause stress on their components. Natural gas systems don’t suffer the same stresses; they can ramp up quickly to meet surging demand and can be shut down when demand drops. Likewise, the energy storage subsystem will enable the plant to store energy to meet fluctuating consumer needs for power.
An additional benefit is that the exhaust from the natural gas system can be used to pre-heat the coal system, reducing how much coal needs to be used.
The proposed design also includes technology, developed by Linde PLC BASF, to capture carbon emissions before they reach the environment. ISTC is overseeing a large pilot test of the performance, safety, and environmental compliance of this technology at Springfield’s City Water, Light, and Power (CWLP) plant.
Other participants include Barr Engineering Co. (firing systems), Microbeam (fuel treatment), Envergex (control systems), and the University of North Dakota (additional coal sources).
This three-year front-end engineering design (FEED) study will provide DOE with a detailed understanding of the costs of scaling up this power plant design and could pave the way for the construction of this innovative plant in Springfield.
OBrien and co-principal investigator Mohamed Attalla, director of U of I Facilities & Services, and ISTC project manager Les Gioja lead the project, providing combined expertise in power generation technologies, clean-energy generation, and large-scale construction.
ISGS continues studying CO2 sequestration near Terre Haute, Indiana
ISGS is participating in a second DOE Coal FIRST project, which will study the potential redevelopment of the Wabash Valley Resources coal gasification site in West Terre Haute, Indiana. That team, led by Wabash Valley Resources, seeks to convert the existing plant so it can burn biomass as well as coal while producing hydrogen that can be used to generate electricity or sold as a product. This project will capture CO2 for storage in nearby deep saline reservoirs and aims to achieve net-negative carbon emissions by sequestering more carbon than it produces. This connects to an ongoing CarbonSAFE project that ISGS is carrying out at the Wabash Valley Resources site, studying the feasibility of developing commercial-scale CO2 storage at the location.
These projects are supported by the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Fossil Energy, National Energy Technology Laboratory.
During the past academic year, many stakeholders observed current waste management practices and coordinated and conducted a waste characterization study to represent campus-wide activities. Study results and annual material generation data were analyzed and extrapolated, campus focus groups were held to provide input for ideal material management, and the research and recommendations were collated into one comprehensive plan to increase waste diversion and ultimately achieve a zero-waste campus.
UIC partnered with the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center’s (ISTC) Technical Assistance Program to conduct the waste audit, engage stakeholders, and spearhead plan development. The plan identifies nearly 100 strategies for waste reduction and diversion and was informed by the results of a November 2019 waste audit, along with insightful input received from students, faculty, staff, and community members.
UIC’s Waste Characterization Study
The waste characterization study included more than 3,300 pounds of trash from 14 buildings and outdoor campus collection bins sorted into 32 material categories.
The audit team used an activity zone approach to capture waste from buildings by use, such as administrative offices, academic and lab settings, student residence halls, and multi-use spaces.
Landfill and recycling bins from various outdoor areas of campus, such as along internal walking paths, busy urban corridors, and in parking structures, comprised an “On-the-go” activity zone. The study team and an enthusiastic group of student, staff, and faculty volunteers sorted the waste over the course of a wintery week.
Together team members worked to document and understand current waste management practices and analyzed waste generation. The Plan categorizes campus waste to show what is avoidable, currently recyclable, compostable, potentially recyclable, and non-recoverable.
The data revealed that 33% of the overall waste stream on campus is compostable material, such as food scraps. Nineteen percent of the waste stream is composed of recyclable materials such as paper or plastic bottles. Eighteen percent of the waste stream on campus consists of avoidable materials such as paper towels and disposable beverage cups. Five percent of the waste stream is comprised of potentially recyclable material such as plastic film and gloves that could be diverted through source-separated streams.
The remaining 24% of the waste stream consists of materials that are currently non-recoverable, i.e. items for which recovery end markets or programs do not yet exist, or for which solutions are not yet available at UIC or in surrounding areas. This includes items like single-use equipment and other non-recyclable paper, glass and plastic items.
“Data has been a critical part of our success in reaching almost a 50% recycling rate at UIC over the past decade, even while the number of students on campus has grown by 20%. With the help of data, the recycling program at UIC has vanquished a once prevalent view that Chicago doesn’t recycle. With the report from the ISTC led waste audit, the volume of food scraps, and the presence of currently recyclable materials point to impactful steps we must take in waste reduction, outreach, and education,” stated Joe Iosbaker, UIC’s Recycling Coordinator.
The study team also gathered input from members of the campus community through an online survey and a series of focus groups. Discussions shed light on knowledge, perceptions, and expectations of waste management infrastructure, the overall campus culture surrounding resource recovery, waste-related priorities, and challenges. This feedback from the UIC community was used to develop strategies to increase recycling and waste reduction. Through this multi-layer process, UIC now has a comprehensive roadmap to build from the 47% recycling rate today and prime the conditions for a zero-waste campus by 2050.
“The comprehensive presentation in the Materials Management Plan provided by ISTC gives us a greater understanding of the tasks we have,” Iosbaker asserted. Assistant Vice-Chancellor and Director of Sustainability Cindy Klein-Banai reinforced those sentiments stating, “This study has provided the data and next steps for robust strategies for reaching our Zero Waste Goal within the UIC Climate Commitments. It also demonstrates the need for broad responsibility in developing our program across all units and departments of the university.”
“ISTC’s Zero Waste team acknowledges the great potential of a comprehensive, campus-driven Sustainable Materials Management Plan,” shared April Janssen Mahajan, Sustainability Specialist at ISTC. “We fully embraced the challenges and opportunities this project offered to help UIC reconsider, reimagine and redefine campus waste and materials management in support of the university’s mission to become a Zero Waste Campus.”
ISTC’s Technical Assistance Program (TAP) has been awarded over $400,000 in EPA grants to assist manufacturers with improving their bottom line by greening their operations. Assistance under these grants is provided at no cost to participating companies. The funds cover work with manufacturers and their supporting industries across many sectors including:
TAP scientists work collaboratively to identify and promote sustainable manufacturing at the product, process, and system level, resulting in less waste, more efficient use of energy and other resources, fewer environmental impacts, and increased profitability.
For additional information, please contact Irene Zlevor (email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 217.300.8617).
an overview of the sources of emissions of ammonia from the industrial refrigeration systems commonly used in food and beverage processing facilities;
a summary of refrigerant inventory determination methods for industrial ammonia systems, including an Ammonia Inventory Calculator, which is a new online resource to estimate the operating charge of existing systems; and
the use of dynamic charge calculations for flagging refrigerant losses from systems that would otherwise go undetected.
Applications of these methods, along with best practices for identifying and eliminating fugitive ammonia leaks identified during fieldwork in Wisconsin food and beverage plants will also be discussed.
Douglas Reindl, Ph.D., P.E., Professor UW-Madison & Director of the Industrial Refrigeration Consortium
Marc Claas, Researcher, UW-Madison’s Industrial Refrigeration Consortium
On Monday, October 5, the Sierra Club of Illinois hosted a conversation about PFAS with Rob Bilott, an attorney, advocate, and author whose story inspired the film Dark Waters; ISTC senior chemist John Scott; Fred Andes, a Chicago attorney whose practice focuses on water issues; Cheryl Sommer, vice-President of United Congregations Metro-East.