ISTC provides science information at public microplastics meeting

ISTC was one of several expert organizations invited to provide information on microplastics at a public meeting hosted by Illinois State Senator Julie Morrison in Highland Park, IL, on August 14, 2019.

Representatives from the Illinois Environmental Council, Shedd Aquarium, and the Alliance for the Great Lakes participated in the event.

ISTC researcher John Scott discussed the current state of knowledge within the scientific community. He also discussed the current ISTC research on the topic.

Members of the public also asked questions and provided comments on the microplastics pollution issue. Two major themes arose from this discussion:

Do microplastics impact human health?
Panel consensus: There is a major gap in knowledge about the impact that microplastics have on human health. There are a few literature review studies available from epidemiology data, but no long-term health studies have been conducted on the impact to humans of exposure to microplastics.

What can we do to stop pollution and clean up microplastics?
Panel consensus:  Shedd Aquarium wants to become a zero waste leader in the community to show businesses and organizations that reducing plastic use is not only possible, but also manageable. ISTC suggested that waste-to-energy processes, such as pyrolysis or gasification, could be a better alternative than landfilling plastic waste. Policies could be implemented to assist in the transition away from plastics, particularly single-use plastics for non-medical/non-disability purposes.

 

ISTC releases 2018/2019 Year in Review

ISTC’s annual report for the period July 1, 2018-June 30, 2019 is now available. The report features ISTC’s research and technical efforts during the period.

Highlights include ISTC’s work with emerging contaminants and agricultural chemicals, including a recap of the ECEC19 conference. In addition, it details progress with ISTC’s large scale carbon capture project at Abbott Power Plant and other energy research.

Also featured are the technical assistance program’s new projects with food manufacturing companies and wastewater treatment plants, as well as their work with organizations seeking to develop sustainability plans and report progress on sustainability goals.

With these efforts, ISTC continues to advance sustainability in Illinois and beyond. Check out the report for more details.

Save the date for the 2020 Emerging Contaminants in the Environment Conference

The 2020 Emerging Contaminants in the Environment Conference (ECEC20) will be on April 21-22, 2020 at the I Hotel and Conference Center in Champaign, IL.

The conference will feature presentations and posters on the latest in emerging contaminant research, policies, and outreach in the soil, water, and air. In addition, there will be plenty of opportunities for discussion and networking with those interested in all aspects of emerging contaminants in the environment.

Upcoming Dates

  • Call for abstracts opens September 4, 2019
  • Registration opens November 2019

ISTC kicks off Fall 2019 Sustainability Seminars in September

ISTC’s Fall 2019 Sustainability Seminar series kicks off in September with two talks.

On Thursday, September 5, JS Rhodes, Director of Growth at Solar Sun’s Recycling, will share talking points on solar module markets and end-of-life issues. Then there will be opportunities for a two-way discussion on these topics. Follow Rhodes on Facebook with #solarprideworldwide.

On Thursday, September 19, Andrew Turner,Associate Professor in Geochemistry, Pollution and the Environment at the University of Plymouth, UK, will discuss the origin and recycling of hazardous chemicals in plastic consumer products.

All seminars are held in the Steven J. Warner Conference Room at ISTC (One Hazelwood Dr. in Champaign, find directions on our web site). Metered and bike parking are available and the CUMTD’s Yellow bus line stops one block away.

The seminars will also be simulcast as webinars for those unable to attend in person. Register for the webinars here:

View archives of previous sustainability seminars on our web site.

ISTC wins another big DOE grant to help reduce wastewater treatment plant pollutants

Organic solids are the main pollutants in wastewater. Removing these solids from wastewater is an energy intensive process. ISTC researcher Lance Schideman has received a $1.98 M grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to help solve this problem.

In this project, “Maximizing Bio-Renewable Energy from Wet Wastes (M-BREWW),” Schideman’s team will investigate the use of a new type of anaerobic membrane bioreactor at wastewater treatment plants.

The project team includes collaborators at Ohio University, Colorado State University, the US Army Corp of Engineers’ Construction Engineering Research Laboratory (CERL), Mainstream Engineering, and Aqua-Aerobic Systems.

They will build on previous work by combining the components of their distributed low-energy wastewater treatment (D-LEWT) system into a fully functioning pilot-scale unit. The D-LEWT system converts wastewater organic solids and ammonia into two harvestable fuels for biopower production (specifically methane and hydrogen gases).

The integrated D-LEWT system and the improvements made to the system components in this project could increase the net energy production at wastewater treatment plants by up to ten times that of current systems.

Flow diagram of traditional wastewater treatment plant processing (image by Leonard G. at English Wikipedia -- CC BY-SA 2.5)
Flow diagram of traditional wastewater treatment plant processing (image by Leonard G. at English Wikipedia — CC BY-SA 2.5)

Researchers explore joint partnership to advance innovative carbon capture technology

ISTC researchers recently met with representatives of Enerfex and UBE to explore a joint partnership to develop Enerfex’s breakthrough carbon capture technology.

Pictured (left to right): Row 1: Kei Tsukahara (UBE America), Vinod Patel (ISTC), Kishore Rajagopalan (ISTC). Row 2: Yongqi Lu (ISGS), Nobuhiko Fukuda (UBE America), Richard Callahan (Enerfex, Inc.), Kevin C OBrien (ISTC).

Enerfex, a small U.S. company based in Vermont, has been engaged in the development of energy related technologies since 1991. Most recently, they have focused on technologies to manage carbon emissions from large point sources. The company has developed a new approach for capturing carbon from natural Gas (NG) Combined Cycle power plants (NGCCs).

UBE, a Japanese chemical company, that produces membranes, is being evaluated as a partner in the development and deployment of the Enerfex process.

Due to the the low price of NG in the US, NGCCs are becoming more prevalent generators of electricity in the United States.  NGCCs are also being used to back-up solar and wind farms by providing electricity when the sun does not shine and the wind does not blow. NGCCs are a critical piece of the transition to a grid that has high percentage of renewables. The carbon dioxide that is generated when natural gas burns is a valuable commodity if it can be captured and reused.

 

ISTC researcher demonstrates nutrient reduction project at Fulton County Field Day

On July 16, farmers and researchers came together at Fulton County Field Day. The event allowed researchers to showcase peer-reviewed applied science and demonstrate to working farmers that these conservation practices work. Individual farmers could then take aspects of what they learned and apply it in on their land.

ISTC researcher Wei Zheng demonstrated the system he has developed  for using biochar to recycle nutrients from tile drainage systems. The project is funded through a grant from the Illinois Nutrient Research and Education Council (NREC).

The event was hosted by the Illinois Farm Bureau, Fulton County Farm Bureau, Illinois Nutrient Research & Education Council, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, Prairie Research Institute and University of Illinois Extension. Read more about the event in FarmWeek.

 

 

 

 

Food and beverage manufacturers learn new sustainability approaches at ISTC workshop

On June 20, twenty-one people from seven different food manufacturing companies gathered in Champaign to learn how to take sustainability to the next level at a workshop sponsored by ISTC’s Technical Assistance Program, the Illinois Manufacturing Extension Center (IMEC), Ameren Illinois, and Energy Resources Group, Inc.

Speakers updated the  attendees on:

  • energy efficiency opportunities for food manufacturers
  • ways to use renewables to make facilities net-zero enery
  • improving water conservation by ensurinng proper water chemistry in water and wastewater treatment systems
  • case studies highlighting waste reduction and diversion best practices
  • safer sanitation methods through effective alternatives
  • LEAN for food and beverage manufacturing

Two companies requested a free technical assistance visit during the workshop. If you work for a food or beverage manufacturer and want to improve your operating performance, decrease your costs, and use fewer toxic chemicals, schedule your free on-site assessment today.

Download the workshop presentations here.

Biochar may boost carbon storage, but benefits to germination and growth appear scant

By Lois Yoksoulian, University of Illinois News Bureau

Biochar may not be the miracle soil additive that many farmers and researchers hoped it to be, according to a new University of Illinois study. Biochar may boost the agricultural yield of some soils – especially poor quality ones – but there is no consensus on its effectiveness. Researchers tested different soils’ responses to multiple biochar types and were unable to verify their ability to increase plant growth. However, the study did show biochar’s ability to affect soil greenhouse gas emissions. The new findings are published in the journal Chemosphere.

ISTC researchers Elizabeth Meschewski, left, and Nancy Holm and collaborators developed a systematic study to test the effectiveness of the soil additive biochar and found that it may not be as effective as previously thought.

Biochar additives – particles of organic material burned in a controlled oxygen-free process – provide soil with a form of carbon that is more resistant to microbial action than traditional, uncharred biomass additives. In theory, this property should allow soil to hold onto carbon for long-term storage, the researchers said, because it does not degrade as rapidly as other forms of carbon.

“There are conflicting reports on the effectiveness of biochar for use to increase crop production as well as its potential as a carbon-storage reservoir,” said Nancy Holm, an Illinois Sustainable Technology Centerresearcher and study co-author. “We came into this study suspecting that variations in types of biochar feedstock, preparation methods and soil composition were the cause of the conflicting results.”

Addressing past research inconsistencies, the team designed a systematic study using 10 common Illinois soil types to test the effects of mixing in varying concentrations of biochars from three different feedstocks – corn, Miscanthus and hardwood.

To add a dimension to the study that is common in real-world agricultural settings, the team also examined how two other sources of carbon – plant material burned in an uncontrolled open-atmosphere setting and corn stover – affect soils. Corn stover is composed of raw stalks, leaves and cobs that remain in the field after harvest.

Factoring in each scenario, triplicate analysis and control samples, the experiment produced 429 soil samples in which the researchers planted two corn seeds each.

After a 14-day germination period, the study showed that adding biochar from any of the feedstocks or production techniques had no substantial influence on the output of greenhouse gas production, plant growth dynamics or microbial community activity. However, the researchers did see some important differences in the soils that included corn stover and burnt plant material.

“The addition of corn stover – which simulates actual field conditions – led to a dramatic increase in greenhouse gas emissions, as well as a change in the soil microbial community,” said Elizabeth Meschewski, an ISTC researcher and lead author of the study. “But, initial seedling growth was not affected when comparing these results to the soils with no additives. Addition of burnt plant material did show reduced plant biomass above ground, increased production of the greenhouse gas nitrogen oxide and altered soil microbial community.”

The team concluded that biochar might improve the quality of highly degraded or poor quality soils, but does not appear to provide any quality benefit to the soils used in this study. However, the researchers said that using biochar as an additive instead of raw biomass or burnt plant material could prevent microbe-generated greenhouse gas emissions.

The team acknowledges that a longer-period study is needed for a more comprehensive understanding of how biochar may benefit agriculture.

“For future studies, we recommend performing a similar study in many different soil types for the whole growing season for corn – not just 14 days – and possibly over several growing seasons,” said ISTC researcher and study co-author B.K. Sharma.

Kurt Spokas of the USDA-Agricultural Research Service and Nicole Minalt and John Kelly of Loyola University Chicago also contributed to this study.

The Russell and Helen Dilworth Memorial Fund at the U. of I. supported this study.