Listen to Coastal Hazards Specialist Vidya Balasubramanyam on the Teach Me About the Great Lakes podcast

On the July 19 episode of the Teach Me About the Great Lakes podcast, hosts Stuart Carlton and Carolyn Foley spoke with ISTC Coastal Hazards Specialist Vidya Balasubramanyam about lake level change and her work with municipalities to adapt to it. Tune in for an all-too-rare dose of optimism and a particular fact about donuts that, while true, we hadn’t considered before.

Coastal Management Program adds two researchers

ISTC’s Coastal Management Program (CMP) recently added two Coastal Studies Specialists to their team.

Cody Eskew
Cody Eskew

Cody Eskew recently re-joined the CMP team by way of the University of Illinois’ Prairie Research Institute (PRI). Cody provides project management support for CMP objectives on coastal hazards, community resilience, coastal habitats, sustainable economic development, and coastal recreation.

Learn more about Cody on the Prairie Research Institute’s People of PRI blog.


Tara Jagadeesh
Tara Jagadeesh

Tara Jagadeesh brings expertise in communication, data science, and community engagement to support projects for the CMP, including the Shoreline Management Working Group.

Learn more about Tara on the Prairie Research Institute’s People of PRI blog.

ISTC staff honored by Prairie Research Institute

Two ISTC staff members have been honored by the Prairie Research Institute.

Vidya Balasubramanyam
Vidya Balasubramanyam received the Prairie Research Institute’s 2021 Early Career Investigator Award.

Vidya Balasubramanyam, a coastal hazards specialist at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC), is the recipient of the Prairie Research Institute’s 2021 Early Career Investigator Award.

Vidya’s work supports the Shoreline Management Initiative with the Coastal Management Program (CMP). The project entails coordination and facilitation of land managers from each coastal community working on regulatory and permitting issues; understanding and translating relevant research; developing and shepherding demonstration projects, and broader education and outreach on the issues.

Read a Q & A with Vidya about her work on the People of PRI blog.

Chad Hankins
Chad Hankins received the Prairie Research Institute’s 2021 Outstanding New Support Staff Award.

IT technical associate Chad Hankins is the recipient of the Prairie Research Institute’s 2021 Outstanding New Support Staff Award.

Chad joined the PRI desktop support team in 2019. This small team of three assists PRI’s hundreds of staff in using a wide range of IT tools. The institute’s already considerable IT support needs grew exponentially during the COVID-19 pandemic as most staff shifted to working from home and needed to adapt to new ways of collaborating, communicating, and working. He works extensively with ISTC staff to keep them connected.

Read at Q&A with Chad about his work on the People of PRI blog.

Springfield to become home of world’s largest carbon capture program

Read the full story from WICS.

Springfield is set to become the home of the world’s largest carbon capture research program.

The U.S. Department of Energy announced the construction phase of the $67 million research project at City Water, Light, & Power (CWLP) to study how to decrease carbon emissions into the atmosphere.

“You could really see a situation where people from across the globe are going to be coming to Springfield to see our progress with this particular project,” Kevin O’Brien said.

O’Brien is Director of the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

New case study features implementation of composting program at Argonne National Laboratory campus

ISTC's applied scientists sort through some of the 7,000 pounds of landfill and recycling-bound materials collected during the ten-day sampling period at Argonne National Laboratory.
ISTC’s applied scientists sort through some of the 7,000 pounds of landfill and recycling-bound materials collected during the ten-day sampling period at Argonne National Laboratory.

What began in 2015 as a waste audit that revealed high-generation of compostable material has led to a multi-year, multi-project implementation plan to collect compostable material from buildings across Argonne National Laboratory’s campus. Argonne’s commitment has diverted over 65 tons from the landfill since 2018, which has helped them meet their federally-mandated performance goal of 50% diversion for non-hazardous wastes.

In order to characterize the types of waste, ISTC’s applied scientists collected over 7,000 pounds of landfill and recycling-bound materials from eight representative campus buildings and sorted it into 23 material categories over a 10-day sampling period. The audit revealed that 43% (by weight) of the materials in Argonne’s landfill stream were compostable. Based on these findings, Argonne and ISTC collaborated to develop and execute an organics collection implementation plan for the campus.

Read the full case study.



Article on microplastic contamination in karst groundwater systems co-authored by ISTC researchers among journal’s most cited

The University of Illinois-led study included researchers from the Prairie Research Institute. Pictured, from left: Walton R. Kelly, John Scott, Nancy Holm, Wei Zheng and lead author Samuel V. Panno.  Photo by Fred Zwicky
The University of Illinois-led study included researchers from the Prairie Research Institute. Pictured, from left: Walton R. Kelly, John Scott, Nancy Holm, Wei Zheng and lead author Samuel V. Panno. Photo by Fred Zwicky

An article co-authored by ISTC’s John Scott, Wei Zheng, and Nancy Holm is among the top cited research in Groundwater.

Microplastic Contamination in Karst Groundwater Systems” was a collaborative effort of researchers from ISTC, ISWS, and ISGS. Published in 2019, it was the first to report microplastics in fractured limestone aquifers – a groundwater source that accounts for 25 percent of the global drinking water supply.

Read more about the research from the University of Illinois News Bureau.


Solar-Powered Savings: Impacts of Net Zero Electricity at BEER NUTS

Packages of BEER NUTS
Image credit: BEER NUTS

BEER NUTS operates manufacturing, packaging, shipping, and office spaces in a multi-level, 100,000 square foot facility on a 16/4 schedule. It produces a variety of snack products and exclusively manufacturers its own products with a wide range of recipes. Products are distributed through various retail outlets and direct to consumers.

In fall of 2019, ISTC and their partners completed an Economy, Energy, and Environment (E3) assessment at BEER NUTS, a small, family-owned Illinois snack facility. At the company’s request, the assessment included the feasibility of on-site solar photovoltaics (PV).

The assessment revealed electricity savings opportunities that will reduce usage by 436,000 kWh annually. Once implemented, BEER NUTS’ electricity usage will drop to 342,000 kWh. Using this estimate and additional factors, the assessment partners proposed a 260 kW solar installation costing approximately $481,000. This array, projected to generate 342,370 kWh annually, would supply 100% of BEER NUTS electricity.

Despite the sizable upfront capital investment, the array could result in first-year cost of $94,820 through a reduced power bill and federal, state, and utility incentives. With continuing energy cost savings and incentives, BEER NUTS will break even at 2.5 years of ownership and will see a reduction of $149,000 in utility costs by the 5th year.

After implementing the proposed recommendations, BEER NUTS’ operations will be on target to achieve net zero electricity, meaning that the annual electricity delivered to this facility from the grid will be less than or equal to the renewable energy exported from this facility to the grid. It will also put them on the path to net zero energy. Finally, these recommendations will reduce BEER NUTS’ carbon emissions by 329.95 metric tons. This gives them a significant competitive advantage when working with retailers like Walmart, Kroger, and Amazon that have established sustainability benchmarks both for their own operations and for their suppliers.

This case study demonstrates that a small food manufacturer in central Illinois can replace its annual electricity usage with solar at a 2.5-year payback. Manufacturing facilities across Illinois can replicate these practices with similar benefits, regardless of sector, size, location, or familiarity with solar.

Read the full case study.

Rural-urban collaboration yields alternative solutions to improve state water quality

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.

From the article:

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.

Read more about Dr. Zheng’s research on the ISTC website.

ISTC awarded over $400,000 to assist Illinois manufacturers

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 or call 217.300.8617).


Sierra Club of Illinois hosts panel discussion on PFAS with Rob Bilott, John Scott, other water advocates

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.

A recording of the conversation is now available.