Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) researchers have given the thumbs up to an innovative biphasic solvent system for its efficiency and effectiveness in absorbing CO₂ from flue gas in a coal-fired power plant at the University of Illinois (U of I).
With $3.4 million from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) National Energy Technology Laboratory, an ISTC team sought to validate the various advantages of a biphasic CO₂ absorption process (BiCAP) at a 40-kilowatt electric small pilot scale at the Abbott Power Plant on the U of I campus. The system was designed based on the testing results at the laboratory scale under a previous DOE cooperative agreement.
Previous laboratory testing has proved the biphasic solvent-based process concept and has shown that the technique can achieve greater than 90 percent capture efficiency and greater than 95 percent CO₂ purity and has the potential to significantly increase energy efficiency and reduce CO₂ capture cost.
From the recent field testing, the team verified that their technology could achieve 95 percent efficiency in CO₂ capture, compared with 90 percent in conventional methods, with a 40 percent higher energy efficiency. The cost advantages have not yet been determined, but previous laboratory testing showed a 26 percent cost reduction. The system has also been shown to run continuously for two weeks, verifying that it can operate under Midwest winter weather conditions.
“The conventional CO₂ capture process has several disadvantages, and our goal was to reduce the carbon footprint and costs and increase the energy efficiency,” said Yongqi Lu, principal investigator. “These energy-efficiency advantages of the BiCAP system, coupled with reduced equipment sizes when scaled up for commercial systems, will lead to reductions in both capital and operating expenses.”
The BiCAP method uses biphasic solvent blends that can form and develop dual-liquid phases during CO₂ absorption. The solvents, which were tested and selected in previous DOE-funded studies, are highly resistant to degrading from either high temperatures or oxidative atmospheres. Also, less solvent is required for this process.
Although the focus of the study was on CO₂ capture from flue gas at coal-fired power plants, the BiCAP technology can be used in natural gas combined cycle (NGCC) plants as well, incorporating flue gas from natural gas, biomass, plastics, and other renewable materials.
“The exciting feature of this capture technology is its robust nature and ability to be used on a variety of flue gas sources. We are now ready for commercial partners to assist in moving this technology to the marketplace,” said Kevin OBrien, co-principal investigator for the project and director of ISTC.
Preliminary tests with synthetic NGCC flue gas made of air and bottled CO2 gas have been performed on the small pilot unit recently. Results revealed that a 95 percent CO2 removal rate could be achieved, and the energy use only slightly increased compared with that for the coal flue gas that contains more concentrated CO2.
The concept of biphasic solvents was developed as part of a dissertation research project in 2013–2015. From 2015 through 2018, screening of biphasic solvents and studies of proof of the BiCAP process concept were conducted at the laboratory scale with funding from DOE. After that, the small pilot system was designed, constructed, and tested at the Abbott Power Plant with continued DOE support.
The main research team for this project was transferred from the Illinois State Geological Survey (ISGS) to ISTC in January 2022. Now that the team has collected the data, the next steps are to complete a techno-economic analysis, then scale-up the technology for commercial use.
A new Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) pilot project is gearing up to remove 200 pounds of non-recyclable plastics from University of Illinois campus trash daily and convert it to 140 pounds of crude oil to power university vehicles. The project will demonstrate its benefits to the environment and campus and present unique learning opportunities for students.
Behind food waste, plastics are the second largest component of trash that ends up in landfills. From the U. of I. waste stream, an estimated 1.39 tons of non-recyclable plastics head to a landfill each day. In this two-year project, scientists are using continuous catalytic pyrolysis technology capable of producing 80 percent fuels from plastics #4–#6.
“We will be demonstrating the technology for distributed production of the most desirable fuel for use in university trucks and generating data to make a business case for a commercial-scale system capable of using all plastic waste produced on campus,” said ISTC research engineer Sriraam Chandrasekaran, project principal investigator.
The project is funded by the University’s Student Sustainability Committee, which is a group of students committed to building a more sustainable campus. By converting waste to fuel, the project will decrease the amount of trash in landfills and reduce the University’s greenhouse gas emissions and reliance on fossil fuels, as well as the campus’ carbon footprint.
A critical element of the project is to involve graduate and undergraduate students in all aspects of the study, particularly those in chemical, mechanical, and environmental engineering. This project is ideal for independent study as part of a senior undergraduate program, Chandrasekaran said.
Students will learn about the technology, identify the parameters of the pyrolysis process for producing high fuel yields, and study the effect of continuous operation on various catalysts. Other tasks will include recording data on system operation and collecting and analyzing liquid samples. The research will also focus on different kinds of contaminants in plastics.
Outreach to the community is particularly important for the project. Chandrasekaran plans to have an open house to showcase the technology’s capabilities.
“The main idea is to show the community how the process works and why plastic recycling is so important,” Chandrasekaran said. “We will emphasize how much we can reduce carbon footprint through this technology, leading to a more sustainable campus. Once the process is underway, non-cyclable plastics can be considered and reclassified as zero waste.”
For more information about waste plastics and other projects, visit the ISTC website.
Research conducted by University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign scientists from two departments within the College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences (ACES) demonstrates that the simple act of changing plate size and shape can have a significant impact on food waste in university dining halls.
In an article published in May 2021 in the journal Resources, Conservation & Recycling, authors Rachel Richardson [former graduate student in the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics (ACE)], Melissa Pflugh Prescott (assistant professor in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition), and Brenna Ellison (associate professor in the associate professor in ACE) describe data collected at two dining halls on the Illinois campus in the Fall of 2018. The researchers and dining hall staff monitored and limited the dishware available for patron use. The only intervention in this study was a change in plate size and shape. Traditionally, the university dining facilities used round plates (9″x9”). In this study, the round plates were replaced with oval platters (9.75″x7.75″), decreasing the plate’s surface area by 6.76%. Both the round and oval plates were tested at each dining hall, and the menu offered was the same for both plate types.
After diners selected their food, but before they sat down at a table, researchers approached them and asked permission to take a picture of their plates and to weigh the plate of food. Participation was incentivized with an entry in a later drawing for a $50 Amazon gift card. Participating diners additionally filled out a survey, and when their plates were brought to the dish return, the researchers took a post-consumption picture and weight measurement. The survey included a question about whether diners went back for seconds; in that circumstance, a post-consumption weight was not recorded.
A total of 1825 observations were collected with 1285 observations retained for analysis. Observations were excluded if the participant: only selected food using non-standard dishware (e.g., only eating a bowl of soup); submitted an incomplete survey; was missing a pre- or post-consumption photo; did not return their plate; or returned plates with different food on them than selected.
Overall, food waste went down from 15.8% of food selected for round plates to 11.8% for oval plates. This amounts to nearly 20 grams (0.7 oz) less food waste per plate. In a setting where thousands of meals are served, this seemingly small reduction could quickly add up. The researchers concluded that changing plate type is a viable strategy to reduce food waste, though dining hall managers need to weigh the cost of purchasing new plates against the potential savings. They speculate that combining the direct-nudge approach of smaller plates with an education campaign could be even more effective.
Note: This post was originally published on the ISTC Green Lunchroom Challenge blog, which is maintained by Technical Assistance Program staff. Check out that blog for more news, resources, and tips on preventing food waste and diverting food from landfills via rescue, repurposing, composting, and other strategies.
In 2008, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UI) signed the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, becoming part of a network of institutions of higher education committed to campus carbon neutrality by the year 2050. UI developed an Illinois Climate Action Plan (iCAP) as a roadmap to reducing the campus carbon footprint and achieving carbon neutrality. The iCAP identifies relevant goals, objectives, and potential strategies in the following categories: energy conservation and building standards; energy generation, purchasing, and distribution; transportation; water and stormwater; purchasing, waste, and recycling; agriculture, land use, food, and sequestration; carbon offsets; financing; education; outreach; and research.
TAP has since collaborated with campus Waste Transfer Station (WTS) staff to increase diversion rates across campus, as well as improve the efficiency of current waste management operations. Key components of this collaboration have included the development of a streamlined materials tracking system, as well as analysis of material flows through and from campus buildings to the WTS, to identify opportunities for process improvement.
In 2018, TAP worked with F&S staff to digitize collection truck weight tickets and create a new online tracking portal. The portal, rolled out in December 2018, allows WTS staff to measure, analyze, and report on the material moving through the system. This level of detail can allow targeted modifications to hauling routes, pickup frequency, and collection container deployment to improve capture of specific waste streams, as well as provide data to inform potential outreach efforts and policy changes.
Recent efforts to improve collection of recyclables
In 2019, ISTC and WTS staff began an analysis of collection practices within buildings with the explicit intent to increase the capture of source-separated recyclables. TAP staff shadowed building service staff to identify current practices and opportunities for improvement. The processes for handling waste and recyclables for typical academic and residential buildings were mapped out, including movement of waste materials from the building to dumpsters, and ultimately to the WTS. TAP staff also worked with F&S to document (in terms of current deployment and unused inventory) the number and variety of landfill and recyclable collection bins found in buildings across campus.
This information allowed TAP to make various recommendations to UI F&S related to:
building construction and renovation standards for recycling space allocation;
collection container allocation, placement, and related training for Building Service Workers (BSW);
updating collection containers to improve clarity and consistency across campus;
improved signage for clarity and consistent messaging;
use of bin liners and existing dumpsters to streamline material flows to, and separation at, the WTS; and
a campus-wide recycling campaign.
TAP is currently working with F&S on implementation of these recommendations. At the end of 2019, new collection containers were identified which would collocate landfill (trash) bins and bins for the two types of recycling streams on campus—mixed paper and aluminum cans plus bottles. The new collections containers use color-coding to distinguish the different streams—black for landfill, green for the mixed paper stream, and blue for the combined aluminum cans and bottles. Matching directional signage featuring pictures of example materials appropriate for each waste stream attaches to the back of the bins to assist with proper source separation. A URL for more information on campus recycling is also prominent on the bin signs. Images on the container access doors (for emptying the bins) reinforce proper placement of materials. The containers are themselves constructed from at least 1000 recycled plastic milk jugs, reinforcing the importance of not only recycling but “closing the loop” by using products made from recycled materials.
105 containers have been deployed over 30 buildings, beginning primarily in first-floor hallways. Additional containers are being obtained and deployed to locations keeping factors such as building occupancy and status of currently existing collection infrastructure in mind. F&S sees the deployment of the new containers as a key factor in raising awareness of recycling opportunities and processes on campus, as well as combating persistent misconceptions about campus recycling practices.
Those of us in the Great Lakes region (and the rest of the US and Canada) live in a so-called “throw-away society” in which consumerism is rampant, and goods are not often designed or produced with durability in mind. In fact, in recent years, more and more goods are designed to be explicitly or implicitly disposable. Even complex products, such as consumer electronics, are treated as if they are meant to be ephemeral. The classic example is the smartphone. These devices are astounding feats of scientific innovation and engineering. For perspective, consider ZME Science’s article from September 2017: Your smartphone is millions of times more powerful than all of NASA’s combined computing in 1969. Despite their complexity, and the fact that you, and probably everyone you know, barely scratch the surface in terms of using these devices to their full potential, we are constantly bombarded with cues to upgrade to the latest model. And new models seem to be released ever more frequently, always being touted as somehow greatly more advanced than their predecessors. A simpler example is clothing–when was the last time you sewed up or patched a hole in a shirt or pair of pants? Something that once would have been done by most people as a matter of course might now be deemed peculiar. A modern member of our culture might wonder why one would bother to patch a pair of pants when a new pair could be obtained so cheaply.
Our “take-make-dispose” model can also be called a linear economy, and the message you receive in such a system is clear: if you have something that becomes damaged or has minor performance issues, you should just replace it. In fact, even if what you have is working well, the time will quickly come when you should just replace the old with the new. Replace, rinse, and repeat. A linear economy is one in which natural resources are extracted and used to create goods which will entirely, or partially, inevitably end up in landfills or incinerators. Some materials may be recovered and recycled, but over time these materials degrade in quality and are used for increasingly lower grade purposes, so that ultimately they will become waste, of little or no further use.
Of course, in order to replace whatever is being disposed of, new goods are required. And those new goods require as much or more resources as the ones that went before them–new minerals and other raw materials must be extracted. Extraction processes can have negative environmental and social impacts (e.g. pollution, habitat destruction, human rights issues related to labor practices, health issues related to exposure to chemicals or physical risks, etc.). Materials are transported to factories (requiring the use of energy in the form of fuel) where they are transformed into new products, again potentially with new human exposures to toxins or other adverse conditions, and potential new emissions of toxins or other substances of concern. In the case of products such as electronics, sometimes components are manufactured in places distant from each other and must be further transported to be brought together in yet another factory to create a complete device. And the finished product is in turn transported across the globe to reach consumers, resulting in more expenditure of energy, more emissions. By the time most products reach the consumer, a great deal of natural and human resources have been invested in them, and however positively the product itself may impact a human life or the broader ecosystem, the number of potential negative impacts all along the supply chain have stacked up. Clearly, any tendency to treat products as disposable, purposefully or incidentally, exacerbates those negative impacts by requiring the manufacture of more products, more quickly than might otherwise have been the case, as long as the demand for product does not diminish.
The tragedy of this linear cycle of use and disposal has lead to the advocacy for a circular economy–one in which extraction of resources is minimized and products and services are designed in such a way as to maximize the flow of materials through resource loops as close to perpetually as physically possible. In such a system, what might have once been considered “waste” continues to be valued in some form or another. A circular economy is built upon design for durability, reuse, and the ability to keep products in service for as long as possible, followed by the ability to effectively reclaim, reuse and recycle materials.
There are many barriers to repair, including costs (real or perceived), knowledge, confidence in those performing the repair (one’s self or someone else), and access to tools, instruction manuals and repair code meanings which tell technicians exactly what the problem is so they can address it. Manufacturers of a variety of products, particular those with electronic components (everything from automobiles to cell phones to tractors) have come under pressure in recent years over the attempt to monopolize access to parts, tools, and necessary information for performing repairs, leading to what is called the Right to Repair movement. Currently, 18 US states, including Illinois, Minnesota, and New York in the Great Lakes region, have introduced “fair repair” bills which would require manufacturers of various products to make those tools, parts, and pieces of information accessible to consumer and third-party repair shops. You can read more about the history of the right to repair movement and right to repair legislation on the Repair Association web site.
In an increasing number of communities around the world, citizens are coming together to share their knowledge, tools, and problem-solving skills to help each other repair every day items for free. I’m writing this on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and here are some examples of local projects that can help you repair the items you own:
Illini Gadget Garage. This one’s my favorite, but I’m admittedly biased, since I helped launch this project and coordinated it for the past few years. The IGG is a collaborative repair center for personally-owned electronic devices and small appliances. “Collaborative repair” means that project staff and volunteers don’t repair your device for you; rather they work with you to troubleshoot and repair your device. Assistance is free; consumers are responsible for purchasing their own parts if needed, though staff can help determine what parts might be necessary. In addition to working with consumers by appointment at their campus workshop, the IGG crew conduct “pop-up” repair clinics in various public spaces around the Champaign-Urbana community and across campus. Consumers not only benefit from the “do-it-together” approach, they also get access to specialized tools (e.g. soldering irons, pentalobe screwdrivers, heat guns, etc.) that enable device repair, which many folks wouldn’t have in their tool box at home. Though successful repair obviously can’t be guaranteed, project staff say that if it has a plug or electrical component, and you can carry into the shop (or pop-up), they’ll help you try to figure out and fix the problem.
The Bike Project of Urbana-Champaign. Including both a downtown Urbana shop and a Campus Bike Center, this project provides tools and space for bicyclists to share knowledge and repair bicycles. This project sells refurbished bikes, and individuals who are willing to work on fixing up a donated bike (with assistance) can eventually purchase a bike at a discount. See https://thebikeproject.org/get-involved/join-the-bike-project/ for membership fees; an equity membership based on volunteer hours is available.
CU Community Fab Lab. Though technically a makerspace, this project provides access to a variety of tools that individuals may not own themselves, as well as a community of tinkerers and creative minds to foster sharing of knowledge. See http://cucfablab.org/inside-the-lab/tools/ for available tools. Note that some fees may apply for consumable materials. Workshops are also offered to help you learn various skills. The Fab Lab is free to anyone in the community during open hours.
Restart Project. Focused on electronics, this is a UK project, but you can host a “restart party” anywhere, and some K-12 schools, including some in the US are integrating restart centers to help teach repair skills and instill ideas of sustainability among students.
A ban on the use of 24 antiseptic ingredients, including triclosan, for use in health care settings will take effect at the end of this year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced last month. That extends a 2016 ban on Triclosan, and other active ingredients, from use in consumer products.
The action is the latest development in a long road of coping with the competing rights and responsibilities of marketplace innovation, regulatory power, public health, and rapid advances in our scientific ability to detect such compounds.
Since then triclosan and other antibacterials have continued to find their way into many consumer products. For example, Hasbro, the maker of Playskool toys, was fined in 1997 for false advertising because they claimed their toys made with antibacterials were safer for kids than those without.
Present in antibacterial soaps, toothpastes, and body washes, triclosan is considered a Pharmaceutical and Personal Care Product (PPCP), which the Water Quality Association defines as “products used by individuals for personal health/well-being or for cosmetic purposes.” PPCPs have been identified as emerging contaminants of concern by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency because little is known about their impact on the environment or their risks to human health when released into the ecosystem.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) sued the FDA in 2010 to force a decision on triclosan and other antibacterials. Four years later, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) supported the FDA’s original findings by reporting triclosan as one of the top contaminants of emerging concern detected in biosolids. The FDA finally made the decision to ban triclosan in consumer products in 2016; now in 2018, this ban will be extended to the medical industry.
Why all the concern? They are pervasive. The widespread use of triclosan and other antibacterials has left residues in our environment, as well as in our bodies. Using bio-monitoring, triclosan residue was detected in 75 percent of Americans over six years old. Thought to be absorbed through the skin, tests have found traces of triclosan in human blood, urine, and breast milk.
Also research at ISTC and elsewhere have shown PPCPs can act as endocrine disruptors (EDCs), which alter hormone functions. Animal studies have shown that triclosan alters the way hormones work in the body, which is alarming considering potential impacts on human health. To spread awareness of the most recent emerging contaminant research, policies, and education, ISTC is hosting its third conference on emerging contaminants this June 5-6.
ISTC has also sponsored research to study the impact of triclosan on the environment. A three-year study ran from 2009 to 2012 and involved researchers analyzing two rivers in the Chicago area receiving effluent from wastewater treatment plants. Effluent from wastewater treatment plants can serve as a point source for a range of pollutants, including PPCPs. When analyzing the rivers, researchers found that increased exposure to triclosan was linked to both an increase in triclosan resistance and a decrease in biodiversity within the benthic bacterial communities. These results show that the common and widespread use of triclosan could have negative ecological consequences.
Further laboratory studies have matched ISTC’s suggestion that triclosan may contribute to bacterial resistance to antibiotics. Antibiotic resistance has significant impacts to human health, as it could diminish the effectiveness of some medical treatments, including antibiotic treatments.
Despite being used for the past four decades, manufacturers have proven neither the effectiveness nor the safety of long-term use of triclosan. The FDA has determined that antibacterial soap is no more effective than plain soap and water and challenged the industry to demonstrate otherwise.
Excluded from the new regulative action are six antiseptic active ingredients: ethyl alcohol, isopropyl alcohol, povidone-iodine, benzalkonium chloride, benzethonium chloride, and chloroxylenol. The FDA said further research is needed before commenting on the safety or effectiveness of these six ingredients.
The new FDA rule will go into effect Dec. 20, 2018.
Scientists from seven Chinese universities visited the University of Illinois July 11-13 to compare research goals and approaches in their efforts for cleaner air, water and soil.
The Prairie Research Institute (PRI) China Workshop deepened relationships begun in recent years by environmental experts of both countries to strengthen scientific collaborations. The workshop examined environmental concerns about air, water, and soil pollution that are of mutual interest to help solve a wide range of critical issues in these areas.
The Chinese visitors represented the College of Civil Engineering at Nanjin University, Jiangsu Insitute of Environmental Industry, the College of Environmental Science and Engineering at Tongji University, the School of Environmental Engineering and Sciences of North China Electric Power University, the College of Environmental Sciences and Engineering at Peking University, Chongqing Institute of Green and intelligent Technology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the School of Space and Environment at Beihang University, and Beijing Dopler Eco-Technologies Co.
The visitors also sampled a number of high-profile U of I research projects including agricultural enhancement at SoyFace (top), weather and air quality monitoring (second from top) and (third from top) soil reclamation (Mud-to-Parks dredging project at Lake Decatur).
Wide-ranging technical presentations during the workshop included focuses on:
• air pollution modeling, health effects and remediation;
• surface and groundwater contamination and new treatment strategies; and
• soil contamination prevention and remediation.
Urbana Mayor Diane Marlin (bottom) welcomed the Chinese scientists, describing the long history of friendship and cooperation between cities and universities in China.
The Illini Gadget Garage (IGG) is a collaborative repair center on the UIUC campus to assist students, staff and faculty with troubleshooting and repair of minor damage and performance issues for their personally owned electronic devices and small appliances. The project is coordinated by the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) Technical Assistance Program as a waste reduction outreach project of the Sustainable Electronics Initiative (SEI).
The IGG has announced hours for Summer 2017. “Pop-up” repair clinics will be held at the Undergraduate Library Media Commons on Mondays and Wednesdays from 11:30 AM to 2:30 PM. Open hours will be held at the IGG’s physical workshop (INHS Storage Building #3) on South Oak Street on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 AM to 2 PM and on Fridays from noon to 4 PM. A map is available for directions to the physical location: http://tinyurl.com/guv4n9z. Note that hours are subject to change, as staff are working to schedule more pop-up clinics in order to bring services to a wider audience, so check the project web site or Facebook page for announcements.
Bring a pop-up repair clinic to your facility
Related to that spirit of expansion, the IGG is now offering off-campus pop-ups for companies and organizations that would like to bring “do-it-together” repair to their site as way to engage employees and patrons in product stewardship and sustainability. Staff will come to your location with the necessary tools, and they can arrange to have your audience fill out a diagnostic form in advance so they can research information on the devices and issues being faced ahead of time, making one-on-one interactions during the event more productive. Off-campus pop-ups are 2-4 hours long to allow sufficient time for troubleshooting, repairs, and any additional research. Note that IGG does not sell parts, but if it is determined that a part is needed, staff can assist individuals in determining the exact models of required parts and in researching ways to obtain the part. Staff can also help individuals identify local repair businesses that could help them address more complex damage or businesses that can accept items for proper recycling if they are beyond repair. IGG can help identify local businesses and/or online vendors for informational purposes only; the IGG does not endorse any external business and the ultimate decision of how/where to obtain parts or services is that of the consumer.
A pop-up repair clinic can provide a unique benefit to your staff, and be part of your organization’s sustainability efforts, by creating conversations around the impacts of product manufacture, design, and end-of-life management. Such events also provide empowerment and team building opportunities. If you have questions or are interested in scheduling a clinic at your facility, please contact Joy Scrogum, ISTC Sustainability Specialist, for more information and pricing. Fees are charged to host organization of a pop-up clinic to support staff members time both at the event and for preparation; however individuals that attend your event (e.g. employees and/or patrons) are not themselves charged for the assistance they receive. Off-campus pop-up clinics are not restricted to the Champaign-Urbana metropolitan area, but please be aware that additional fees may apply for travel.
Support IGG outreach in your community or on the UIUC campus
Companies and corporations interested in sponsoring a pop-up repair clinic in their community or at a particular public space are encouraged to contact Joy Scrogum to discuss possibilities and to receive instructions for contributions to the appropriate UI Foundation fund. Additionally, any individual or company interested in supporting IGG’s efforts to provide product stewardship and waste reduction guidance to the UIUC community at no cost to students, faculty and staff may make online donations via the UI Foundation to the “SEI Various Donors Fund,” which supports the educational efforts of the Sustainable Electronics Initiative. You may indicate “Support the Illini Gadget Garage” in the “Special Instructions” section of the online donation form. We thank you and the project’s current sponsors for your support!
After two years a project to invigorate 22 acres near Windsor and Lincoln at the U of I is bringing the plot closer to its “natural” state.
This high profile territory had become a thicket of brambles, invasive species, and dead plants. “I became disgusted,” said John Marlin, a research associate at Illinois Sustainable Technology Center who leads the project. “I drive by it every day on the way home. The honeysuckle was so thick that it was difficult to see more than five feet into the woods. The understory was shaded to the point that virtually nothing grew at ground level.”
Marlin will serve as keynote speaker during Campus Appreciation Day at 5 p.m. Tuesday, April 11 in Room 1092 Lincoln Hall. Tuesday is Day Two of the University’s I Love Illinois Week. #ILoveIllinois. Marlin has attracted the interest of student volunteers for decades for sustainability projects across campus, including efforts to establish native plantings on campus to benefit indigenous animal species.
Funded by the Student Sustainability Committee, the 22-acre clean-up has attracted student volunteers from Red Bison, Students for Environmental Concerns, various other service organizations, East Central Illinois Master Naturalists, and members of the community. The property, now known as the South Arboretum Woods has been placed under the control of the Arboretum which will have long-term management responsibility.
Colleagues at the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences, the Illinois Natural History Survey, and Facilities and Services have also been key partners by consulting on maintenance issues at the site, Marlin said. Since 2015 groups have assembled to remove invasive species and clear debris to allow a comeback for native plants, insects and other organisms. Some areas have already been seeded with woodland and prairie plants.
All of that effort has put the project right on schedule with the wholesale removal of noxious plants to prepare the way for new plantings this spring, Marlin said. The tenacious villain honeysuckle blocks sunlight and kills native flowering plants (forbs) and bushes that normally occur in healthy woodlands. With the woody pest in retreat, the emphasis is now on preventing honeysuckle re-sprouts and dealing with smaller invasives like garlic mustard. Seeds of this plant have been dormant in the soil for years and are germinating in response to sunlight which can now reach the floor of the woods. Over the next few years a variety of trees, shrubs and forbs will be gradually introduced to sections of the woods.
The plan is to gradually introduce plants to the area as resources become available and problem plants are removed. This includes thinning the stands of trees found in the former research plot. They were planted close together in species plots to facilitate the study on plant diseases and insect pests. Decades later trees 18 inches in diameter are a mere five feet apart. Removing some of them will allow sunlight penetration and more normal growth. The initial planting will mainly occur on the east side of the woods where work began in 2015.
The planned plantings will run the gamut from sun loving to shade tolerant and will be selected to collectively bloom over the entire growing season with a variety of flower types. This will serve a large number of insects, many of which, like the monarch butterfly, require or prefer a limited number of plants. For example a leaf cutter bee (genus Megachile) was found in large numbers last fall on bellflower (Campanula americana) on the shady edge of the woods.
On the list for planting at the woods are Spring Beauty (Claytornia virginica), a wildflower Marlin said is used by 58 different kinds of bees. Others being planned include Purple Prairie Clover, Rattle Snake Master, Wild Geranium, Golden Rod and Aster, he added.
Mariln said he and Kevin McSweeney, director of the Arboretum, and Jay Hayak, extension specialist in forestry, have discussed the usefulness of the woods for teaching issues such as restoring biological diversity.
The area is not yet ready for public use and help in removing material from the area should only be done under supervision, Marlin said. Logs and other woody material will be left on the site to meet specific habitats requirements.