Category Archives: Climate Change

Daily Iowan: “UI Ready to Shun Coal”

Earlier this week, the Daily Iowan published an article detailing University of Iowa’s President Bruce Herrald’s announcement that UI will be coal free by 2025.

Here’s a bit of the article:

“University of Iowa President, Bruce Harreld, announced on Feb. 20 the UI will be coal-free by 2025.

According to a press release, Harreld said, ‘It’s the right choice for our students and our campus, and it’s the surest path to an energy-secure future.

‘In 2025, we expect to have diminished our reliance on coal to the point it is no longer included in our fuel portfolio.’

The UI will continue its efforts to advance energy programs to ensure there is ‘an abundant supply’ of alternative-energy sources, he said.

The UI has taken steps to reduce its dependence on coal — in 2008, the university established seven ‘sustainability targets’ to be achieved by 2020, according to the press release.

Since the 2020 vision’s inception, the UI has managed to reduce its use of coal by 60 percent.

This correlates with one of the sustainability targets, which seeks to derive 40 percent of the UI’s energy from renewable resources — a far cry from a university once dependent on fossil fuels, according to the UI sustainability website.”

The coal industry’s destructive tendencies towards global climate is well known, and this plan to shift away from using the energy source as a means of powering our university remains to be small, but important step in combating climate change.

Ideally, given Iowa’s inclination towards wind energy, we’ll see more institutions making the shift away from dirty fossil fuel.

Walkability: Jeff Speck on 4 Ways for the City

Urbanist and author Jeff Speck on how to get people out of their cars, and a-walking the city

In the American city, the typical American city — the typical American city is not Washington, DC, or New York, or San Francisco; it’s Grand Rapids or Cedar Rapids or Memphis — in the typical American city in which most people own cars and the temptation is to drive them all the time, if you’re going to get them to walk, then you have to offer a walk that’s as good as a drive or better. What does that mean? It means you need to offer four things simultaneously: there needs to be a proper reason to walk, the walk has to be safe and feel safe, the walk has to be comfortable and the walk has to be interesting. You need to do all four of these things simultaneously, and that’s the structure of my talk today, to take you through each of those.

Kinetic Energy: Tiles That Generate Energy When People Walk Over Them

From generating light for soccer fields in Brazil and Nigeria, Heathrow Airport or offices and shopping centers in London, British company Pavelen is transforming the energy from kinetic tiles. Here’s a clip from an article in HuffPost:

“We’re not trying to make Pavegen the sole energy source to power every city in the future,” he told Radio France Internationale. “We believe it’s going to be one of the key constituents of the energy mix of the future.”

David Horsley, a mechanical and aerospace engineer at UC Davis, told Wired that the tiles could have a place in our everyday lives.

“You’re not going to get very much for a step, considering you can get 100 watts from a square meter of solar paneling,” he explained. “But for small wearable electronics like watches, or maybe even your phone, this kind of energy harvesting makes sense.”

France Launches Solar Roadway Project

The world’s first solar highway has been opened in France, in the not-very-sunny village of Tourouvre au Perche in Normandy. The roadway is just one kilometre (0.6mi) long, but that still works out at 2,800 square metres of photovoltaic cells—enough, hopefully, to power the village’s street lights.

The road was built by Colas, a large Anglo-French construction company. Colas has apparently been working on its own solar road tech, called Wattway, for at least five years. Wattway has been tested in car parks, but this is the first time it has been used on an active road. There will now be a two-year test period, to see if Wattway can withstand the rigour of being pounded by thousands of cars and trucks per day, and whether it can actually provide a useful amount of electricity.

One of the Wattway panels up close.
Enlarge / One of the Wattway panels up close.
Usefulness aside, the main problem with constructing solar roads is their crippling cost. One of the main selling points of Wattway, according to Colas, is that each panel is just a few millimetres thick, and can thus be installed on top of an existing road, which in turn massively reduces construction costs. Having said that, the 1km road in Normandy cost €5 million (£4.3m) to build. And that’s for a single lane of a two-lane highway!

Expanding that out to €10m per kilometre for a two-lane solar road, you’re looking at a total cost measured in billions or even trillions of pounds to cover a sizeable portion of a country’s roads with solar panels. France has over a million kilometres of roads; the US has over 6 million. And that’s not counting the larger highways with more than two lanes…

Fortunately, Ségolène Royal, France’s ecology minister, has a much more reasonable goal in mind: she would like to see solar roadways replace one kilometre of every 1000 in France. Again, assuming she means two-lane solar roads at around €10 million per kilometre, the total cost would be €10 billion—not bad, assuming the panels (and the accompany electrical system) don’t need regular maintenance, and that they produce enough electricity to be worth the much higher initial outlay.

Should Cities Ban Internal Combustion Cars?

An interesting post at Green Tech Media looks at the role of cities and countries in transitioning away from internal combustion cars. Countries include Germany, Holland and Norway, as well as India.

Here’s a clip:

“The Netherlands, which has an electric vehicle penetration level of around 10 percent, voted to ban all new petrol and diesel car sales by 2025 in a motion passed in April. The move, approved by the lower house of parliament, was due to be debated by the senate last month.

Instead, the country announced plans to become “one huge Living Lab for Smart Charging of electric vehicles,” according to a press release.

The Living Lab program is light on targets and timeframes. But with a nationwide network of charging stations already in place, the Netherlands remains a major contender to become the first country banning fossil-fuel cars altogether.”

Copenhagen has more bikes than cars

As the Guardian reports, last year in Copenhagen, 265,700 bikes took to the road compared to 252,600 cars. This phenomenon is part of a long-time redesign and investment in bike infrastructure in the city.

Here’s a clip from the Guardian:

Copenhagen’s efforts to create a cycling city have paid off: bicycle traffic has risen by 68% in the last 20 years. “What really helped was a very strong political leadership; that was mainly Ritt Bjerregaard [the former lord mayor], who had a dedicated and authentic interest in cycling,” says Klaus Bondam, who was technical and environmental mayor from 2006 to 2009 and is now head of the Danish Cycling Federation. “Plus, a new focus on urbanism and the new sustainability agenda broke the glass roof when it came to cycling.”

And check out this video on the Copenhagen bike lanes:

Growth of city trees can cut air pollution, says report

The BBC had a nice report on a recent The Nature Conservancy study on the role of trees in reducing pollution in the cities.

Here’s a clip:

“Particulate matter (PM) is microscopic particles that become trapped in the lungs of people breathing polluted air.

PM pollution could claim an estimated 6.2 million lives each year by 2050, the study suggests.

Lead author Rob McDonald said that city trees were already providing a lot of benefits to people living in urban areas.

“The average reduction of particulate matter near a tree is between 7-24%, while the cooling effect is up to 2C (3.6F). There are already tens of millions of people getting those kinds of benefits,” he said.

Dr McDonald said the study of the use of trees in 245 cities around the world compared the cost-effectiveness of trees with other methods of cooling and cleaning air.”

Seattle Votes to End $3 Billion Relationship with Wells Fargo Because of the Bank’s Dakota Access Pipeline Financing

Check out this article in the Seattle Stranger on how the Seattle City Council pull its investments out of Wells Fargo bank, regarding the DAPL pipeline.

Here’s a clip:

The Seattle City Council has unanimously voted to end the city’s relationship with Wells Fargo over the bank’s financing of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), its financing of private prison companies, and a regulatory scandal involving the bank’s creation of two million unauthorized accounts.

All nine council members voted to take $3 billion of city funds away from the bank after Seattle’s current contract expires in 2018. The vote occurred just hours after the Army notified Congress that it will be granting an easement allowing DAPL builders to drill under the Missouri River following a presidential memo from Donald Trump.

Poplar Trees and Restoration of Contaminated Soils, Water

Check out this old article on Lou Licht, an Iowa-based engineer who works with planting poplar trees for soil remediation and water management. Licht’s trees eliminate the chemicals in wastewater. “Every drop of water passes within an inch of a root,” he said. Those roots and microbes – the tiny organisms around them – breakdown pollutants like pathogens, ammonia, spilled oil or pharmaceuticals.”

Here’s a clip from Iowa Watch:

He’s an entrepreneur with a doctorate in civil and environmental engineering from the University of Iowa. But in some ways, Licht still is like the dairy farmer he grew up as. Only now, he grows things. His crops are poplar trees that filter fine particles and formaldehyde from the air. When planted in swales, they retain and filter water from rain, reducing storm surges and runoff in flood-prone states like Iowa. And, they can treat sewage.

“In the case of Iowa, where we are surrounded by farmland, the right 15-20 acres can do all the tertiary treatment for a town of 1,000 people,” he said.

Licht, a native of Lowden, Iowa, lives in a North Liberty home surrounded by poplars. Wearing thin-rimmed glasses and black zip-up vest over a long-sleeved beige shirt one breezy October morning, he talked about his professional evolvement, the pollution-fighting trees and his hopes for what they could do for Iowa’s environmental problems.

As he spoke, the sun peaked through the thick forest of spindling trees that shield much of his lake from view. Topped with thin patches of still-green leaves, those trees dot the landscape of the few acres Licht calls home. Green-brown, expansive space, accented with the chirping of birds, it is the type of place where you might expect to find someone who studies trees.

But Licht doesn’t just study trees. He plants them – by the thousands each year in places like Chicago, Atlanta and St. Louis, and gets thousands of dollars to do it. He’s not an in-your-face ecologist who lambastes mankind for “the rape of Mother Earth.” He’s a businessman who speaks of incentives and convergence. To him, cleaning the environment isn’t a moral issue. “It just makes sense,” he said.

But why would the U.S. Air Force or companies like Tyco or Republic Waste, which is the second largest disposer of garbage nationally, want Licht’s trees? Why do scientists around the globe seek his advice?

Licht’s work is “awesome,” said Kenneth Yongabi, coordinator of Phytobiotechnology Research Foundation in Cameroon. “I have no doubt about the formidable treasure this technology has for the future.”

The trees work through a process called phytoremediation that involves tree roots, swales and surrounding microbes, and they save companies money, lot’s of it, he and his environmental colleagues say. They help clean polluted land, air and water.

One of his projects is in Slovenia, where land that once was oil refinery now is an 18-hole golf course still lined with some of the trees he planted years before.

In Iowa, Licht says his methods could help deal with poorly treated sewage. More than 700 un-sewered communities discharge 1.2 billion gallons of poorly treated sewage into state waters, according to two studies by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources cited in a 2005 Iowa Policy Project report. Upgrading those systems to new federal standards can cost millions.