Take a Good Look at the Bad Old Days, and How Science Saved the Future

bttf-30thThe 30th Anniversary Celebration of the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) gathered together many of the original leaders of the effort to get a handle on hazardous pollution in the environment.


It was a valuable window into the spirit of the times before 1985 that convinced Illinois lawmakers to create a center for research, industry assistance and public information. Thousands had been killed in Bhopal, Love Canal had blighted whole neighborhoods, the Cuyahoga River had burned, and in Illinois, contamination at Waukegan Harbor and Lake Calumet had brought home to citizens the need for scientific evidence about the threats.


ISTC took the opportunity to tell this story at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on Nov. 9. It was a proud moment for the original players who participated in the event, and for ISTC’s parent Prairie Research Institute, and all of their current researchers who continue to drive sustainable economic development in Illinois. Videos on the presentations will be made available soon at http://www.istc.illinois.edu/news/30anniversaryhome.cfm.


Green Lunchroom Challenge Webinar, 11/18: School Food Donation

Are you an IL school or district administrator, nutritionist, educator, or parent interested in food donation as part of your school’s food waste reduction strategy? Join the Green Lunchroom Challenge for a free webinar, Wednesday, November 18, from 3-4 PM to hear Dr. Kathleen Dietrich, Executive Director of Food Bus, Inc. describe how that organization assists schools in donating excess food to local pantries and food banks.


The Green Lunchroom Challenge is an ISTC project, funded by US EPA Region 5, focused on engaging K-12 schools in IL in food waste reduction and prevention strategies through a voluntary, friendly competition. Interested schools or school districts can sign up at https://www.greenlunchroom.org/, and complete any combination of suggested activities during the Challenge period (Sept. 1, 2015 – April 1, 2016). Participants earn points for each completed activity, and relative progress will be displayed on an online leaderboard. Resources and guidance will be available on the Challenge website and from ISTC technical assistance staff for each recommended activity. On Earth Day 2016, the school and district with the most points will be declared winners, and will receive public recognition and prizes (to be determined) to foster continuous improvement in food waste reduction. Donating excess food for human consumption is among the suggested Challenge activities.


Register for the webinar at https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/731005178672176385. Feel free to attend even if your school has not yet signed up for the Challenge, or if you don’t represent a school or school district and are simply interested in learning more about how schools in your area can donate excess food to prevent waste. Webinar participants will be able to ask questions and participate in discussion through the GoToWebinar chat box. If you are unable to attend the webinar live, it will be recorded and posted to the Challenge web site for later viewing. Questions about this webinar, the Green Lunchroom Challenge, or suggestions for future Challenge webinar topics may be addressed to Joy Scrogum.


Green Lunchroom Challenge logo



Fluorescent Food Coloring Suggests Cheap Tag for Fracking Water Tracking

fluorescentA multi-disciplinary team at the Prairie Research Institute at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has developed a quick and inexpensive technique to screen for water contamination from fracking oil recovery operations. The technique targets fluorescent compounds in the “produced” waters generated from oil extraction wells, meaning that a distinct marker for different companies could be introduced to fracking compounds that then could identify specific sources of any subsequent contamination.


Seed funding for this project was obtained through the Prairie Research Institute Matching Research Awards Program.

U of Illinois Power Plant Proposed as Testbed for Major Carbon Capture Advance

GovATabbotThe U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has selected a multi-national team led by the University of Illinois to develop a proposal for retrofitting the University’s Abbott Power Plant in order to capture the CO2 emissions. The team includes the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center and the Illinois State Geological Survey at the U of I – both part of the Prairie Research Institute – as well as the Linde Group and BASF (developers of capture technology), Affiliated Engineering, and Burns & McDonnell. The Phase I award is for detailed engineering and planning and is slated to have a total value of approximately $1.3 million. This is the first time the DOE has sponsored a large-scale pilot R&D project for the capture of CO2 emissions.


If the team qualifies for Phase II (implementation) the resulting $75 million project could represent a new day for clean coal hopes on this planet. Not only does Illinois sit on one of the richest coal seams in the U.S., coal will continue to be the major fuel source around the world for decades to come. This multi-national initiative has the potential to significantly cut fossil fuel greenhouse gas emissions while science continues the development of low-cost, renewable alternatives.



Sustainable Electronics Campus Consortium Meeting 11/17: Update on Illini Gadget Garage Project

The Sustainable Electronics Initiative (SEI) is an ISTC project focused on the development and implementation of a more sustainable system for designing, producing, using, and managing electronic devices. Part of SEI is the coordination of a loose group of staff, faculty, and students interested in sustainable electronics research, education, and the host of environmental and social impacts surrounding electronic devices throughout their product life cycles–the UI Sustainable Electronics Campus Consortium. There will be a consortium meeting at ISTC in Champaign from 2:00 to 3:00 PM tomorrow, Tuesday, November 17, to discuss the status of the Illini Gadget Garage project. In particular, the project team wish to discuss ideas for locations around campus for “pop-up” electronics repair clinics, fundraising, and ideas for how to make the Gadget Garage financially self-sustaining beyond its seed funding. This meeting is open to anyone with an interest in the project–you need not have ever attended a consortium meeting before. If you wish to receive consortium emails and meeting announcements in the future, you may sign up for the mailing list at tomorrow’s meeting, or by sending a request to Joy Scrogum.


The Illini Gadget Garage is a collaboration of the Sustainable Electronics Initiative, the UI School of Art and Design, and the UI Graduate School of Library and Information Science, and is focused on launching a repair center for student and staff owned electronic devices, with seed funding from the Student Sustainability Committee. This venture is meant to extend the useful life of products while providing experiential learning for students (through associated classes, volunteering, and participation in the iFixit Technical Writing Project), and empowering people to see do-it-yourself repair as a viable option for addressing minor damage and performance issues. The space currently occupied by the Gadget Garage is in need of several renovations to bring it up to compliance with ADA standards, and thus there has been a delay in the project proceeding as planned, open to the entire campus community in a fixed location. While additional funds are sought to complete the renovations, “pop-up” repair clinics will be held at already accessible places across campus. Classes will continue to be held in what will eventually be the fixed location for the Gadget Garage; student volunteers are also working with “test pilots” in the space so they can gain experience with working with the public, checking in patrons, and logging impacts (e.g. number of devices repaired, pounds diverted from the landfill through repair, etc.). Read more about the project and developments on the SEI blog and the SEI web site.


Bring your ideas to the table for discussion tomorrow, or just come to listen and learn more about how you can get involved. No RSVP is necessary; this is an informal discussion, and will be held in the Stephen J. Warner conference room. If you’re unable to attend the meeting, but have questions or suggestions, please contact Joy Scrogum.


Illini Gadget Garage identifying mark

Identifying mark developed by Lu Lawrence, Amanda Henderson, and Ruchita Mandhre, as part of ARTD 591/391 with Professor William Bullock.

Biochar 2016

United States Biochar Initiative logoThe United States Biochar Initiative (USBI) will be hosting the Biochar 2016 conference at CH2M Hill Alumni Center on the Oregon State University Campus in Corvallis, OR on August 22-25, 2016. The special topic for this conference is “The Synergy of Science and Industry: Biochar’s Connection to Ecology, Soil, Food, and Energy”. More information about the conference can be found on their website: usbi2016.org.

Partners Explore R&D Opportunities Related to Water and Sustainability


On Monday of this week, Sustainability Week, U of I researchers met at the Alice Campbell Alumni Center with colleagues from Argonne National Laboratory to explore opportunities for collaboration on energy/water nexus issues.


ISTC has collaborated with Argonne scientists for years on various sustainability projects. Kevin O’Brien, ISTC director and chair of the Water Council of the U of I’s Institute for Sustainability, Energy and Environment (iSEE), brought together partners to explore future points of shared interest.


The next day, iSEE invited business and organization leaders from Champaign-Urbana to a “Community Conversation on Energy Conservation.” The gathering emphasized local resources for improved building efficiency such as ISTC’s Illinois Green Office Challenge, and iSEE’s Certified Green Office Program.


The gatherings took place just as the 2015 Illinois Climate Action Plan (ICAP) was being released on campus. The five-year update of the plan reported that sustainability efforts in campus buildings has reduced energy consumption by 20 percent, greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent, and potable water use by 20 percent. Continuing commitment to improving efficiency of water and energy use at the University of Illinois will contribute to the ICAP meeting its goal of carbon neutrality by 2050.



My Green, Galena — Past Governor’s Sustainability Award Winner

The City of Galena is known for its grand, historic downtown district, rolling hills, and beautiful fall colors. What most people don’t know is that they are sustainability leaders, both in their region and within the state. From their leadership in best sustainability practices, Galena continues o grow sustainability initiatives in this quaint, Midwest destination city.


my green galenaThe City of Galena is located in the western tip of Illinois, adjacent to the Mississippi river. Home to Ulysses S. Grant, its scenic roads and historic charm bring hundreds of thousands of visitors to the area each year. In 2012, the City decided to make sustainability the core guiding principle of their government. They began with a logo competition for their “My Green Galena” slogan. They were looking for a graphic that would embody and brand the City’s efforts throughout the town. The final design (pictured, right) was not only adopted by the campaign but by the city as well.


The City government knew that they had to lead of the sustainability effort. “Local governments are the movers of change. Change has to begin at our level or it won’t happen,” said City Administrator, Mark Moran. Thus, the city started investigating opportunities to decrease their environmental footprint.


The city had already established a curbside recycling program for residents. They chose to expand that initiative to institute a “pay as you throw” garbage system, where have a cap on how much trash they send to the landfill. Putting a cap on garbage encourages residents to compost and divert recyclable materials away from the landfill. Additionally, the city collects items that are recyclable but not commonly collected, such as electronics (which are required to be recycled by Illinois law), batteries, CFLs and prescription medicines.


galenaOne of the most impressive projects the city implemented was a 368 kW, 1,444 high efficiency photovoltaic solar panel array at their wastewater treatment plant. The $1.3 million dollar project was funded through a 60% grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, producing nearly 50% of the power needed to operate the wastewater treatment facility. This saved the city about $46,000 a year just from avoided power purchasing costs and net metering revenue.


The City of Galena has also invested in different energy efficiency initiatives, such as LED street lights to replace the high pressure sodium lighting. They also retrofitted city hall and their police station. Galena’s city hall was repurposed from an old grocery store, reutilizing a historic building close to downtown. They added skylights, thermopane windows, retrofitted all lighting to LED, and landscaped with low- to no- water perennials. By retrofitting this old building, the city avoided construction waste impact and used an existing, historic structure.


Since winning the Award, the city has added an EV charging station for visitors who want to charge their cars when they come to visit. Mr. Moran commented that since they received the Award, the city staff have “more energy and enthusiasm in each subsequent project we’ve implemented. There is a sense of pride that we haven’t had before.” The Illinois Governor’s Sustainability Award will continue recognizing Illinois public and private sector organizations to empower and encourage them to continue on their sustainable journey.


Don’t miss out on recognizing this year’s Governor’s Sustainability Award winners with us. Please visit our Awards Ceremony webpage to see the entire agenda for the day. We hope that you can join us on October 27th at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel and Towers!

What ‘Back to the Future Part II’ got wrong (and right)

sharmaHappy Back to the Future Day! ISTC Senior Research Engineer B.K. Sharma is one of the University of Illinois researchers featured in a fun roundup of predictions made for this day by the feature film 26 years ago.


The movies predictions about alternative fuels from garbage were somewhat prescient. Sharma hasn’t come up with Mr. Fusion, but he makes gasoline from all types of wastes (grocery bags, prescription medicine bottles, milk cartons, straws, bottle caps, tires, old coffee grounds, algae, sewage sludge, manure and food waste).


The Cubs, predicted to win the World Series, on the other hand, are just hanging on.  See the whole article at https://illinois.edu/blog/view/6231/263585.

Celebrate Sustainability Week 2015, October 19-23

It’s Sustainability Week on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus, and several events are planned, including the official release of the 2015 Illinois Climate Action Plan, or ‘iCAP’ on Sustainability Day, Wednesday, October 21. There will be a reception at 1 PM in Illini Union Room A on the 21st, which will include updates from each of iSEE’s Sustainability Working Advisory Teams (SWATeams), details of the iCAP and updates on progress, and a discussion of how you can get involved in reducing campus greenhouse gas emissions. To attend this reception, register at https://illinois.edu/fb/sec/3510756.


Another highlight will be the Sustainability Day keynote event, from 5-7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 21 at the National Soybean Research Center (NSRC) Room 149. Award-winning filmmaker Shalini Kantayya will share her new feature documentary “Catching the Sun: The Race for the Clean Energy Future.” The film follows the lives of unemployed American workers training for jobs in the solar industry to expose some hard questions about creating a clean energy economy. A discussion will follow the screening.


The full list of Sustainability Week activities, including a campus tree walk, a tour of the Waste Transfer Station, and much more is available on the Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and Environment (iSEE) calendar.