Challenges of Carbon Utilization Have Regional Solutions

istc director kevin o'brien speaks at technology summit in San Antonio Texas

Advances in carbon utilization technology holds diverse options for job and economic development, according to ISTC Director Kevin O’Brien.

Emerging technologies for carbon dioxide (CO2) utilization present significant opportunities for job creation and economic growth, said Kevin O’Brien, director of the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC), a division of the Prairie Research Institute at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, in a presentation to the Eighth Carbon Dioxide Utilization Summit Feb. 22 in San Antonio, Texas.

 

But success in deriving those benefits from carbon utilization depends on the assets (economic and human) of each particular region, O’Brien emphasized to energy, chemical, plastics, and construction industry leaders at the conference.

 

Mature regional partnerships for workforce development, higher education, economic development, government support, and responsive research and development capabilities are some of the factors that contribute to development of a sustainable CO2 value chain.

 

O’Brien pointed to reasons why Illinois, where coal underlies nearly the entire state and remains a $2.5 billion annual industry, is seizing on every advantage it has to align with the potential of carbon utilization innovations.

 

  • Illinois research universities have leading programs in engineering, engineering geology, carbon capture, and other scientific innovation. One example is the use of CO2 as a fertilizer substitute at the University of Illinois. In a major agricultural state with nutrient loss problems and where the climate is expected to reduce carbon retention in soil, synergies abound.
  • College curricula, community colleges, economic development professionals, political leaders, and employers are already connected to existing supply chains.
  • The University of Illinois’ Prairie Research Institute, ISTC’s parent organization, has assembled decades-long reservoirs of valuable data on Illinois weather, regional climate, soil, groundwater, stream flow, and other factors that is relevant to an economic pivot toward carbon utilization.

 

On the research front, a Midwest Regional Approach to Carbon Utilization workshop is being planned for June 28 by co-organizers ISTC, the Gas Technology Institute, and the Advanced Coal and Energy Research Center of Southern Illinois University-Carbondale.

 

Other regions will have different assets and opportunities. For instance, carbon utilization will necessitate pipelines or another cost-effective transportation method for captured CO2. Markets with a track record for facilitating transportation will be ahead of the game, O’Brien said.

Electric Coops Seek Veterans for Skill Positions

Serve our co-op serve our country logoThe National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) has job openings and wants America’s veterans to apply.

 

The organization’s “Serve Our Coops/Serve Our Country” initiative has established a website to tap into the skills of armed forces veterans to join the energy sector.

 

Across the nation, 750 electric distribution cooperatives anticipate the need for 15,000 workers. They seek various skills for electrical and mechanical engineers; network administrators and specialists, cyber security IT specialists; marketing; accounting and finance; human resources; GIS supervisors and technicians; generation/transmission dispatchers; electric linemen and many others.

 

The program is focused on supporting member coops with work force education and training and to care for the veteran communities that live in suburban and rural areas.

 

Tiny Scavenger Proves Apex Predator in Oil Spill Clean Up

nano-carboscavenger particles are small

Two-layered Nano-CarboScavengers have properties to both clump oil spill sheen and disperse them for bacterial digestrion.

When there is an oil spill in a body of water, booms are used to contain it so the contamination can be collected. The aftermath still leaves a sheen of oil that response teams then attempt to keep from devastating the natural environment.

 

What do they do? They dump chemicals into the water which may be as bad environmentally as the oil.

 

Enter engineers and chemists from the University of Illinois College of Engineering and ISTC with a new tool to more truly eliminate the damage from oil spills. They have developed microscopic carbon particles they call Nano-CarboScavengers which work in two ways. They have the ability to attract oil and swell in size, creating visible clumps which can be scooped up. The tiny spheres also reduce the surface tension of polluted water, giving natural microorganisms a chance to digest petroleum compounds into harmless components.

 

Let’s hear it for the Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and Environment (iSEE) which showed confidence in Bioengineer Dipanjan Pan and the team to provide them with seed money to develop the idea in 2015. Now the work is published in Nature Publishing. iSEE’s website has the full story.

 

Illini Gadget Garage Spring 2017 Open Hours, Pop-up Clinics

The Illini Gadget Garage, a collaborative repair center on the UI campus where students, staff, faculty, and community members can receive assistance with troubleshooting and repair of their personally owned electronics and small appliances with electronic components, has established its schedule for the Spring 2017 semester.

 

The repair shop, located at 1833 S. Oak St. in Champaign (click here for a map), is open from noon to 4 PM on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and from 10 AM to 2 PM on Tuesdays and Thursdays. No appointment is necessary, but it is recommended that you fill out the online diagnostic form prior to stopping by. This will give staff the opportunity to do some research on your devices and the problem you’re experiencing ahead of time to make your one-on-one session more efficient.

 

Note that Illini Gadget Garage staff and volunteers do not repair items FOR you, but rather WITH you, guiding you through the process of determining the problem, necessary steps to address it, and providing tools to accomplish the repairs. In this way, consumers can become empowered to take action to extend the useful life of their products without the potentially intimidating task of attempting repair, or determining what parts are needed, where to go for help, etc. all on their own. Working with the Illini Gadget Garage can also eliminate the need for more technically savvy do-it-yourselfers to obtain tools they may only need to use one time.

 

If you can’t fit a trip to the Oak St. facility into your schedule, consider stopping by Tech Tuesdays on Tuesday evenings from 6-9 PM at the Undergraduate Library Media Commons. Illini Gadget Garage staff will be on hand for assistance with devices, and to provide information on the project, volunteer opportunities, and other opportunities for collaboration. If your group or department is interested in hosting a pop-up repair clinic in your building, please fill out the online form to express interest in hosting a clinic.

 

Illini Gadget Garage assistance is currently available free of charge, thanks to seed funding from the UI Student Sustainability Committee and other sponsors. Questions about services, open hours, and volunteer opportunities can be addressed to illinigadgetgarage@gmail.com. General questions about the project, educational collaboration, sponsorship opportunities and related issues can be addressed to Joy Scrogum at jscrogum@illinois.edu or 217-333-8948.

 

circuit board with open hours for repair center listed

ActGreen Summit Drives Sustainable Business Future

discussion during break out groups

ISTC Director Kevin O’Brien (second from the right) met with students studying economics, business, engineering and other fields during the ActGreen Green Business Summit Feb. 4.

 

ISTC Director Kevin C. O’Brien served on the keynote panel for ActGreen’s 3rd Annual Green Business Summit Saturday at the ACES Library.

 

ActGreen is a student leadership group at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign which prepares future business leaders to take environmental and sustainable values into their careers.

 

O’Brien told the summit participants that regardless of changes in political regimes, the importance of sustainable business ethics is here to stay.

 

“That train has left the station,” he said. “A sustainable business is more profitable and their products carry added value.”

 

Overwhelmingly the public has embraced the importance of sustainable business practices so that a successful brand must include sustainability at the core of their business planning, O’Brien said.

 

Other panelists during the summit were: Steven Rosenberg, founder and president of Green Purpose; Dave Wilms, owner of Advance Renewables, LLC, and moderator Cassie Carroll, program director at The Land Connection.

Emerging Contaminants in Our Aquatic Environments

pill bottle spilling out pills with one big pill colored with the pattern of earth's suface specifically north americaAmericans landfilled 136 million tons of material in 2014. Food, plastics, and in fact, most of what was landfilled could have been recycled or composted. Of particular concern is the more than four percent of waste classified as ‘other,’ which includes pharmaceuticals and personal-care products.

 

A recent article, “Pharmaceuticals and Other Chemicals Common in Landfill Waste,” brings light to the fact that rain water filtering through a landfill picks up chemicals and exits the landfill as ‘leachate.’ While treatment of the leachate and NPDES permitting is required, questions about how these chemicals affect the environment still remain.

 

The USGS sampled 19 landfill leachates before treatment and found 129 different pharmaceutical (prescription and non-prescription), household, and industrial chemicals. The three chemicals detected in 95 percent of the samples were bisphenol A (used in plastics, thermal paper, and epoxy resins; 4 parts per million), DEET (insect repellent; 250 parts per billion), and cotinine (transformation product of nicotine; 50 parts per billion).

 

In order to help address some of these questions and many more, ISTC is partnering with Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant (IISG) to host the “Emerging Contaminants in the Aquatic Environment Conference” on May 31 and June 1, 2017, in Champaign, IL. Conference registration will begin in mid-February. Topics will include research, policy, management, outreach, and education concerning emerging contaminant detection, fate, transport, remediation, prevention, or related areas.

 

Resources

EPA’s Safer Choice Label helps consumers make informed choices

saferchoice_rgbFinding products that are safer for you, your family, and the environment should be easy. That’s why EPA developed the new Safer Choice label. Products with the Safer Choice label help consumers and commercial buyers identify products with safer chemical ingredients, without sacrificing quality or performance.
 
More than 2,000 products currently qualify to carry the Safer Choice label. You can find products for your home at retail stores. You can also find products to use in facilities like schools, hotels, offices, and sports venues.
 
Participation in the Safer Choice program is voluntary. Companies that make products carrying the Safer Choice label have invested heavily in research and reformulation to ensure that their products meet the Safer Choice Standard. These companies are leaders in safer products and sustainability.
 
Products have to meet stringent criteria in order to earn the Safer Choice label. In addition to product ingredients, the program also considers product performance, pH, packaging and more to ensure that products with the label are safer for you and your family. Once a product meets the Safer Choice Standard, EPA conducts annual audits to ensure that they continue to do so.
 
You can search for products that meet the Safer Choice Standard here.

Tools for alternatives assessment

One way that manufacturers can reduce their environmental impact is by replacing a toxic or hazardous process chemical with a less hazardous or non-hazardous one. The following resources are useful when trying to identify less toxic alternatives.
 
SUBSPORT: Substitution Support Portal

SUBSPORT is a free-of-charge, multilingual platform for information exchange on alternative substances and technologies, as well as tools and guidance for substance evaluation and substitution management. It includes:

Program for Assisting the Replacement of Industrial Solvents (PARIS III)

PARIS III, developed by U.S. EPA, is a desktop/laptop application that allows users to find mixtures of solvents with specific physical and chemical properties that also have relatively low environmental impacts. The software helps users find replacements for solvent mixtures that are currently being used in industrial processes but have dangerous environmental side effects. The software can also be used to find solvents with lower environmental impact when designing new industrial processes, as well as more benign solvents that can be added to harmful solvents favored by industry to help reduce the harmful environmental impact of their processes.
 
CleanerSolutions Database

The CleanerSolutions Database, developed by the Toxics Use Reduction Institute, helps users select an alternative cleaner that meets their needs. The information is based on lab testing done by TURI. Use the tool to find a cleaner for a particular contaminant; replace a solvent; identify products based on safety and environmental criteria; and search by vendor information.
 
P2OASys Tool to Compare Materials

Sometimes changing chemicals or processes can have unintended environmental and health impacts. TURI’s P2OASys is an Excel based tool that allows companies to assess the potential environmental, worker, and public health impacts of alternative technologies aimed at reducing toxics use. The goal is more comprehensive and systematic thinking about the potential hazards posed by current and alternative processes identified during the TUR planning process. The tool can help companies:

  • Systematically examine the potential environmental and worker impacts of options, examining the total impacts of process changes, rather than simply those of chemical changes
  • Compare options with current processes based on quantitative and qualitative factors.

Chemical Hazard Assessment Database

The Interstate Chemicals Clearinghouse (IC2) Chemical Hazard Assessment Database enables users to search for GreenScreen® and Quick Chemical Assessment Tool (QCAT) assessments. The purpose of this tool is to promote awareness of assessments conducted on chemicals of high concern, facilitate transparency and discussion, and reduce duplication of effort. IC2 also has alternatives assessment resources, including a guide and links to other assessment materials.
 
Safer Chemical Ingredients List

The Safer Chemical Ingredients List (SCIL) is a list of chemical ingredients, arranged by functional-use class, that U.S. EPA’s Safer Choice Program has evaluated and determined to be safer than traditional chemical ingredients. This list is designed to help manufacturers find safer chemical alternatives that meet the criteria of the Safer Choice Program. Safer Choice also has other resources available for manufacturers.
 
Environmental, Health and Safety Data Resources

Although chemical manufacturers provide material safety data sheets with their chemicals, sometimes this information isn’t enough. TURI’s librarian created this guide to assist in researching environmental, health and safety information for chemicals.
 

Biobased Lubricants Improving, Gaining Favor in Natural Workzones

distilled bio-crude yields fractions which have lubricant properties

Senior Research Engineer B.K. Sharma displays a number of bio-crude fractions he uses to create replacements for petroleum lubricants.

 

Non-petroleum biobased machine lubricants are an increasingly important strategy for preventing pollution in environmentally sensitive work places, such as for forest, agricultural, and marine applications. The new book Environmentally Friendly and Biobased Lubricants by Brajendra K. Sharma and Girma Biresaw, published by CRC Press, focuses on innovations in this promising area.

 

Eco-friendly machine lubricants made from vegetable oil are a growing niche in the +$150 billion global lubricants industry. Biobased lubricants are preferred for machines used in total-loss applications (in which the lubrication oils are lost to the environment) because they are renewable, have low ecotoxicity, and are biodegradable when they enter the environment.

 

They possess good performance properties, such as having lower volatility, higher flash points, higher viscosity indexes, and better boundary lubricant properties, compared with petroleum lubricants, according to Sharma, a senior researcher at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center, a division of the Prairie Research Institute at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

 

The book surveys researchers’ growing success in producing designer molecules that reduce heat and minimize friction as well as or better than their petroleum-derived counterparts. Sharma and Biresaw, a research chemist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service in Peoria (ARS), have synthesized the broad body of current research in their book.

 

book: Environmentally Friendly and Biobased LubricantsBiobased lubricants are not likely to replace petroleum completely, Sharma said. Bio-lubricants today are scarcely one percent of the total market demand for lubricants, but their annual demand is growing at a rate of 16 percent per year, compared with the two percent annual demand growth for petroleum versions. “But in applications where lubricants are likely to be lost to the environment, these products are taking a firm hold in the marketplace,” he said.

 

Using heat and enzymes, researchers strip double bonds from molecules, add new elements, attach branches, or join two molecules together to mimic the properties of petroleum lubricants. They are now finding ways to overcome persistent weaknesses of bio-lubricants, including poor oxidative stability and poor low-temperature flow properties.

 

Some of the best results leading to commercial products are obtained from processing the fatty acids present in vegetable oils. Estolide lubricants developed at the Agricultural Research Service laboratory solve many of the negatives of raw vegetable oils—excellent lubricity, low-temperature performance, oxidative stability, and biodegradability. In addition to lubrication, estolides are being evaluated for use in food applications, cosmetics, cooling fluids, and inks.

 

Other naturally derived fatty acid compounds under study for lubricant applications include epoxidized oil, vegetable oil diesters, and isostearic acids, according to Sharma. The increasing interest in eco-friendly lubricants is also good news for farmers in the Midwest who grow the raw materials, he added.

 

Most studies have shown that canola oil will produce the best overall characteristics for bio-lubricants, but corn, soybean, and rapeseed oils are also widely used. Another biologic crop — sugar cane — is taking a far different path to lubrication. Amyris Inc. is commercializing its renewable hydrocarbon farnesene, made with cane sugar and a bioengineered yeast, to produce hydrocarbons for jet fuel, lubricants, and many other uses.

 

Sharma is currently designing renewable bio-additives to improve the performance characteristics of eco-friendly lubricants. Just as with petroleum lubricants, additives are blended to improve the lubricity, oxidative stability, friction, wear, and corrosion resistance of the base material.

 

Sharma’s latest patent is for a new molecule of fatty acid chemically modified with boron to produce an antiwear, antifriction additive for vegetable oil-based lubricants. As Sharma continues to build new shapes for plant-derived molecules in the laboratory, he said his goal is to develop a single additive that optimizes all the critical properties of sustainable and renewable lubricants.

Two new ISTC Fact Sheets now available

ISTC Case Study: Sustainability Certification Sustainable Green Printing Partnership (SGP): GFX International
GFX Printing, located in Grayslake, IL, produces large format graphics printed on a variety of media. GFX earned initial SGP certification in 2010 and was re-certified in 2012 and 2014. Since attaining their certification, GFX has reduced waste to landfill by setting reduction goals and evaluating waste streams for further reduction and recycling. They also reduced emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOC), hazardous air pollutants (HAP), and carbon dioxide. From 2008-2013, they reduced their landfill waste by 42%, hazardous waste by 32.7%, VOC emissions by 35%, and HAP emissions by 100%.

 

Save 50% Energy by Replacing Linear Fluorescent Lamps with LED Lamps
Lighting is a crucial component of the manufacturing process. It impacts worker productivity, product quality, and facility appearance. Lighting also comprises a significant portion of a facility’s energy costs and is frequently overlooked by maintenance and purchasing personnel. Old lamps are often replaces with new identical lamps without consideration being given to energy efficiency or cost. Today, LED (light emitting diode) technology is changing that practice. Burgeoning LED products offer a variety of energy-efficient alternatives for industrial applications. ISTC has identified a simple, quick-fix solution to a very common scenario of upgrading linear fluorescent lighting.