Sustainability and the US Army Corps of Engineers

The US Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) employs over 35,000 military and civilian engineers which provide engineering solutions in 130 countries.  Research to develop the latest and best engineering solutions in conducted in house at the ACE’s Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) which consists of 14 facilities across the nation including Alaska. Local to Champaign, IL, is the Construction Engineering Research Laboratory (CERL) which conducts research on military installations; contingency bases; sustainable ranges and lands; enhancing socio-cultural understanding in theater operations; and improving civil works facilities and infrastructure, to name a few. CERL also houses ERDC’s Center for the Advancement of Sustainability Innovations (CASI), which was started in 2006 to help ACE and the DoD (Department of Defense) become more sustainable.


front cover of the Sustainability-Related Publications Calender Years 2014-2015 publication by CASICASI recently released a document discussing 2014 and 2015 publications related to sustainability (Sustainability-Related Publications Calendar Years 2014 – 2015). The document groups the papers into nine categories (in order of appearance):

  • Anticipating Emerging Issues
  • Climate Change
  • Sustainable Installations — Net Zero Planning
  • Sustainable Energy Solutions
  • Sustainable Water & Waste Resources
  • Sustainable Facilities and Infrastructure
  • Sustainable Contingency Basing
  • Sustainable Natural Infrastructure
  • Green Remediation and Reuse

Each sections includes the authors, publication titles, if the publication is a draft, and a link to the publication (if it is available), abstract, and an image from the full publication.


Sources and More Reading

Toxics Reduction and Sustainability in Paper Manufacturing

Pulp and paper manufacturing companies usually are very resource-intensive and utilize large quantities of water and wood in their operations. In order to help them be more sustainable as well as reduce operational costs, the NY State Pollution Prevention Institute (NYSP2I) is leading a multi-agency effort working with four pulp and paper mills in New York’s Great Lakes watershed region that has resulted in toxic chemical reductions as well as improvements to energy and water usage at those companies.

The four-year program, titled “Toxics Reduction and Sustainability in Paper Manufacturing,” is part of a vast Great Lakes Restoration Initiative led by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and includes the efforts of many federal agencies.

The first of four case studies has recently been published.  The initial case study is about sustainability efforts at Finch Paper LLC which specializes in uncoated paper for digital and traditional printing markets. Finch Paper turned to NYSP2I for an analysis of two areas within their operations: ammonia recovery and heat recovery.  Other case studies from this program will be published soon and will be available on the NYSP2I case study website.

Sustainable Home Renovations

home renovationSummer and Renovations are like two peas in a pod, birds of a feather, or peanut butter and jelly.  They just seem to go together. Let’s take a look at a few sustainable options for home renovations.


Environment: Sustainably Sourced Materials

Sustainably sourced materials include those that are sourced locally or are made with renewable or recycled materials. One example is bamboo flooring; because of bamboo’s ability to grow quickly it is considered renewable. Another example is recycled glass or rock counter tops. Continue reading

Academic/Government Partners Work Toward the Next Level in Home Water Filtration


Nanoparticle Membrane Technology Investigated for Commercial Viability  

gold membrane for water filtration

Illustration of free-standing gold membrane with nanoparticles 6 nanometers in diameter and openings of 2 micrometers.

ISTC’s Nandakishore Rajagopalan and Wei Zheng are part of a team of experts from government and academia who are working to improve the filtration of household drinking water using new ultrathin nanoparticle-based membranes to remove trace organic contaminants (TrOCs).


The U.S. Department of Energy will fund the work through its Technology Commercialization Fund, which moves promising energy technologies developed by 12 national laboratories and their research partners to the marketplace. ISTC will assist in the testing the performance of prototype TrOCs filtration membrane devices which may be commercially viable for the home water filtration market. The primary investigator on the project is Xiao-Min Lin, a scientist at Argonne’s Center for Nanoscale Materials and at the James Franck Institute, University of Chicago.


Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Chicago developed the technology for the new membrane structure using gold nanoparticles which are strong and porous, and which can be ‘dialed’ to selectively trap different contaminants by engineering the ligand on the particle surface. A ligand is a molecule that binds to a central metal atom to form a complex that helps to protect the nanoparticle and introduce additional functionalities. Laboratory measurements have demonstrated the nanoparticle based membrane can selectively filter out molecules as small as 2 micrometers, yet has water permeability far higher than conventional polymer-based membranes.


For two years, scientists at Argonne, ISTC and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) of Greater Chicago have been conferring on the problem of removing TrOCs from potable water supplies. Such contaminants consist of hormones, pesticides, prescription medications, personal care products, synthetic industrial chemicals, and chemicals formed during wastewater and drinking-water treatment processes. Even at very low concentrations these molecules can negatively affect aquatic environments and are of concern for human health impacts.


“Modern wastewater treatment plants were not designed to remove such materials, especially at such low concentrations,” said Wei Zheng, a senior research scientist at ISTC.


The search has been ongoing for methods to remove TrOCs including biodegradation, photolysis, volatization, and sorption. “We hope a gold nanoparticle-based membrane approach will improve the sorption efficiency of TrOC removal at low pressure and low energy — at a cost that makes it widely available for home filtration,” he said.


“Deploying new clean energy technologies is an essential part of our nation’s effort to lead in the 21st century economy and in the fight against climate change,” said Lynn Orr, DOE’s Under Secretary for Science and Energy in announcing the grant. DOE’s Technology Commercialization Fund “will help to accelerate the commercialization of cutting-edge energy technologies developed in our national labs, making them more widely available to American consumers and businesses.”

Illini Gadget Garage Closing Physical Location for Renovations, Hosting Pop-Up Clinics

This post originally appeared on the Sustainable Electronics Initiative (SEI) Blog.


The Illini Gadget Garage, a collaborative repair center for student and staff owned electronic devices, will be closing its physical location (INHS Storage Building 3) for the summer on Monday, July 11, to allow for renovations associated with making the site compliant with ADA requirements. Renovations should be complete prior to the beginning of the Fall 2016 semester, and there will be a grand opening of the site at that time. Be sure to check the new Illini Gadget Garage web site, as well as its Twitter and Facebook accounts for details of the grand opening later in the summer.


We appreciate the ‘test pilots” who have come in this summer to work with us on their devices! To continue to serve the campus community during the renovation process, we will host pop-up clinics at various locations until the physical location is open for the public. Pop-up clinics will continue, even after the physical location is open, to make it more convenient for the campus community to practice sustainability through electronic product stewardship.


Two pop-up clinics are scheduled at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC; 1 Hazelwood Drive in Champaign), in the Stephen J. Warner Conference room:

  • Monday, July 11, from noon to 5 pm
  • Monday, July 18, from noon to 5 pm (Note: a Sustainable Electronics Campus Consortium meeting will occur in the conference room from 1:30-2:30 PM; feel free to come early or stay after the meeting to work on your devices!)

If you plan to come to either of these clinics, we suggest you fill out our online diagnostic form ahead of time. This will allow volunteers to do some preliminary research on the problem you’re facing, and make use of your one-on-one time more efficient.


If your department, residence hall, or student organization would like to host a pop-up repair clinic, please fill out the “Host a Pop-Up Clinic” form to express your interest. We’ll be in touch to work out the details.


Students, faculty, and staff with any degree of technical skill–including none whatsoever–are invited to sign up as Illini Gadget Garage volunteers. We want to empower everyone to feel comfortable with the idea of troubleshooting and repairing the electronics they own, to keep them in service longer and thus, out of the waste stream. Even if you’ve never fixed anything before, you can be part of our process of coming together to solve problems. We also could use help with marketing, social media, arranging pop-up clinics, developing educational programs, and other tasks, so if this project intrigues you, come be part of it! Stop by one of the pop-up clinics, or fill out our contact form and we’ll be in touch.

ISTC WatcH2O Program Provides Water Efficiency, Conservation Assistance

WatcH2O word mark

A considerable amount of energy is used to treat and deliver water on a daily basis. Due to the rising cost and impact of that process, ISTC has made a deep commitment to work with organizations in looking for ways to conserve resources and cut costs.


The Technical Assistance Program (TAP) at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) makes companies and communities more competitive and resilient with sustainable business practices, technologies, and solutions. TAP works at the intersection of industry, science and government to help clients achieve profitable, sustainable results. As a change agency, ISTC partners with clients to improve use of water by improving efficiencies in distribution systems, water consumption and wastewater generation.


TAP focused assessment provides a detailed picture of a site’s water use and consumption patterns. Engineers identify industry best practices, provide cost analysis, payback and environmental benefits. TAP has worked with clients across industry sectors to expose solutions to unnecessary water consumption and wastewater generation, often eliminating costly, recurring wastewater treatment facility surcharges or hazardous waste disposal charges.


ISTC’s technical assistance strategic focus areas for its WatcH20 Program include:


Water use assessments and audits

Commercial and Industrial building audits include a  water use assessment and fixture inventory to provide an evaluation that identifies efficiency priorities based on the shortest payback periods. Water usage habits and behaviors are also analyzed with recommendations provided to maximize conservation efforts.


Process specific analysis

ISTC conducts comprehensive analysis of process water including process mapping, metering, data collection, and calculating the full cost of water in the process. Alternative methods can be investigated along with economic analysis of potential changes.


Water purification, reclamation and reduction

ISTC research engineers are skilled at developing and applying the latest technologies to purify and reclaim water and water-based chemistry in a wide variety of industrial and sanitary applications. In addition, ISTC engineers have significant experience with the implementation of conservation technologies (conductivity controls, counter current rinsing, flow restrictors, etc.) for improving water usage.


Implementation strategies

Following thorough data collection and economic analysis, ISTC can construct implementation strategies for efficiency projects that have been ranked as the highest priority. Strategies seek to maximize impact while minimizing disruption.

wastewater treatment plant

WatcH20 can provide comprehensive wastewater evaluation and process recommendations to wastewater treatment plants. Benefits to POTWs include:

  • Reduced influent contaminants and loads
  • Reduced BOD, TSS, FOG, heavy metals, and slug loads
  • Improved wastewater treatment efficiencies
  • Increased plant capacity
  • Increased energy efficiency and energy savings

Recent Success–Health Service

Type of Assistance: Water Use Assessment and Recommendations



  • Collected usage data and created process map
  • Created water balance to match uses with supply
  • Calculated the full cost of processed water
  • Analyzed water efficiency opportunities for equipment upgrades
  • Provided full report with priorities identified including costs, payback periods, and water usage reduction.


For more successes and case studies, visit the ISTC web site. To schedule a free site visit from TAP engineers, go to


Illinois Composting Policy Forum July 11 in Chicago

IFSC Policy forum information


Seven Generations Ahead, the Illinois Environmental Council and the Illinois Food Scrap Coalition (IFSC) invite you to participate in an Illinois Composting Policy Forum on July 11, 2016 from 1 to 3 PM at the Ralph H. Metcalfe Federal Building in Chicago, IL. This will be the first in a series of four forums exploring the potential policy solutions proposed in IFSC’s 2015 report, Food Scrap Composting Challenges and Solutions in Illinois.


The forum will provide updates on the composting policy and infrastructure work of the IFSC and the Illinois Environmental Council. Attendees will learn about states that have a Universal Recycling Law and the impact of these laws, and will participate in a deep dive discussion of the impact such a law would have in Illinois.


Register online at this link. Funding for this free forum is provided by the Searle Funds of the Chicago Community Trust.


For questions about this forum, please contact

Drugs vs. Sharps Disposal: A safety issue


colored unlabeled pills spilling from an amber pill bottleMany people are now aware that they shouldn’t flush unwanted drugs down the toilet because those chemicals end up in waterways and pollute the environment. So what is the correct way to dispose of unwanted medicine?


unwanted drug disposal bin inside lobby of police station in Champaign ILThe U.S. EPA recommends that unwanted drugs including prescriptions, over-the-counter, and pet medicines be disposed of though a one-day or permanent take-back program. These take-back programs are typically at local police stations or pharmacies. If and only if it is absolutely not feasible to take the unwanted drugs to a collection site, then the medicines should be mixed with kitty litter or coffee grounds, sealed in a water proof container, and placed in the trash. These safe disposal methods also reduce incidences of accidental poisonings in children, elderly, and pets and reduce drug abuse.



sharps: needles, syringes, injection pens, etc...While the majority of drugs are taken by pill, some require injection which leaves behind needles and syringes, called sharps. Sharps have special disposal requirements because once they have touched a person’s blood they are then considered biohazardous materials and can be vectors for the spread of certain diseases. Because of this risk, sharps are not allowed in household recycling bins or in the take-back program bins or at household hazardous waste collection sites. Residents are allowed to place sharps in ridged plastic containers sealed with duct tape with the words “do not recycle” on the outside and then place the containers into the trash. But this method is not the safest for the environment or for landfill employees. The best method recommended by the U.S. EPA is to find a sharps collection site (typically at hospitals) or use a mail-back program.


certified sharps disposal containersOnce the drugs and sharps are collected by their designated collectors, they are securely transported to a special medical incinerator that is designed to handle these types of waste streams with specialized equipment to prevent environmental pollution.


More Reading

Zero Waste in Champaign County Illinois

Are you spring cleaning? Do you have old motor oil? What about all that craft supplies you never got around to making anything with? The Champaign-Urbana area offers more than just standard curbside recycling options. So don’t wait for the one day collections, many places take household hazardous waste and unwanted medicines year-round. Check out the wide selection of options for all your unwanted consumer items on the City of Urbana’s web page: “Where Do I Recycle It?” or on City of Champaign’s web page: “Where Do I Recycle It?” You can learn more about recycling in Illinois via the Illinois EPA’s 2010 report: “Waste and Recycling in Illinois: Illinois communities cope with waste in different ways” and their webpage: “Waste Management.”


Have a business and want to start a zero waste program?

Learn more about how ISTC’s team of professionals might help your organization approach zero waste by visiting our website to view our recent success stories. Then, sign up for a free site visit. There is no obligation on your part to work with us beyond the free initial visit, and that first conversation may reveal opportunities to achieve greater sustainability within your organization.


Have questions? Contact us at


Zero Waste Illinois logo

Illinois Teachers Prepare for Lessons on Impact of Drugs in Environment

Proper disposal of unwanted prescription drugs and other common chemicals is important because of their ability to alter living things when introduced into lakes and streams.

Proper disposal of unwanted prescription drugs and other common chemicals is important because of their ability to alter living things when introduced into lakes and streams.

School teachers from across Illinois attended a workshop at the Illinois Sustainable technology Center June 15-16 to help them develop curricula about the risks of improper disposal of pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) and the impacts of these emerging contaminants on the environment.


The training was conducted with the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant College Program as part of a grant by the University of Illinois Extension to help raise awareness about the importance of proper disposal of unwanted prescription drugs and other common chemicals because of their ability to alter living things when introduced into lakes and streams.


According to Rebecca Wattleworth, a veteran teacher at Decatur’s Warrensburg-Latham High School, students and their families will benefit from these messages in their science classes. “When they come into my classroom they often do not realize the impact they have on the environment with their everyday activities,” she said. “They think when they throw it away, litter, etc. (that) it is just gone. Out of sight, out of mind.”


Wattleworth said she enrolled in the PPCP teacher workshop so she is prepared to show her students that their actions have consequences. “I want my students to learn that their everyday activities will have an impact in some way on the environment and that they need to be making better/safer choices for both the environment and us!”


Geoffrey Freymuth, a science teacher at Jefferson Middle School in Champaign, is attending the workshop to develop activities for his science enrichment class, as well as for the school’s student Green Team. “It has been my experience that students can have a great impact on the behaviors of their families and their habits,” he said. “I would like my students to be able to set up and design a local campaign on the issue or even find a way to test/evaluate local waters etc.,” he added.


Joni White, a science instructor at Urbana High School said “As an environmental science teacher, I am well aware that this is an often overlooked problem that seriously impacts the environment. I am eager to learn more about what is being done about it so that I can communicate its importance to my students.” She added “From a personal perspective, I am also a veterinarian and well aware of the medical field issue of pharmaceuticals ending up in the water supply.”


In an experiment designed for teachers to use in their classrooms, the workshop participants measured the effect of increasing concentrations of common PPCPs on growth of lettuce sprouts. The compounds used were Aspirin, road salt, and Epsom salt.

In an experiment designed for teachers to use in their classrooms, the workshop participants measured the effect of increasing concentrations of common PPCPs on growth of lettuce sprouts. The compounds used were Aspirin, road salt (MgCl2), and Epsom salt (MgSO4).

Each year, unwanted medications account for accidental poisonings and drug abuse and for environmental problems. The workshops will help this information about PPCPs become a part of each school’s curriculum, according to Nancy Holm, ISTC assistant director. “There are a number of sources of PPCPs to the environment but reducing as much improper disposal as possible is a step in the right direction.”


Recent studies reflect the growing concern about how these compounds enter the aquatic environment and their effects on wildlife.


  • Salmon in Puget Sound (Seattle) were found to be contaminated with antidepressants, pain killers, anti-inflammatants, fungicides, antiseptics, anticoagulants, and antibiotics. A total of 81 PPCP chemicals from nicotine and caffeine to OxyContin and cocaine.



  • Research by ISTC was among the first to confirm that the common antiseptic, Triclosan, was causing antibiotic resistance among bacteria in lakes and streams.


“This is a threat to public health and also the health of our ecosystems that every family has a direct role in preventing,” Holm added. “By providing this information to teachers they can then present this information to hundreds of students each year who can work to spread the word in their communities.”