Carbon: Humanity’s Home Hides Hazards

VenusCH4bMethane (CH4) is 30 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2.


Today, The Washington Post’s story on mysterious craters forming in Siberia reports that the phenomenon might be evidence of methane escaping from melting permafrost.


Last year, the journal Nature reported on research that the amount of methane in the atmosphere from lakes and freshwater sediments worldwide increases several times for each degree that the Earth’s temperature rises.


Computer models show the sensitivity of methane hydrate deposits in the ocean to be released into the atmosphere as the ocean warms. There is no agreement how much methane is down there, but it is many gigatons.


Skeptics can deny that Earth, and even Venus, are vulnerable to runaway greenhouse effects. But the news from Siberia must have all climate scientists pausing.

New book cautions against the use of invasive biomass crops

Bioenergy and Biological Invasions CoverAcross the globe, efforts are being made to find sustainable, renewable, and economically-viable sources of energy. Here in the U.S., Congress passed a mandate in 2007 (the Renewable Fuel Standard, or RFS) that requires refiners to blend an increasing quantity of biomass-derived ethanol into gasoline. The RFS stipulated that corn-based ethanol would be capped at a certain level, while fuels from so-called “advanced” biomass feedstocks would take up the slack. These feedstocks are desirable because, unlike corn, they do not compete with our national food supply and can be grown with fewer agricultural inputs on degraded land.


A number of advanced feedstocks have been trialed in the U.S., and several have been shown to produce extremely large biomass yields. However, it has been pointed out that the traits of an idealized biomass feedstock (e.g., fast growth, large biomass, ability to grow on poor-quality land) are similar to traits of invasive plant species. A new book, co-edited and co-authored by ISTC Technical Editor Lauren Quinn, explores the issue of invasiveness in bioenergy feedstocks.


Bioenergy and Biological Invasions provides in-depth coverage of the biology, ecology, and risk assessment of invasive plants, focusing on those that have been identified as potential bioenergy sources: large perennial grasses, algae, short-rotation woody crops, and others. The book also examines federal and state policies pertaining to invasive plants and bioenergy crops, and considers methods to mitigate the risks of invasion by novel feedstocks.


One of the mitigation solutions proposed in the book is the sustainable harvest of existing invasive plant populations as a source of biochar or a source of biomass for combustion or conversion to fuel products. The ISTC is a leading force in research and development of biochar as a soil amendment and for carbon sequestration, and our researchers are currently investigating novel feedstocks as sources of biochar.


The idea of harvesting existing invasive plant populations for biomass is relevant to a current collaboration between ISTC and the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) to test the energy applications of switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) and other plants harvested from roadways. Although it is native to much of the U.S., the jury is still out on the invasion potential of switchgrass. However, ISTC researchers collaborating with IDOT have determined that switchgrass pelletized for combustion is an economical method of maximizing the energy present in this plant. In addition, alternative energy applications of switchgrass are being investigated through ISTC funding. Researchers from Eastern Illinois University, supported by an ISTC grant, performed an exploratory study on the potential for switchgrass pellets to produce syn-gas, reporting that switchgrass pellets were successfully co-gasified with wood chips in a 50/50 mix.


Biomass-based bioenergy offers one potentially sustainable way to move beyond fossil fuels, as discussed in the book and as illustrated by the innovative ISTC research highlighted here. However, as the biomass market scales up, it will be increasingly important to avoid introducing invasive species, to avoid replacing one problem with another.

Researcher Spotlight: Joy Scrogum

photo of Joy ScrogumJoy Scrogum has been a sustainability professional for over 13 years, with ISTC’s public engagement and technical assistance programs. Joy has provided support for the Great Lakes Regional Pollution Prevention Roundtable (GLRPPR) since 2001, particularly in the development and maintenance of online resource compilations (Topic Hubs and Sector Resources) on a wide variety of sustainability issues. GLRPPR is a US EPA-funded regional center in the national Pollution Prevention Resource Exchange (P2Rx) network. Joy also played a key role in Greening Schools, a joint project between the IL EPA and ISTC which focused on making K-12 facilities & curricula more sustainable.


Joy’s most recent work with ISTC has centered around the Sustainable Electronics Initiative (SEI), for which she serves as coordinator. SEI is dedicated to the development and implementation of a more sustainable system for designing, producing, using, and managing electronic devices. She managed SEI’s International Sustainable Electronics Competition for college and university students; coordinates consortium meetings on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus related to sustainable electronics research, education, and operations; and taught a class in collaboration with the UI Technology Entrepreneur Center in the College of Engineering (ENG/TE 498: Sustainable Technology: Environmental and Social Impacts of Innovations) which used electronic products as the framework for discussion. Joy also currently works on Zero Waste Illinois projects.


With a MS in Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Joy says her education has prepared her for the complex considerations associated with sustainability. “It may seem strange for someone with a background in wildlife ecology to be talking about design and end-of-life management related to electronics, but I think that ecological perspective is exactly what’s needed. Whether you’re talking about the life cycle of an organism or a product, you have to consider interactions with the larger system when it comes to sustainable solutions. It’s useful to think of products, services—any human activity—in the context of the ecosystem which is constantly impacting, and being impacted by, us. Helping students develop that sort of worldview, regardless of their field of study, is my favorite part of my job. I feel education for sustainability is a critical part of the University’s role in today’s society.”


Joy’s other duties include writing grant proposals and reports, blog posts, and fact sheets; contributing to social media campaigns; project development; and presenting at professional and public events such as the Naturally Illinois Expo. She also enjoys reviewing applications for the annual Illinois Governor’s Sustainability Awards Program, the oldest continuously running environmental awards program in the US. She is a member of the International Society of Sustainability Professionals, the Reuse Alliance, and the Illinois Food Scrap Coalition.


Connect with Joy on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Zero is the Favorite Number for Waste Fighter


Bart Bartels calls the shots at the Fighting Illini’s Zero Waste football game during Homecoming.

ISTC’s Bart Bartels has joined the Purchasing, Waste, and Recycling  SWATeam at the U of I. It is one of six SWATeams (Sustainability Working Advisory Teams) helping evaluate the university’s progress since the 2010 Illinois Climate Action Plan (iCAP). Their work will be important for the formulation of the next iCAP later this year.


As Sustainability Outreach Specialist at ISTC, Bart has helped organize zero-waste events on campus. The next one will be the Naturally Illinois EXPO  (with something for all K-12 students) sponsored by the Prairie Research Institute. Bart also is the driving force behind the Illinois Green Office Challenge.


He has also worked as Zero Waste Coordinator within campus Facilities & Services and Campus Sustainability Manager at Grand Valley State University (MI). The SWATeams will be important to the successful updating of the iCAP this year by the Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and Environment.

ISGS Seminar: Sustainable Business Serves the ‘Triple’ Bottom Line


Kevin O’Brien

ISTC Director Kevin O’Brien will deliver the Illinois State Geological Survey Seminar at 11 a.m. Monday, Feb. 23 on “Using Sustainability to Drive Economic Growth.” The seminar will be held in Rm. 101, Natural Resources Building at the U of I at Urbana-Champaign.



The Triple Bottom Line

The Illinois Sustainable Technology Center  has a long history of helping businesses save money, water, energy, and helping them anticipate and meet regulatory requirements.


That is a model of sustainable action that accounts for future generations’ needs while optimizing the goals of today. O’Brien, Ph.D., brings two decades of business experience from early-stage venture organizations to Fortune 500 corporations. He will discuss the utility and performance of a sustainability framework that embraces three fundamentals — People, Planet, and Profits.

No Need to Don a Gas Mask for Spring Cleaning

arm-hammer-baking-soda-454-grSpring cleaning is a happy tradition of opening every window and scrubbing the home down before bugs have opened their compound eyes.


You have a choice in the compounds you use for spring cleaning. Expensive commercial cleaning products allow you to fill your home with ammonia, alkyl ammonium chlorides, cationic and anionic solutions, chlorine, cresol, hydrochloric acid, isopropanol, lye, naphtha, nitrobenzene, oxalic acid, perchloroethylene, petroleum distillates, phenol, sodium bisulfate, sodium hypochlorite, and sulfuric acid.


For a lot less money, you can do the jobs with vinegar, baking soda, salt, and lemon juice, ISTC staffers Joy Scrogum and Laura Barnes remind us in a Tuesday story in The Daily Illini.


There we find that the University of Massachusetts Lowell Toxics Use Reduction Institute is a nice source of information about greening your spring cleaning.


The Cleveland Clinic has a checklist of hazardous ingredients you might find on your shelves.


The latest ISTC Report offers a cautionary tale of how one common cleaning chemical additive operates on the environment downstream of your drain.

Sustainability Series Explores Recent Trends in Reuse and Recycling









ISTC’s Spring Sustainability Series, commemorating the Center’s 30th anniversary year, deals with new developments in the original green practice, practiced for thousands of years, recycling.


The series opens at noon, Thursday, Feb. 12 and continues for four more Thursday noon hours through the semester. The live presentations will take place at 1 E. Hazelwood Dr. in Champaign, IL. Each will also be available by webcast at the listed websites.


Feb. 12, “How Sustainable is Information Technology? Trends, Challenges, and Opportunities,” Eric Masanet, Morris E. Fine Junior Professor in Materials and Manufacturing and Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Chemical and Biological Engineering, McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, Northwestern University.


March 12, “Building a Local Circular Economy in Chicago,” John Mulrow – Interim Executive Director, Plant Chicago.


April 2, “Bioprocessing of Microbial Biomass: Enabling Sustainable Zero-Discharge Seafood Production,” David E. Brune, Professor of Bioprocess and Bioenergy Engineering, Division of Food Sciences and Bioengineering, University of Missouri at Columbia.


April 9, “Rubbery Shrubbery: Should We Use Rubber Mulch in Our Landscapes?” Linda Chalker-Scott, Extension Horticulturist, Puyallup Research and Extension Center, Washington State University.


April 30, “Zero Waste Illinois,” Shantanu Pai, Waste Research Specialist, Illinois Sustainable Technology Center.


Following each event, the recorded presentation will be available at For more information about the individual seminars, visit



Celebrate Spring @ Naturally Illinois Expo

2015NatIllExpoVertAttention parents and teachers! The Naturally Illinois Expo is just a few short months away! The 2015 Expo will be held on Friday, April 17 & Saturday, April 18 at the Forbes Natural History Building and next door at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center. Stop by and see over 50 scientific exhibits!   Popular with younger students for years, the 2015 Expo exhibits will be designed with elementary and high school students in mind. Teachers and group leaders can register for the Expo at It will be a good place for high schoolers to explore careers in environmental and natural sciences.

Noon Extension Seminars Explore Planning for Climate Change

GAMEBOARDThe U of I Extension Webinar series begins tomorrow, Tuesday, Jan. 13, on the theme of “Planning for Climate Change.”

Don Fullerton, Gutgsell Professor of Finance and Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the U of I, will lead off the series with a discussion of how the “U.S. Clean Power Plan Provides Opportunity for Significant Cuts in Budget Deficits.”

The fall ISTC seminar series is now also viewable on-line at sustainability_seminars.cfm dealing with Sustainability Planning and Climate Change.

Together they promise a valuable resource for groups and organizations of all sizes to engineer society’s pivot toward a carbon-limited future.

Register for tomorrow’s Extension webinar at:
More highlights:
Tuesday, Feb. 17, Edith Makra, The Metropolitan Mayors Caucus, “The Greenest Region Compact.”
Tuesday, March 10, Andy Robinson and Todd Rusk, Smart Energy Design Assistance Center, “Case Studies in Municipal Energy Conservation.”
Tuesday, April 14, Eliana Brown and Lisa Merrifield, IL-IN SeaGrant, “Green Infrastructure and Stormwater Management.”

ISTC will announce its Spring Semester Sustainability Series shortly.

Previous ISTC sustainability planning webinars are available on-line:

Upcoming Food Waste Training & Toolkit Piloting Opportunities

Several upcoming training opportunities are available for those interested in zero waste, specifically the reduction of waste in food service operations.


The US EPA Sustainable Materials Management (SMM) program will present a webinar on January 15, 2015, entitled “Food Waste Reduction Alliance, a Unique Industry Collaboration.” The webinar will take place from 12:00 to 1:30 PM CST. Online registration is available.


As defined by EPA, sustainable materials management (SMM) is “a systemic approach to using and reusing materials more productively over their entire lifecycles. It represents a change in how our society thinks about the use of natural resources and environmental protection. By examining how materials are used throughout their lifecycle, an SMM approach seeks to:

  • Use materials in the most productive way with an emphasis on using less;
  • Reduce toxic chemicals and environmental impacts throughout the material life cycle;
  • Assure we have sufficient resources to meet today’s needs and those of the future.”

The Food Waste Reduction Alliance (FWRA) is a collaborative project of the Grocery Manufacturers Association (representing food and beverage companies), the Food Marketing Institute (representing food retailers), and the National Restaurant Association (representing the food service industry), working to reduce food waste generation, increase food donations to the needy, and to divert unavoidable food waste from landfills through recycling.


In addition to the webinar overview of the FWRA, there will be a series of free webinars to guide users through the waste assessment and reduction process presented in the Reducing Wasted Food & Packaging Toolkit (available at All are welcome to participate. The schedule for that series is below. Click on a webinar title to register online.


US EPA Region 9 is also inviting food service facilities (restaurants, cafeterias, grocers, and other commercial and institutional kitchens) in California, Nevada, Arizona, Hawaii and the Pacific Islands to pilot the toolkit. Along with the free webinar series, pilot participants are offered one-on-one technical assistance from an EPA team member; the opportunity to participate in peer groups to troubleshoot the tracking process; the chance to present in future EPA webinars; and the ability to jumpstart or enhance participation in the EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge. Learn more about the opportunity to pilot the Reducing Wasted Food & Packaging Toolkit at


Questions can be directed to Amanda Hong at Thanks to Amanda for sharing information on these opportunities.