Join us for an engaging conversation about climate action and social justice with Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson. A marine biologist, policy expert, writer, and Brooklyn native, Johnson is the co-founder of Urban Ocean Lab, a think tank for coastal cities, as well as co-creator of the Spotify/Gimlet podcast, ‘How to Save a Planet,’ which focuses on climate solutions. The event will be moderated by SEAS assistant professor Sara Hughes and will include a live Q&A with students.
As consumers become more focused on environmental issues, one company is betting $600 million that paper can become the new plastic.
Graphic Packaging Holding Co. is launching a plant in Kalamazoo, Michigan, to recycle cardboard into paperboard suitable for packaging, reported The Wall Street Journal (Jan. 2). With customers including Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Kellogg Co., and General Mills, Graphic thinks it can use the $600 million project to substantially improve environmental efforts.
Silk reinvention at the laboratory scale focuses on a variety of applications – in the form of drug delivery devices, biocompatible optics, as a biodegradable substrate, and more. Currently, silk’s use has also been investigated in relation to the food supply chain both as a crop booster and a food protective coating. The use of these silk coatings has immense potential to reduce food waste, which is a significant component of the global carbon footprint. As concerns of food wastage keep rising, researchers from the Tufts University in Massachusetts recently hailed silk fibroin-based edible coatings as a potential solution. The latest paper in Applied Physics Reviews outlines how silk’s “versatile” properties present possibilities for the food supply chain both as a crop booster and a food protective coating.
Traditional chemical manufacturing relies on non-renewable fossil energy sources for power and raw materials. A more sustainable option gaining steam is the use of electrolyzers, devices that instead use electricity to convert raw materials like carbon dioxide (CO2) into useful molecules for chemicals and products.
One hurdle that keeps promising CO2 electrolyzer technologies in academic laboratories rather than being scaled for industrial use — where they could make a dent in our carbon dioxide emission problem — is that the critical materials needed for the job, including membranes and catalysts, aren’t yet durable or efficient enough to operate over long periods of time.
University of Delaware engineers Feng Jiao, Yushan Yan and Koffi Pierre Yao and colleagues at Louisiana State University (LSU) are collaborating to overcome these challenges.
The work is funded through a $4 million grant from the National Science Foundation’s Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (NSF EPSCoR) program. A total $1.9 million of the funding was awarded directly to UD.
In the summer of 1988, scientist James Hansen testifiedto Congress that carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels was dangerously warming the planet. Scientific meetings were held, voluminous reports were written, and national pledges were made, but because fossil fuels were comparatively cheap, little concrete action was taken to reduce carbon emissions.
Then, beginning around 2009, first wind turbines and then solar photovoltaic panels decreased enough in cost to become competitive in electricity markets. More installations resulted in more “learning curve” cost reductions – the decrease in cost with every doubling of deployment. Since 2009, the prices of wind and solar power have decreased by an astonishing 72% and 90%, respectively, and they are now the cheapest electricity sources – although some challenges still exist.
With the planet facing increasingly intense heat waves, drought, wildfires and storms, a path to tackle the climate crisis became clear: Transition the electric grid to carbon-free wind and solar and convert most other fossil fuel users in transportation, buildings and industry to electricity.
The foundation of this transition is a dramatic change in the electric grid itself.
3 ways to bring wind and solar into the grid
Hailed as the greatest invention of the 20th century, our now-aging grid was based on fundamental concepts that made sense at the time it was developed. The original foundation was a combination of “base load” coal plants that operated 24 hours a day and large-scale hydropower.
Beginning in 1958, these were augmented by nuclear power plants, which have operated nearly continuously to pay off their large capital investments. Unlike coal and nuclear, solar and wind are variable; they provide power only when the sun and wind are available.
Converting to a 21st-century grid that is increasingly based on variable resources requires a completely new way of thinking. New sources of flexibility – the ability to keep supply and demand in balance over all time scales – are essential to enable this transition.
There are basically three ways to accommodate the variability of wind and solar energy: use storage, deploy generation in a coordinated fashion across a wide area of the country along with more transmission, and manage electricity demand to better match the supply. These are all sources of flexibility.
Making buildings more efficient and controlling their demand can also play a big role in cleaning up the grid. Buildings use 74% of U.S. electricity. Interconnected devices and equipment with smart meters can reduce and reshape a building’s power use.
Innovations that make 100% clean power possible
Many analysts believe the U.S. can cost-effectively and reliably operate a power grid with 80% to 90% clean electricity, but decarbonizing the last 10% to 20% will be notably more challenging. While short-duration storage, lasting four hours or less, is becoming ubiquitous, we will likely need to provide power during some periods when wind and solar resources are at low levels (what the Germans call dunkelflaute, or “dark doldrums”). An expanded national transmission network will help, but some amount of long-duration storage will likely be needed.
Flow batteries are among the promising approaches that we are working on at the Renewable and Sustainable Energy Institute at the University of Colorado. In a typical design, liquid electrolyte flows between two storage tanks separated by a membrane. The tanks can be scaled up in size corresponding to the desired storage duration.
Green hydrogen is a potential storage option for very long durations. It is produced by splitting water molecules with an electrolyzer powered by renewable electricity. The hydrogen can be stored underground (or in above-ground tanks) and either burned in combustion turbines or converted back to electricity in fuel cells. Green hydrogen is currently very expensive but is expected to become more affordable as the cost of electrolyzers decreases.
In addition, new business, market design and grid operator models are emerging. Community solar gardens, for example, allow homeowners to purchase locally produced solar electricity even if their own roofs are not suitable for solar panels. Microgrids are another business model becoming common on campuses and complexes that produce electricity locally and can continue to operate if the grid goes down. Clean microgrids are powered by renewable energy and batteries.
Innovative market designs include time-of-use rates that encourage electricity use, such as for charging electric vehicles, when renewable electricity is plentiful. Expanded balancing area coordination draws on variable solar and wind resources from a wide region to provide a smoother overall supply. Improved grid operations include advanced forecasting of wind and solar to minimize wasted power and reduce the need for costly standby reserves. Dynamic line rating allows grid operators to transmit more electricity through existing lines when favorable weather conditions permit.
Across the economy, greater attention to energy efficiency can enable power sector transformation, minimizing costs and improving reliability.
Nuclear power is also essentially carbon-free, and keeping existing nuclear plants running can make the transition to renewables easier. However, new nuclear plants in the U.S. are very expensive to build, have long construction times and may prove too costly to operate in a manner that would help firm variable solar and wind.
In our view, the urgency of climate change demands an all-out effort to address it. Having a 2035 emissions goal is important, but the emissions reduction path the U.S. takes to reach that goal is critical. The No. 1 need is to minimize adding carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. The world already has the tools to get the grid 80% to 90% carbon-free, and technical experts are exploring a wide range of promising options for achieving that last 10% to 20%.
Companies embarking on the Chemical Footprint journey follow a similar trajectory: they develop their management strategy for moving beyond regulatory compliance to safer alternatives; they inventory their chemicals, create restricted substances lists (RSLs), assess their footprint, and last publicly disclose their actions.
The Savanna Institute manages a commercial-scale demonstration farm in Allerton Park that features rows of hardwood timber with alleys of annual row-crop rotation, as well as pawpaw, persimmon, and northern pecan planting to expand genetic diversity.
It is not often that park and recreation agencies bring two multimillion-dollar capital projects to fruition in the same decade, let alone the same year.
The Northbrook Park District, located in Northbrook, Illinois, experienced this perfect storm in 2021 with the construction of Techny Prairie Activity Center, as well as course renovations and a new clubhouse at Heritage Oaks Golf Club.
Through a Comprehensive Master Plan process conducted in 2016, several priorities for investment were identified based on community input, inventory and analysis comparisons to state and national standards, demographics and financial capabilities. This process launched an initiative called New Places to Play.
Both projects were designed using sustainable practices, upholding the park district’s overall mission to enhance the community by providing outstanding services, parks and facilities through environmental, social and financial stewardship.