20th Peter M. Wege Lecture: Expanding the Base for Climate Action and Social Justice

Feb 23, 2022 11 am CST
RSVP here.

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. 

Sponsors: The Wege Foundation; Center for Sustainable Systems; U-M Democracy and Debate; The Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, Janice Charach Gallery: Environmentally Speaking

Trend to watch in 2022: Greener packaging

Read the full story at The Food Institute.

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.

How silk is changing the future of food sustainability

Read the full story at BioMarket Insights.

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.

UD and LSU collaborate to advance manufacturing technologies that employ carbon dioxide and renewable energy

Read the full story from the University of Delaware.

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.

Ski resorts and climate change

Read the full story at JSTOR Daily.

The effects of climate change are already being felt by some ski resorts, but filling in the slopes with artificial snow may not be a good solution.

A 21st-century reinvention of the electric grid is crucial for solving the climate change crisis

Integrating solar panels with farming can provide partial shade for plants. Werner Slocum/NREL

by Charles F. Kutscher, University of Colorado Boulder and Jeffrey Logan, University of Colorado Boulder

In the summer of 1988, scientist James Hansen testified to 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 U.S. is headed in that direction. Early projections suggest the world just wrapped up a record year of renewable electricity growth in 2021, following a record 33,500 megawatts of solar and wind electricity installed in the U.S. in 2020, according to BloombergNEF data. Even faster growth is expected ahead, especially given the Biden administration’s plans to tap high-value offshore wind resources. But will it be fast enough?

The Biden administration’s goal is to have a carbon emissions-free grid by 2035. One recent study found that the U.S. will need to nearly triple its 2020 growth rate for the grid to be 80% powered by clean energy by 2030. (As difficult as that may sound, China reportedly installed 120,000 megawatts of wind and solar in 2020.)

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.

Wind turbines next to a road on a rugged ridge.
Pine Tree Wind Farm near Tehachapi, California, provides renewable power to Los Angeles. Dennis Schroeder/NREL

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.

Storage is now largely being provided by lithium-ion batteries. Their costs have plummeted, and new storage technologies are being developed.

Expanded transmission is especially valuable. When the Northeast is experiencing peak electric demand in the early evening, there is still sun in the West. And, with more transmission, the large wind resources in the center of the country can send electricity toward both coasts. Transmission studies have shown that stronger interconnections among the country’s three power grids are highly beneficial.

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.

Numerous options are being explored, including alternative battery technologies and green hydrogen.

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.

A man stands on a roof with solar panels and a community in the background.
Bishop Richard Howell stands near some of the 630 solar panels on the roof of his Minneapolis church. The community solar project provides clean energy to the community. AP Photo/Jim Mone

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%.

Charles F. Kutscher, Fellow and Senior Research Associate, Renewable & Sustainable Energy Institute, University of Colorado Boulder and Jeffrey Logan, Associate Director of Energy Policy and Analysis, Renewable & Sustainable Energy Institute, University of Colorado Boulder

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Beautycounter, HP, and Walmart are a step ahead in chemical management

Read the full story at GreenBiz.

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.

How the natural history of central Illinois could bring farms into the future

Read the full story from WGLT.

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.

Toyota wants to ‘refurbish’ cars like phones and make them like-new

Read the full story from CNET’s Road Show.

Toyota UK is in the early stages of a program that could see cars remanufactured two times after their first build.

A natural solution for the Northbrook Park District

Read the full story in Parks & Recreation Magazine.

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.