EPA officials update Bridgeton leaders, activists on cleanup delays, newly found radioactivity

Read the full story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Residents and officials emerged frustrated and concerned Wednesday after hearing details about newly discovered areas of contamination in West Lake Landfill and further delays to clean up the Superfund site that contains World War II-era nuclear waste.

The Environmental Protection Agency met with Bridgeton’s mayor, local activists and staff for area congressional representatives. The meeting let EPA officials share findings about additional areas where waste has been found, discuss ongoing testing for radioactivity and also to answer questions about the site’s long-awaited cleanup.

Pilsen kids ask EPA head to protect them from ‘massive amounts of pollutants in … air we breathe’

Read the full story in the Chicago Sun-Times.

Saying they can’t take any more air pollution in Pilsen because it’s making them sick, a group of six children hand delivered a letter to the top environmental official in Chicago Wednesday asking her to promise to conduct a comprehensive health study of the community before any new government approvals for a longtime scrap-metal operation is allowed.

Debra Shore, the regional administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, agreed to briefly meet the children and discuss their concern about Sims Metal Management, a polluting business that is seeking multiple government operating approvals after being found to violate air pollution laws.

Shore said she’d meet with additional community representatives and discuss the study idea with other government officials but stopped short of guaranteeing such a health analysis would be done. Sims shreds and transports large amounts of metal, including scrapped cars, emitting tons of chemicals and other contaminants into the air annually. The limits are required to be controlled so they don’t harm the public. 

Facebook failed to label over 50% of posts from top climate deniers

Read the full story from Treehugger.

How seriously does Facebook take its climate commitments? 

The company, now known as Meta, has reached net-zero greenhouse gas emissions for its global operations and says its supply chain will be net-zero by 2030. Yet a new report from watchdog group the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) finds that its platforms are still emitting unfiltered climate denial. 

“At a very simple level, Facebook is falling short of its promises to label and tackle climate disinformation,” CCDH Chief Executive Officer Imran Ahmed tells Treehugger. 

Chile’s science transformation gains steam with new president

Read the full story in Nature.

The liberal Gabriel Boric campaigned on a promise to invest in research and fight climate change, and has given scientists prominent positions in his administration.

Red-state voters want clean energy too — just look at Nebraska

Read the full story at GreenBiz.

Nebraska turned more than a few heads recently when public officials there adopted net-zero carbon goals across the electricity sector. After all, clean energy has often been framed as a partisan issue, and solidly Republican Nebraska looks nothing like most of the other states that have staked out timelines for clean power, such as New York, California and Washington State.

But the fact is that renewable energy enjoys support among voters across the political spectrum — even if those voters offer different reasons for their support. Polling has long shown that Americans overwhelmingly favor wind and solar development, and a majority of Republicans support expanding both wind energy and solar farms. Whereas Democratic support is primarily driven by climate concerns, Republican support is driven more by economic benefits, according to a 2020 study.

Crown Estate upgrades offshore database

Read the full story at ReNews.

The Crown Estate has upgraded its online Marine Data Exchange (MDE), a database of offshore renewables survey data, research and evidence.

The free-to-access online database now includes over 2300 survey campaigns collated from feasibility through to decommissioning studies across the offshore wind, marine aggregates and wave and tidal sectors.

Summit Carbon Solutions announces strategic investment from Continental Resources to create largest of its kind carbon capture and sequestration project

Read the company news release.

Today, Summit Carbon Solutions announces a strategic investment from Continental Resources, Inc. (NYSE: CLR) to create the largest carbon capture and sequestration project of its kind in the world.

Continental Resources will commit $250 million over the next two years to help fund the development and construction of the project’s associated capture, transportation, and sequestration infrastructure, while also leveraging its operational and geologic expertise to help ensure the safe and secure storage of CO2.

Summit Carbon Solutions will primarily capture CO2 from ethanol plants and other industrial sources in Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. The CO2 will be aggregated and transported to North Dakota via pipeline, where it will be safely and permanently sequestered in extensively researched subsurface geologic formations.

Exposure to airborne PCBs an ongoing challenge, expert says

Read the full story in Environmental Factor.

Approaches for studying airborne exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) — and helping communities reduce such exposure — were discussed by Iowa Superfund Research Program (ISRP) Director Keri Hornbuckle, Ph.D., during her Feb. 4 Keystone Science Lecture. The NIEHS-funded program is housed at the University of Iowa.

PCBs are a large group of chemicals that persist in the environment. They have been associated with conditions such as diabetes, liver toxicity, skin ailments, and immune, neurological, and respiratory issues. The substances can be found in products ranging from adhesives and paints to insulation and electrical equipment. Although the chemicals were banned in the U.S. in 1979, potentially harmful exposure to PCBs is an ongoing concern, according to Hornbuckle.

Nature is trialing transparent peer review — the early results are encouraging

Read the full story in Nature.

Last year, nearly half of Nature authors agreed to publish anonymous referee reports. We hope that more will consider doing so this year.

Engineers study biochar to fertilize crops, manage manure odors, reduce greenhouse gases

Scientists Chumki Banik, left, and Santanu Bakshi show how biochar can be used to extract nutrients from livestock manure. Bakshi is pouring a simulated manure sample into a column of biochar, demonstrating how a biochar-based bioreactor system would separate, capture and process phosphorus for use in slow-release fertilizer pellets. Photo by Christopher Gannon.

Heat up stalks, stems, leaves or wood in a reactor with little or no oxygen (in a process called pyrolysis) and you get bio-oil for fuel and biochar for fertilizer.

There’s always a market and a value for the liquid energy.

But efforts to study, develop and market the black powder as a fertilizer weren’t adding a lot of value to biochar – at least until there’s a carbon market that will pay a premium for the charcoal’s ability to store carbon.

Robert C. Brown

Iowa State University’s Robert C. Brown and his collaborators thought there might be some new ideas and applications that could make biochar a more valuable and useful product, thus enhancing the economics of biorenewables.

So, a few years ago – with nearly $1.5 million from the Biomass Research and Development Initiative, a joint program of the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Energy – they began using biochar to capture phosphorus from livestock manure and create a slow-release crop fertilizer.

A new, three-year, $1 million, competitive grant from the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative of the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture will allow them to build on that biochar project.

The researchers say their latest project could one day provide “ecosystem services” such as reductions in manure odors, greenhouse gas emissions and fertilizer runoff to waterways.

“This new grant gives us opportunities to specifically study animal agriculture for ways to valorize biochar even further,” said Brown, an Iowa State Anson Marston Distinguished Professor in Engineering, the Gary and Donna Hoover Chair in Mechanical Engineering, the director of Iowa State’s Bioeconomy Institute and the leader of the latest biochar research project.

Biochar as a manure manager

Santanu Bakshi, an environmental research scientist at the Bioeconomy Institute, has spent about a dozen years studying biochar, everything from doctoral student efforts at the University of Florida to remove copper from the soils of citrus groves to Iowa State efforts to make phosphorus stick – adsorb – to the surface of biochar.

There’s a trick to the latter: Santanu found that pretreating biomass with iron sulfate, an inexpensive byproduct of steel production, modifies the surface of biochar, which has a mostly negative-charged surface, to adsorb, rather than repel, negatively charged molecules such as phosphorus. That biochar-phosphorus combination ended up creating a slow-release fertilizer.

“When we found biochar was useful to trap phosphorus, we thought it would be useful for recycling nutrients from animal manure,” Bakshi said.

The new project will continue to develop biochar technology for capturing phosphorus. It will also develop technology that uses a naturally occurring mineral called zeolite (which attracts positively charged molecules) to capture nitrogen. The two nutrients would then be processed into solid, slow-release fertilizer pellets.

The research team (see sidebar for the full team) will start in the laboratory. Next year, with the help of an industrial-scale pyrolyzer now under construction just west of Des Moines, they’ll have enough biochar for laboratory, farm and field studies.

Bakshi said the goal is to develop an automated bioreactor system. Manure would move through a series of biochar and zeolite chambers that separate, capture and process the nutrients. The resulting biochar and zeolite would then be made into pellets and applied to fields rather than raw manure with its potential for odor, transportation, runoff and greenhouse gas emission problems.

That switch could have big environmental impacts.

“The United States Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 15% of the greenhouse gas emissions are associated with animal manure management in the United States agricultural sector,” the researchers wrote in a project summary. “Hence, it is critical to develop enhanced nutrient management strategies to boost nutrient use efficiency in crop production, improve water quality, and reduce odorous and greenhouse gas emissions.”

Advanced manufacturing for biorenewables

The new project will start with biochar supplied by Iowa State’s existing pyrolysis pilot plant at the BioCentury Research Farm west of Ames.

Iowa State’s pilot plant – developed, in part, as part of RAPID, the country’s 10th Manufacturing USA Institute, supported by the U.S. Department of Energy and led by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers – tests the autothermal pyrolysis process developed at Iowa State.

The autothermal process adds a small amount of air to normally oxygen-free pyrolysis. That partially burns some of the biomass being processed and creates some heat for the reactor, dramatically increasing the rate that biomass can be converted to bio-oil and biochar.

One of the RAPID project’s industry partners, Stine Seed Co. of Adel, is working with Frontline BioEnergy of Nevada to build an industrial autothermal pyrolyzer plant based on Iowa State’s technology. It would also test the idea that small, efficient biorefineries could process local biomass, saving the cost and trouble of transporting large amounts of biomass to big biorefineries.

The Stine plant in Redfield will process 50 tons of biomass per day and create 10 tons of biochar per day; Iowa State’s pilot plant can process about a half ton of biomass per day.

“We’re looking forward to scaling up our technology in the Stine pyrolyzer,” Brown said. “That’s important because so much of our work has been done at the lab scale and with small pilot plant studies.”

But those studies have led to big ideas for the bioeconomy such as finding ways to provide ecosystem services in addition to biorenewable products. As a summary of the Bioeconomy Institute’s work says, “Biorenewable feedstocks are produced from an ecosystem that needs to be conserved and renewed in order to ensure future production capacity.”

The original story appeared at Iowa State University News. Read the original story.