Presentations from the 2021 Behavior, Energy, and Climate Change Conference

Presentation slides and recordings from the 2021 Behavior, Energy, and Climate Change Conference are now available.

The call for presentation and poster abstracts for the 2022 conference, scheduled for November 13-16 in Washington, DC, is open through April 15, 2022. The theme of the conference is Engaging All Voices.

POLITICO 2022 Sustainability Summit

May 18, 2022, 9 am CDT (In-person in Washington DC and online)
Register here.

The transition to a sustainable future continues to gain momentum, after decades of delay on climate action, and has risen to the top of the agenda across government, politics and business. The sense that time could be running out is fueling an urgency to invest in environmental solutions across every sector from transforming the way food is grown, distributed, and consumed to getting more electric vehicles built and on the road; doubling down on tech and innovation; building resilient infrastructure; and advancing environmental justice and equity. What are the highest priority solutions that need to be identified and implemented? What bold steps will it require from Washington, business and at the grassroots level?

POLITICO will convene its second annual sustainability summit to discuss the policies, strategies and innovations that government, the corporate sector, and local communities are implementing to accelerate climate progress. We’ll bring together leading voices from Washington, local and state governments, civil society, and corporate America to discuss the most promising approaches that can leverage the current momentum to get us to a sustainable future much faster.

Webinar: Combined Heat and Power Industry Updates from a National Perspective

Apr 21, 2022, 11 am
Register here.

Join the Midwest Cogeneration Association (MCA) for a no-cost webinar as a distinguished panel provides a national perspective on the combined heat and power (CHP) industry, discussing federal policies impacting the industry, program highlights from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Manufacturing Office, and the energy goals and initiatives in the U.S. Army.

Featured panelists include: Katie Cullen, Partner, SC Partners LLC Anne Hampson, Technical Partnerships Program Manager, U.S. Department of Energy, Advanced Manufacturing Office Brad Gustafson, PE, LEED AP, Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army (IE&E Energy and Sustainability)

Apply for Argonne’s high performance computing resources and expertise to improve energy efficiency

High performance computing (HPC) can help manufacturers reduce their energy costs, cut their carbon footprint and accelerate the development of new energy-efficient materials and manufacturing processes. However, many companies do not have access to the supercomputers or expertise needed to run powerful simulations, artificial intelligence (AI) programs or machine learning (ML) algorithms on their own.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is stepping up to meet this need. Companies can apply to the HPC4EI program through regular calls for funding to engage the world-class computing resources and HPC experts at the DOE national laboratories. The program’s goal is to help companies use HPC to address critical manufacturing or materials challenges, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Ultimately, HPC4EI can help U.S. manufacturing become greener and more efficient. 

The HPC4EI program is now accepting applications for materials or manufacturing projects. U.S. companies can apply for up to $300,000 to fund work with DOE national laboratory scientists and access some of the world’s fastest supercomputers. The program is designed for companies with energy-focused projects that could uniquely benefit from HPC. Companies interested in pursuing projects that have the potential to yield significant improvements in energy efficiency or that support the development of new energy conversion and storage technologies are encouraged to apply.

DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory has helped many companies through the HPC4EI program. Argonne has aligned its computing expertise with researchers who develop advanced technologies for U.S. manufacturers. Some of the most successful HPC4EI projects pair industry partners with Argonne’s diverse experts in computing, manufacturing science, engineering, data analysis and advanced modeling to meet the companies’ materials or manufacturing goals. Examples of successful HPC4EI projects at Argonne include:

  • Working with Argonne’s engineers and supercomputers, 3M is using machine learning to optimize energy efficiency in the manufacturing of nonwoven materials. This can reduce both carbon emissions and production costs while maintaining product quality. 
  • Argonne has helped ArcelorMittal use HPC and ML to develop a new energy-efficient method for producing steel slabs. The new manufacturing process produced higher quality steel with less greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Raytheon Technologies Research Center is currently working with Argonne to develop a new ultrahigh temperature metal for use in the aerospace industry. They are using HPC to design and fabricate a strong, durable metal matrix composite strong enough to operate at the very high temperatures needed for the next generation of energy-efficient jet engines.
  • In one of the latest HPC4EI projects, Electric Power Research Institute, Inc., and the Shaw Group are using Argonne’s state-of-the-art simulation tools to model the optimal way to bend pipes using induction technology. This process aims to avoid cracking, enhance pipe quality and reduce the amount of energy used to manufacture pipes needed for energy production.

This year, the HPC4EI program is hoping to reach a wide range of companies interested in helping the U.S. move toward an equitable clean energy future. This could include companies who want to use HPC to craft new materials for carbon capture technology, develop more efficient energy storage methods, improve renewable energy technology or reduce emissions related to the production of energy-intensive materials, such as cement.

Companies that partner with Argonne through the HPC4EI program work with scientists in the Laboratory’s research divisions and with computer scientists at the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility (ALCF), a DOE Office of Science user facility. At ALCF, companies can access unique and powerful computing resources, including Argonne’s newest supercomputer, Polaris, and the ALCF AI Testbed.

The DOE published a Notice of Intent to open a funding opportunity for the HPC4EI program that will cover both materials and manufacturing projects. To learn more about the program and apply, register for an April 8 webinar or visit the HPC4EI website.

The HPC4EI program is sponsored by the Department of Energy’s Advanced Manufacturing Office (AMO) within the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) Office and the Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management (FECM).

This story was first published by Argonne National Laboratory. Read the original story.

Illinois advocates call for action after prison officials mislead on contaminated water

Read the full story in The Appeal.

Community members are condemning the Illinois Department of Corrections for housing people in unsafe conditions after Legionella bacteria was found in five state prisons last month, with some expressing concern that state officials have misled the public about the extent of the contamination. 

On March 11, IDOC and the Illinois Department of Public Health released a joint press release announcing that Legionella bacteria had been detected in two prisons—Stateville Correctional Center and Joliet Treatment Center. Legionella is the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease, a potentially fatal type of pneumonia.

But in response to The Appeal’s questions, an IDOC spokesperson confirmed that water in a total of five prisons had tested positive for Legionella in March. Lab reports provided to The Appeal show that test results for those facilities were returned between March 4 and March 11—all on or before the date of the press release. In addition to Stateville and Joliet, the bacteria was also found in Graham Correctional CenterKewanee Life Skills Re-Entry Center, and Stateville Northern Reception and Classification Center (Stateville NRC).

Microplastics on the move: Research projects detect microplastics in water and on land


by Lisa Sheppard, Prairie Research Institute

The mind-boggling amount of microplastics in the environment is becoming a greater concern as early studies suggest serious health effects from human exposure to the plastic particles. Taking these effects seriously, the United Nations recently endorsed a historic resolution to end global plastic pollution, including microplastics.

At the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC), researcher John Scott is studying microplastics in landfills, rural streams, and city drinking water to further understand where they are coming from and how they move in the environment.

Illinois landfills and microplastics

Since about 80 percent of all plastic waste is destined for landfills, they are a logical place to look for microplastics. Landfills that use plastic liners underneath the waste piles routinely pump out leachate, the waste “soup” that has drained into the liners. The leachate is sent to wastewater treatment plants, which are not designed to handle plastic waste.

As a result, plastic entering water treatment plants can end up either in the treated wastewater, where it is ultimately discharged to rivers or lakes, or in the sludge, called biosolids. Scott’s team has found that 99 percent of microplastics are in the biosolids, which are typically applied to agricultural lands as fertilizer. This means that microplastics taken from landfills are released back into the environment.

In this project, the researchers hypothesized that landfill leachate is the most significant source of microplastics taken to wastewater treatment plants. They compared the contribution of microplastics in leachate with other potential sources.

Although the study is still ongoing, the significance of this finding is that, although it is not feasible to treat the enormous amount of wastewater that comes into a treatment plant every day, treating the smaller amount of leachate may be an option.

“If our hypothesis is correct, then addressing plastic pollution in landfill leachate may be a more efficient and cost-effective way to reduce its environmental loading,” Scott said. “It’s better to treat the waste further upstream.”

The project has been funded by the Illinois Hazardous Research Fund.

Rural Iowa streams

ISTC is partnering with the University of Iowa and the U.S. Geological Survey in the first statewide assessment of microplastics and co-contaminants in rural Iowa streams. Most research studies to date have focused on microplastics in ocean habitats. In contrast, the research team sampled stream water, fish tissues, and rural sediments for this study. They also examined the samples for other contaminants, such as herbicides and insecticides, pharmaceuticals, and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

Some of the sediment samples have the highest concentrations of microplastics that they’ve ever seen, said Scott. With the methodology they designed in 2020, they can detect microplastics as small as 20 micrometers, while other researchers are limited to 100-micrometer sizes.

More microplastics appeared in the soil sediments than in the streams and fish tissues.

“Some of the concentrations of microplastics we found in samples were astronomical,” Scott said. “If concentrations for other contaminants approached that percentage level in the soil, it would raise an alarm. Microplastics may not be as toxic as other contaminants, but when there is this much stuff loading into out sediments, the concentrations will get worse over time.”

These findings support the theory that most of the microplastics that go to the wastewater treatment plants end up in biosolids and are released into soils in agricultural areas.

One objective of the study is to investigate the relationship of microplastics to sediments and other contaminants, such as PFAS. Microplastics can harbor exotic bacteria that are much different from that in the surrounding environment. Previous studies have shown that contaminants concentrate on these materials at hundreds of times the background levels.

In addition, studies have shown that microplastics as small as 20 micrometers can be taken up by plants.

“We don’t know if microplastics affect agricultural land, but if we load enough into our soils, it’s going to have some adverse effects, like trying to grow plants in plastic,” Scott said.

St. Louis city and county drinking water  

In a new three-year project, ISTC researchers’ role will be to investigate micro- and nano-plastics and other contaminants in surface waters, water treatment plants, and in tap water samples from residential households in St. Louis. Nanoplastics are particles that are even smaller than microplastics and are not visible to the naked eye or even under a simple optical microscope.

It is known that surface waters contain microplastics, but less is known about water distribution systems in the home and from water treatment facilities. Scott plans to trace microplastics found at water supply plants back to water distribution systems to determine if water softeners, dishwashers, and household plumbing can also be sources of microplastics.

Scott said he doesn’t expect to find microplastics originating from these sources, implying that in terms of microplastics, tap water is safer than bottled water, which contains large amounts of the plastic specks.  

These efforts will be part of a larger project to determine an impact baseline for those contaminants in St. Louis city and county water systems, to survey community members to obtain their perceptions of drinking water quality, and to provide hot-spot mapping and policy recommendations for clean water investments and regulations.

Findings from the project will be provided to local water utility companies to begin to address micro- and nanoplastics in city water systems. Project partners also hope to promote equitable investments in clean water infrastructure.

The project is funded by the Missouri Foundation for Health. ISTC’s partners are Mixte Communications, Waterkeeper Alliance, and LH Consulting.

Because roadways are suspected to be another major contributor to microplastics pollution, Scott will soon begin another project, this one focused on microplastics in Michigan lakes that are highly affected by road salt.

Media contact: John Scott, 217-333-8407,;

This story first appeared on the Prairie Research Institute News Blog. Read the original story.

Researchers battle tiny menace to craft beers

Read the full story at Great Lakes Echo.

“They do their work in darkness, in secret.”

No, Marisol Quintanilla wasn’t talking about a group of crime-fighting vigilantes, like Spiderman or Batman.

Rather, she’s talking about a group of supervillains she described as “ninjas” threatening to disrupt Michigan’s craft beer production.

Who are they — or, what are they? They’re nematodes, and they’ve been attacking hopyards throughout the state.

UBC prof creates social media hub to address climate and ecological crises

Read the full story in the Vancouver Sun.

Dr. Kai Chan has launched a website called CoSphere to help people connect with others and learn how to take action for a sustainable future.

The geopolitics of fossil fuels and renewables reshape the world

Read the full story at Nature.

To navigate the long road to net zero, energy researchers must grapple with the lessons of history.

Using nature’s structures in wooden buildings

Read the full story at MIT News.

MIT researchers aim to support the circular economy of materials by “upcycling” discarded tree forks and other waste materials.