Chicago’s air pollution hotspots: New sensor network reveals neighborhood air quality disparities

Read the full story at MuckRock.

This investigation, “Chicago’s Air Pollution Hotspots,” is a collaboration between the Chicago Sun-Times, WBEZ, the Cicero Independiente and MuckRock, with support from Columbia University’s Brown Institute for Media Innovation. Reporting by Smarth Gupta, Dillon Bergin, María Inés Zamudio, Charmaine Runes and Brett Chase. Derek Kravitz of MuckRock, Dave Newbart of the Sun-Times and Matt Kiefer of WBEZ edited.

When Irma Morales moved to Little Village nearly three decades ago, she vividly remembers the thin layer of dust blanketing the ground. The single mother of five lived about a mile from a coal plant.

“When I walked outside, my shoes would be covered with dust,” Morales said in Spanish.

Morales joined the 12-year community-led effort to close the Crawford Power Plant.

“We shut them down,” said Morales, adding she was diagnosed with a brain tumor during the campaign. “But for what? So they can bring more diesel trucks?”

The plant closed in 2012 and was replaced by a 1 million-square-foot Target warehouse bringing an estimated hundreds of trucks per day to the neighborhood. Morales and other protesters tried to stop the development.

Even the building process polluted the neighborhood. A botched implosion of a 378-foot smokestack from the old coal plant left her neighborhood blanketed in dust in April 2020.

“Why are you selling … [our health] to the highest bidder?” Morales asked of city officials, saying her neighborhood is basically a “sacrifice zone” for industry.

Indeed, in one of the most wide-scale surveys of air quality in Chicago, some stretches of this mostly Mexican community were found to have the highest pollution levels in the city, along with portions of Austin, Englewood, Auburn Gresham, Irving Park and Avondale that see heavy traffic or are near industrial areas, an analysis of readings from newly-installed air sensors show.

The data is supplied by Microsoft, which consulted with the city and community groups before installing 115 of the sensors mostly on CTA bus shelters last summer, and has been collecting readings from them every five minutes over the past 10 months.

Even with more than 100 sensors, it’s not nearly enough to cover the entire city and that inhibits a complete analysis of pollution for large swaths of the Southeast and Far South sides — areas long known to have poor air quality. Still, the data provide some of the most extensive hyperlocal measurements of air quality in Chicago, specifically in the high-pollution months of July through October 2021.

This story is part of a months-long reporting collaboration, “Chicago’s Air Pollution Hotspots,” on Chicago’s air quality by the Chicago Sun-TimesWBEZ and MuckRock.

Biden Administration issues RFI for initiative to boost deployment and cut costs of long duration energy storage

The Biden Administration through the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) today issued a Request for Information (RFI) seeking public input on the structure of a $505 million long duration energy storage initiative to increase the availability of and deliver affordable, reliable clean electricity. The new Long Duration Energy Storage for Everyone, Everywhere Initiative, created by President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, will advance energy storage systems toward widespread commercial deployment by lowering the costs and increasing the duration of energy storage resources. Cheaper, longer energy storage can increase local control of the power system, build resilience for communities, minimize power grid disruptions, and help reach President Biden’s goal of 100% clean electricity by 2035.

Shorter duration storage is currently being installed to support today’s increasing amount of renewable energy generation and electrification. With help from the historic investments from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, more renewables will be deployed on the grid and building and vehicle electrification will continue to rise. Longer duration storage technologies are needed as the nation must increases access and availability of renewable energy sources. Long duration energy storage – defined as systems that can store energy for more than 10 hours at a time – would support a low-cost, reliable, carbon-free electric grid. Cheaper and more efficient storage will make it easier to capture and store clean energy for use when energy generation is unavailable or lower than demand.

The initiative, administered through DOE’s new Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations, will work to overcome these challenges and achieve the cost goal by investing approximately $505 million over four years to validate grid-scale long duration energy storage technologies and enhance the capabilities of customers and communities to integrate grid storage more effectively. DOE will implement three energy storage demonstration programs:

  • Demonstration: The Demo program will prepare a cohort of promising technologies for utility-scale demonstration, which might not otherwise proceed given potential technology investment risks, through lab, behind-the-meter, or campus demonstrations. Specifically, these field demonstrations are intended at the scale of 100 kilowatt (kW) or less and have already been proven at lab-scale.
  • Validation: The Demo Projects will enable first-of-a-kind technologies at utility scale by mitigating risk during the final technical validation point before wider deployment, the steepest portion of the commercialization curve. Large long duration storage demonstrations in this program will need to be able to provide at least 10 hours of rated power and undergo enough third-party testing/ validation to substantiate a pathway to meeting the target of a levelized cost of storage of $0.05/kWh.
  • Piloting: The Pilot Grants program will address institutional barriers to technology adoption in the marketplace. Such barriers can be easier to resolve when a technology has been installed, operated, de-risked, and shown to provide benefit to users, communities, or the power system. Few entities have the financial capability to invest in such a pilot. Pilot grants will mitigate this barrier by enabling greater storage investment by eligible entities which include state energy offices, Tribal Nations, higher education, utilities, and energy storage companies.

Under the overall Long Duration Energy Storage Initiative, DOE is also collaborating with the U.S. Department of Defense for long duration storage demonstrations on government facilities.

DOE’s Ongoing Commitment to Long Duration Energy Storage

DOE’s Long Duration Storage Shot, launched in July 2021, sets a target of achieving a levelized cost of energy storage of $0.05/kWh, a 90% reduction from a 2020 baseline costs by 2030. This cost reduction will make dispatchable clean energy available through long duration energy storage the most cost-effective choice for electricity customers. To meet this target, a wide range of energy storage technologies, including electrochemical, mechanical, thermal, flexible generation, flexible buildings, and power electronics, will need to be considered, well beyond the traditional lithium-ion batteries.

In March, DOE’s Energy Storage for Social Equity Initiative selected 14 communities to receive technical assistance to leverage energy storage as a means of increasing resilience and long-term affordability.

These programs will prioritize projects that leverage a secure domestic supply chain and support the creation of good-paying union jobs. Consistent with the Biden Administration’s Justice40 Initiative, this initiative supports the goal that 40% of the benefits from climate investments flow to disadvantaged communities. 

The goal of the RFI released today is to solicit feedback from a wide range of stakeholders on DOE’s implementation strategy and eligibility requirements. Comments must be received by 5:00 p.m. EDT on June 16, 2022, and can be submitted by emailing

public webinar will be held to provide additional information.

Scientists develop environmentally safe, frost-resistant coatings

Read the full story from the University of Illinois Chicago.

Airports are busy, especially during the winter. As passengers wait to board, delays get longer when airplanes need to be dowsed with thousands of gallons of deicing fluids that help them fight the frigid winter. But as soon as the plane takes off, most of the liquid is gone from the surface of the aircraft and ends up polluting freshwater streams and lakes.

In an endeavor to make a more efficient product immune to ice for such demanding industries and consumers, Sushant Anand, UIC assistant professor of mechanical engineering, and Rukmava Chatterjee, a UIC Ph.D. student, have developed a longer-lasting alternative to conventional deicers. They say it could also benefit other industries.

A botanical mystery solved, after 146 years

Read the full story at Atlas Obscura.

How a young illustrator’s attention to detail—and a determined Victorian woman’s legacy—led to the discovery of a new species in an old painting.

A new brick building in Manhattan is made of 577,367 pounds of recycled waste

Read the full story from Fast Company.

Bricks in The West’s facade were made from industrial and construction waste—the first time this product has been used in the U.S.

As reusable takeout container systems expand, logistics questions abound

Read the full story at Waste Dive.

The pandemic threw startups for a loop, but many are still seeing strong demand. Now, companies and restaurants may have to balance brand identity with uniformity.

Del Monte Foods doubles down on upcycled foods by reusing pineapple juice

Read the full story at Food Dive.

UPDATE: April 20, 2022: Del Monte Foods said its Del Monte Gut Love and Boost Me Fruit Infusions have been declared Upcycled Certified by the Upcycled Food Association, the latest of the company’s offerings to receive the designation.

The canned fruit and vegetable company estimated the products will redirect about 130,000 pounds of pineapple juice each year, helping to provide nutritious and affordable food while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The liquid comes from pineapple used in Gut Love, Boost Me and other products.

Del Monte Foods has announced what it said is the industry’s first canned vegetable product to be certified by the Upcycled Food Association under its new upcycled certification program.

The company’s Blue Lake Petite Cut and Blue Lake Farmhouse Cut Green Beans are made with 100% upcycled and sustainably grown green beans from Wisconsin and Illinois. Both products have been on the market for years. Del Monte said it is looking into reflecting the new certification on future cans.

Del Monte is among countless other companies in the CPG space looking to curtail product waste and find new ways to use foods that would otherwise be thrown out as the issue becomes more important to shoppers.

Neil – a second grader from Minnesota – is concerned about solar panel recycling

Read the full story at pv magazine.

While Neil’s concerns are warranted, there are reasons to be hopeful that we will be able to responsibly and profitably manage solar panel recycling as the volumes scale.

Equity Guide for Green Stormwater Infrastructure Practitioners

The Equity Guide for Green Stormwater Infrastructure Practitioners is a comprehensive guide to advancing and measuring equity within public sector stormwater management organizations’ green stormwater infrastructure policies, programs, and projects. It offers an action and evaluation roadmap that defines:

  1. the industry’s shared long-term equity goals,
  2. best practices that will move the needle, and
  3. sample metrics that help track progress toward those goals over time. It also offers a variety of tools to support practitioners in customizing community-informed Equity Work Plans and Evaluation Plans to local contexts.

Powderhorn Lake Connectivity Project

Powderhorn Lake is part of one of the few remaining examples of the dune and swale topography – sandy ridges interspersed with water pockets – that once characterized the Calumet Region along the south shore of Lake Michigan. The area is home to 100 bird species, 250 plant species and 2,500 insect species. In addition to reconnecting water flow to Lake Michigan, this project will allow fish passage between the lakes, install water control structures to help prevent future community flooding, and increase hemi-marsh habitat. This work aligns with the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative objective of protecting and restoring communities of native aquatic and terrestrial species important to the Great Lakes.