In a study of crayfish in the Current River in southeastern Missouri, researchers discovered – almost by chance – that the virile crayfish, Faxonius virilis, was interbreeding with a native crayfish, potentially altering the native’s genetics, life history and ecology. Reported in the journal Aquatic Invasions, the study highlights the difficulty of detecting some of the consequences of biological invasions, the researchers say.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has announced $45 million in funding for 12 projects to advance point-source carbon capture and storage technologies that can capture at least 95% of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions generated from natural gas power and industrial facilities that produce commodities like cement and steel. These research and development, front-end engineering design and engineering-scale projects are a part of DOE’s efforts to deploy a portfolio of innovative solutions to help achieve the Biden-Harris Administration’s goals of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and a 100% clean electricity sector by 2035.
Point-source carbon capture seeks to stop carbon dioxide emissions from entering the atmosphere by filtering out CO2 and other harmful gases from a power plant or industrial facility. Once deployed at a commercial scale, carbon capture can help create jobs in economically distressed power plant and industrial communities. This DOE investment puts the nation one step closer to responsible demonstration and commercialization of this technology, leading to large dollar investments in communities surrounding these facilities.
These 12 projects were selected by DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management (FECM) and fit under three areas of interest: (1) carbon capture research and development, (2) engineering-scale testing of carbon capture technologies and (3) engineering design studies for carbon capture systems. DOE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) will manage the selected projects:
Sustainable Energy Solutions, Inc. (Orem, UT) will design, build and operate a carbon capture process that will scale the system capacity to 30 tonnes of CO2 per day for the first time and demonstrate CO2 capture of more than 95% from the flue gas stream. This project will be housed at the Eagle Materials/Central Plains Cement Sugar Creek Plant in Sugar Creek, Missouri. Award amount: $4,999,875.
University of Kentucky Research Foundation (Lexington, KY) will test an innovative CO2 capture system with four new transformative techniques, treating evolved gas from an electric arc furnace. This project will be housed at Nucor Steel Gallatin Plant, in Ghent, Kentucky. Award amount: $4,999,965.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) (Champaign, IL) will implement an engineering design study for retrofitting an existing cement manufacturing facility, Holcim’s Ste. Genevieve Cement Plant in Bloomsdale, Missouri, using CO2 capture technology with the ability to achieve 95% capture from flue gas. Award amount: $3,999,585.
Wood Environmental & Infrastructure Solutions (Blue Bell, PA) will complete an engineering design study for CO2 capture for the commercially-operated Shell Chemicals Complex in Deer Park, Texas, that will reduce its CO2 emissions by 95% using a post-combustion technology to capture CO2 from several plants, including an on-site natural gas combined heat and power plant. Award amount: $4,000,000.
Calpine Texas CCUS Holdings, LLC (Houston, TX) will conduct an engineering design study on a commercial-scale, second-generation carbon capture system to capture 95% of total CO2 emissions from the natural gas combined cycle (NGCC) co-generation facility, Calpine Deer Park Energy Center, in Deer Park, Texas, and applying a technology previously tested at commercial scale for CO2 capture from coal flue gas streams. Award amount: $4,791,966.
General Electric Company, GE Research (Niskayuna, NY) will develop a design to capture 95% of CO2 from NGCC flue gas with the potential to reduce electricity costs by at least 15%. Award amount: $1,499,992.
SRI International (Menlo Park, CA) will design, build and test a technology that can capture CO2 at 95% or better efficiency to demonstrate progress toward a 20% cost reduction compared with current performance of an NGCC plant with carbon capture. Award amount: $1,499,759.
CORMETECH, Inc. (Charlotte, NC) will further develop, optimize and test a new, lower cost technology to capture CO2 from NGCC plant flue gas, which will enhance scalability to large NGCC plants. Award amount: $2,500,000.
TDA Research, Inc. (Wheat Ridge, CO) will build and test a transformational post-combustion capture process using simulated NGCC flue gas that will demonstrate improved performance while meeting DOE capture targets. Award amount: $2,500,000.
University of Kentucky Research Foundation (Lexington, KY) will address technical challenges from low CO2 and high oxygen concentrations in NGCC flue gas, along with a high CO2 capture efficiency, through a process resulting in negative CO2 emissions and lower costs. Award amount: $2,452,268.
ION Clean Energy (Boulder, CO) will perform an engineering design study for a carbon capture system that will be retrofitted onto the existing Calpine Delta Energy Center (DEC), in Pittsburg, California, to capture 95% of the CO2 emissions for geologic storage in the nearby Sacramento Basin. Award amount: $5,811,210.
GE Gas Power (Schenectady, NY) will complete an engineering design study to incorporate a 95% commercial carbon capture solution into an existing NGCC site that will provide advanced operability, lower costs and high efficiency, and will also be scalable to other commercial sites. Award amount: $5,771,670.
“These projects demonstrate Colorado’s leadership in advancing innovative solutions to climate change while sustaining high quality jobs,” said U.S. Senator Michael Bennet (CO). “Climate change is an urgent crisis that demands an all-of-the-above approach. Investing in carbon capture will advance technological solutions, bring costs down, and cut emissions in order to prevent the worst effects of climate change.”
A detailed list of the selected projects and their associated areas of interest can be found here.
FECM funds research, development, demonstration and deployment projects to decarbonize power generation and industrial sources, to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and to mitigate the environmental impacts of fossil fuel use. To learn more, visit the FECM website, sign up for FECM news announcements and visit the NETL website.
Water Survey researchers are exploring ways to simulate the interactions between groundwater and surface water by combining existing modeling technology, including investigating how groundwater elevations change in response to storm events and subsequent river rises. Groundwaters and surface waters are intimately connected and impacts on one will affect the other (e.g., contaminated groundwater seeping into river flow). Understanding these interactions will enable the Water Survey to better support management of the state’s natural water resources.
“There are some areas that bear close monitoring, including areas where irrigation is increasing over confined aquifers, including the Green River lowlands and the eastern part of the Mahomet aquifer in East Central Illinois,” said Allan Jones, an ISWS hydrogeologist.
The ISWS groundwater team is collaborating with the Imperial Valley Water Authority and local communities to help them better understand their water usage and the demands on the local aquifer.
“In particular, irrigation pumpage in Mason County is extensive, peaking at nearly 1 billion gallons per day during the summer irrigation season,” said Jones.
However, long-term aquifer records indicate that such extensive pumping does not leave a permanent impact on the groundwater (e.g., a gradual loss of water volume over time). The current explanation for the lack of persistent influence from irrigation is that the shallow Mahomet aquifer is rapidly recharged during annual rain events.
“Our current research suggests that water may also be entering the Mahomet aquifer from the Illinois River, especially during regional precipitation events when river water levels are elevated,” said Jones. “These contributions of water from the Illinois River may act to buffer the Mahomet aquifer’s water storage against the regular irrigation demands.”
However, Jones notes that these contributions to groundwater from the Illinois River introduce new challenges.
“The water from the Illinois River can cause a flow inversion in the groundwater that causes groundwater to stagnate or flow back into the aquifer rather than toward the river as usual in this system,” said Jones. “Furthermore, this can impact the transport of nutrients and influence chemical reactions to occur that may not normally occur through the groundwater and may induce a lag time before flow into the rivers.”
The ISWS groundwater team is working to improve groundwater models of near-stream dynamics of environmental contaminants. ISWS researchers are working to speed up groundwater flow models by streamlining model architectures to couple them with dynamic river stage models. In addition, combining watershed-scale models and groundwater flow models will help to better capture the simulation of broadly distributed contaminants, such as nitrate.
The Water Survey also helps communicate research to the public to better identify water supply planning priorities. ISWS researchers regularly meet with water users, managers, and planners at the state, regional, and local levels.
“Our efforts continue to evaluate community risk for regional growth scenarios and improve understanding of how water users influence supply risk and uncertainty,” said Jones.
Walt Kelly, Illinois State Water Survey (ISWS) groundwater geochemist, answered questions about the findings of his recent study on radium levels in groundwater of the St. Peter Sandstone aquifer, with a study area in north-central Illinois. Radium levels are above the drinking water standard in many community water supply wells open to the aquifer.
What was the purpose of this study?
This study was part of a larger study undertaken to evaluate water supplies in the Middle Illinois Region. We were interested in what the water quality of the major aquifers was, and what the water chemistry could tell us about the evolution of groundwater in the deep aquifers.
Who was the report intended for?
The report was primarily for the scientific community, especially those interested in radioactivity in sandstone aquifers. But it was also intended for those communities and industries that use these aquifers, to help them understand and manage their water quality.
Why is it important to study radium in groundwater?
Drinking or cooking with water that contains too much radium can pose a hazard to human health. Drinking water is required to have no more than 5 picocuries per liter of radium. Being a radioactive element, it can also give us clues about what reactions are occurring within the aquifers and between them.
What are the environmental factors that affect the levels of radium in groundwater, particularly for north-central Illinois?
Radium is formed as uranium and thorium in the rock decay radioactively. There are many factors that can affect whether the radium remains in the water or is removed to solid phases, including the rock and water chemical characteristics.
What role do uranium and thorium play in the water levels of radium?
They are the “parents” of radium. They are formed as the uranium and thorium, which are found in the rocks, decay. The radium further decays, eventually forming non-radioactive lead. One form of radium also decays to radon, a carcinogenic gas. The more uranium and thorium in the rock, the more potential for radium and radon to be found in the groundwater.
What were the major results from the water sampling and analysis?
It’s been known for a long time that there are elevated radium levels in these aquifers. Our work has helped us understand the sources and transport of radium in this enormously complex hydrogeological and geochemical system. One thing we have been able to do is track the movement of Pleistocene meltwater into the aquifers and learn how they have mixed with brines and affected radium and uranium.
Where were the highest levels of radium in the study area and why?
The highest concentration we measured was 17.6 pCi/L. Earlier sampling north of our study region had many higher values, as high as 37 pCi/L. Differences in radium concentrations can be attributed to different amounts of the uranium and thorium and differences in solid and water chemistry that affect whether the radium remains in solution.
What are the implications of this study?
Communities using these aquifers will always have to deal with radium, because it is naturally occurring and is continually being produced. There may be several options, including various treatments or blending. One thing to remember in treatment is that the waste stream is radioactive, and its handling may be regulated by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.
What are the plans for future studies?
We have no concrete plans, but we are interested in looking more closely at rock cores to learn more about the association of uranium, thorium, and radium within the solid phase.
The report detailing the study, Hydrogeological and Geochemical Controls on Radium and Uranium in the St. Peter Sandstone Aquifer in the Middle Illinois Water Supply Planning Region, is available in the University of Illinois IDEALS depository. Co-authors include Samuel Panno, Keith Hackley, Daniel Hadley, and Devin Mannix.
While thousands of Illinoisans go hungry every day, up to 40 percent of food goes uneaten. The Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC), Feeding Illinois, and other organizations are partnering to explore new, viable ways to connect farmers directly with food banks to increase the state’s food supply for the food insecure and reduce waste.
The Farm to Food Bank program partners are conducting a feasibility study for a statewide program, identifying approaches to address barriers, evaluating logistical challenges, and uncovering locally appropriate strategies. The result will be a roadmap used to roll out a state-funded program in Illinois, according to Zach Samaras, ISTC technical assistance engineer.
Besides ISTC and Feeding Illinois, study collaborators include the Illinois Farm Bureau and the Illinois Specialty Growers Association. In the first year, the team has conducted a farmer survey, started a pilot project, and visited the eight state food banks.
One of the first actions was to create and distribute a statewide survey to farmers. Questions pertained to the type of product that farmers produce, their marketing strategies, barriers to production, and food losses. Slightly less than 10 percent of survey participants responded. The next step is survey analysis.
Farmers are also being recruited for focus groups to be held at an agricultural conference in early winter. This will be an opportunity for the collaborators to gauge farmers’ interest in the possibility of participating in a Farm to Food Bank program and collect further information on factors that would make participation more feasible for producers. Those interested in participating in focus groups should contact ISTC at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the first pilot project, which started this summer, Rendleman Orchards in Alto Pass donated grade 2 peaches to a food bank in southern Illinois. Grade 2 produce is typically small or has slight blemishes.
The organizations are looking to find an optimal mixture of incentives for farmers to participate in the program. In this case, the farm receives a tax deduction for the donated produce and reimbursement from Feeding Illinois and the food banks for the “pick and pack” costs.
The pilot project quickly scaled up from two pallets of peaches transported to one food bank in southern Illinois to over 40 pallets sent to four food banks in various parts of the state.
“While we are very happy with the numbers, our biggest goal was to build relationships between the farmers and the food banks and develop a process that could work for a variety of farms across the state,” said Samaras. “We certainly feel like we are on the right track.”
Since the program began, farmers have been receptive to learning more about the opportunity, said Steve Ericson, executive director of Feeding Illinois. Actual participation has been more challenging because once the growing, harvest, and marketing seasons begin, farmers find it too disruptive to start or change plans already in place. Also, it is important not to interfere with existing relationships farmers have with food pantries, which are distribution centers that receive food from food banks.
“The primary thing we’ve learned in this first year is that this is a learning year, Ericson said. “The interest is definitely there. In general and by nature, farmers are community-oriented. ‘Helping others’ is in their DNA. We want this program to provide a meaningful way for them to do that as a group and individually.”
A major future challenge will be determining the logistics of transporting a certain volume of produce efficiently from the farm to food banks. The growing season for specialty crops in Illinois is only six months long, a time when farmers are consumed with work at the farm. Another barrier is that Illinois’ specialty crop farms are for the most part smaller and more widespread than those in other renowned produce states.
Convincing farmers that it is worthwhile to build business relationships with food banks versus contributing locally will take time to instill and to prove the benefits, Ericson said.
The Farm to Food Bank program is supported by the USDA through The Emergency Food Assistance Program. For more information, visit the Farm to Food Bank Program website.
Climate change affects cities, and cities affect the climate. Urban areas are hotspots for heat waves, flooding, and air pollution that ultimately affect human health and welfare. Scientists at the Illinois State Water Survey (ISWS) study the relationship between cities and climate to determine ways to make cities more resilient to these challenges.
“Heat waves are advancing now across the U.S., and even in moderate climates, the combined high temperatures and urban heat island effects make the impacts even worse,” said Ashish Sharma, ISWS research climatologist. “The important drivers of climate change and characteristics unique to cities must be well represented in climate models to better understand the processes and tackle issues related to environmental, biological, and chemical hazards.”
What sets urban areas apart from other landscapes are the enhanced effects from heavy precipitation, intense heat, flooding, fire safety hazards, and poor air quality. Winds blowing through street canyons may increase or decrease, affecting wind chills and heat indexes and ultimately climate at regional and global scales, given the large representation of urban areas. Temperature inversions in the atmosphere above cities affect visibility and air quality.
Accurately representing such factors in climate models would increase our understanding and ability to predict flooding, air pollution, and heat stress in certain parts of cities and aid in decision making related to infrastructure and integrating natural areas. The difficulty in including urban areas in numerical models is that cities are so complex in urban design and are impacted by multiple physical and social drivers, Sharma said.
“Researchers have focused on global, regional and microscale modeling separately as opposed to an integrated approach,” Sharma said. “Also, at the urban scale, a lot of scientific effort has been compartmentalized and slow when what we need is urban-resolving integrated research focus from scientists and stakeholders who are invested in urban areas.”
A primary recommendation in Sharma’s recent study is to initiate observed-data-collection efforts to model temperature, precipitation, weather-chemistry interaction in the atmosphere, and water flow on the land surface. Chicago, for example, already has a network of sensors to detect weather and chemical composition for running urban climate models. Combining data-gathering initiatives with new machine learning technologies can yield reliable results at lower computations costs and faster speeds.
“The gathered data and modeling results will help stakeholders and urban planners to design and implement actionable solutions, and make cities more resilient in a changing climate,” Sharma said. “Rather than taking a reactive approach, we can take a proactive approach in predicting and preparing for what will happen with climate change, not only in the short-term future but also in the next 50 to 100 years.”
This study was published in AGU Advances. Co-authors of the study are Donald Wuebbles, University of Illinois, and Rao Kotamarthi at the Argonne National Laboratory.
Tap Talk: The Drinking Water in Rural America Podcast will connect more of the dots about the importance of formal and informal partnerships, helping us all ensure that every American has water that is safe to drink.
Tap Talk is a collaboration between the Rural Community Assistance Partnership and the University of Illinois, with funding from the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency. The show is hosted by Steve and Jennifer Wilson of the Illinois State Water Survey.
Steve Wilson is a groundwater hydrologist who has been with the Illinois State Water Survey at the University of Illinois since 1983. He authored The Private Well Class, an online self-paced curriculum for private well owners, and manages WaterOperator.org, an online resource for water and wastewater operators geared toward supporting small systems. Steve has a M. S. in Civil Engineering from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
Jennifer Wilson is a web content specialist at the Illinois State Water Survey, where she coordinates communications and content development for WaterOperator.org and The Private Well Class. Jennifer has been at the University of Illinois since 2008 and previously served as an environmental scientist at U.S. EPA. Jennifer has a B.S. in Geosciences from Trinity University and an M.S. in Soil and Water Science from the University of California, Riverside.
With some of the best farmland in the country, Illinois has a competitive advantage over other states in the agriculture sector. The Prairie Research Institute (PRI) at the University of Illinois is leveraging this advantage, investing in Illinois’ agriculture economy by offering programs, tools, and research projects to support producers and address current farming issues.
PRI scientists are now focusing on decreasing crop plant pests, tracking weather and soil conditions, and reducing the economic and environmental costs of nutrient losses. The following are several of the resources PRI provides.
Surveying crop pests
PRI participates in the Cooperative Agriculture Pest Survey (CAPS) program, monitoring exotic pests that threaten our production and ecological systems. Kelly Estes coordinates the program and manages surveys for pests of commodity crops.
The primary responsibility of the CAPS program is the early detection of invasive and emerging pests. CAPS surveys encompass the entire state, monitoring for new pests in not only corn and soybeans, but also specialty crops associated with orchard and vineyards. Estes also partners with the University of Illinois Department of Crop Sciences and coordinates field crop pest surveys to monitor the distribution and density of corn and soybean insects in Illinois.
Western corn rootworms and Japanese beetles are always a concern during the growing season in Illinois, Estes said. This year, northern corn rootworm populations are particularly high in northwest Illinois. Japanese beetle populations remained low throughout the state. The surveys also show an emergence of the Dectes stem borer as a pest in southern Illinois. This information on insect populations helps growers make informed management decisions regarding pest control.
Calculating pest degree days
Two PRI pest degree day calculators were updated this year, one each for commodity and specialty growers in Illinois. The tools now feature seven-day forecasts, graphs, and maps to track accumulated degree days and estimate pest activity. With the Illinois Climate Network data, growers calculate growing degree days in their region for specific pests, such as the corn rootworm and spotted wing drosophilia.
The local seven-day forecasts from the National Weather Service help producers plan and determine when crops will be most vulnerable to certain insect pests.
Studying rootworms in Illinois
PRI insect behaviorist Joseph Spencer is organizing a project on innovative techniques for corn rootworm management and monitoring corn rootworm resistance to the Bt toxins expressed in Bt corn hybrids. The new project will take a fresh look at standard corn rootworm adult monitoring with sticky traps combined with cover crops and the use of nematodes to prey on corn rootworm larvae in cornfields planted with Bt corn hybrids. Spencer and collaborators are exploring the potential to use aerial drones to streamline the collection of insect count data for sticky traps located far out in soybean fields.
The effectiveness of Bt toxins against both western corn rootworms and northern corn rootworms continues to decline, Spencer said. Where there are high populations of either species, significant injury to corn roots is possible regardless of whether Bt-expressing corn hybrids were planted. Thankfully, local rootworm populations have been lower than usual over the past few years, and many growers have not had a population of larvae large enough to cause economic injury in corn.
Monitoring soil and weather conditions
What is the condition of cropland soils and weather in Illinois? To find out, thousands of Illinoisans, particularly those in the agricultural industry, visit the Water and Atmospheric Resources Monitoring Program (WARM) website every day. Nineteen stations across the state collect data on soil moisture and temperature and weather conditions as part of the Illinois Climate Network. Soil temperatures are available hourly for specific soil depths and daily minimum and maximum temperatures are provided. Other WARM networks monitor suspended sediment transport in the state’s rivers and streams and water levels for reservoirs and shallow groundwater.
The USDA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the Illinois Drought Response Task Force use the information for research, program support, and long-term planning. The National Weather Service uses the data to assist in forecasting and tracking severe weather.
The monthly Illinois Water & Climate Summary reports on current and trending water and weather conditions in Illinois and their impacts on other water resources.
Tallying heat accumulation
PRI’s growing degree day calculator tallies heat accumulation throughout the growing season, comparing maximum and minimum temperatures with a base temperature for each crop. The calculator is updated daily through local weather stations for users to calculate projections on crop development and maturity specifically for their location. The WARM website also provides a state map of growing degree days.
Estimating nitrogen availability in corn fields
Knowing when to apply supplemental nitrogen to corn fields is difficult for producers to determine since there is a lack of knowledge on how spring rainfall affects early-season nitrogen application. Excess applied nitrogen is costly and adversely affects the environment. Atmospheric scientist Junming Wang and colleagues developed a user-friendly online decision support tool that estimates real-time soil nitrogen availability by simulating crop growth, crop nitrogen uptake, and nitrogen losses.
The tool uses soil data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) soil database and hourly weather data from the National Weather Service. Farmers enter their own crop management information to the online tool. The tool helps to increase nitrogen use efficiency and decrease fertilizer costs and water pollution.
Capturing nutrients from tile drain runoff
PRI scientist Wei Zheng and colleagues are creating a designer carbon-based biochar that captures phosphorus from tile drain runoff water and recycles it in soils to improve crop growth. A bioreactor is installed in the field with a biochar-sorption filter so that water running through the tile system is filtered to remove nutrients before they reach lakes and streams. The filter holds biochar—a biomass product that looks like charcoal and is made mostly of carbon with high calcium and magnesium—which traps fertilizer nutrients.
After the fertilizer season, biochar pellets are removed from the channel, and the phosphorus-captured biochars are applied to the fields where they will slowly release phosphorus and other nutrients into the soil. As a result, producers can keep fertilizer costs down and increase crop yields when applying the biochar pellets at optimal times in the growing season.
PRI projects related to agriculture are funded by the USDA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Illinois Department of Agriculture, Corteva Agriscience, the Illinois Nutrient Research and Education Council, and others.
When the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) launched a front-end engineering and design study for a carbon capture system at the Prairie State Generating Company’s (PSGC) Energy Campus in Marissa, Illinois, identifying a sustainable source of water was a priority from the start.
Once completed, PSGC’s carbon capture system will be the largest post-combustion capture plant in the world. Initially, the system will require approximately 14 million gallons of water per day (MGD), which almost doubles the current PSGC water demand.
The challenge: find adequate and reliable water sources to keep the carbon capture system running without compromising fragile aquatic ecosystems, local economies, and nearby communities’ water supply. Fortunately, ISTC knew the right expertise was close at hand in another unit within its parent Prairie Research Institute. The Water Survey’s Watershed Science team, led by Illinois State Hydrologist Laura Keefer, specializes in solving these types of problems.
On the July 19 episode of the Teach Me About the Great Lakes podcast, hosts Stuart Carlton and Carolyn Foley spoke with ISTC Coastal Hazards Specialist Vidya Balasubramanyam about lake level change and her work with municipalities to adapt to it. Tune in for an all-too-rare dose of optimism and a particular fact about donuts that, while true, we hadn’t considered before.