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University of Iowa News Release


Nov. 20, 2008

UI offers story ideas on environmental research and sustainability initiatives

University of Iowa students developed a hand-held water sanitizing device that could save lives. A creative cafeteria worker developed a compost project to divert food waste from dumpsters. And a surprising substance is the source of one-fifth of the fuel consumed in the UI's Main Power Plant: oat hulls. These and other intriguing story ideas are detailed below in a sustainability tip sheet for reporters.

SAFE WATER FROM THE PALM OF YOUR HAND: Student engineers at the UI designed a $5 hand-held device to disinfect drinking water in households of poor communities around the world. The sanitizer produces chlorine bleach from salt water, removing biological contaminants from the drinking water. Eventually the sanitizers will be used in Mexico, Haiti and other countries with a need for inexpensive, clean water. The invention has potential to prevent millions of needless deaths caused by preventable disease. The students were recognized by the EPA and won $75,000 to fund the project. Contact: Craig Just, UI Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, 319-335-5051,

OAT HULLS HELP POWER CAMPUS: Oat hulls are the source of 20 percent of the fuel consumed in the UI's main power plant. The university burns the hull by-product from a Quaker Oats facility in nearby Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to generate steam. The award-winning Biomass Fuel Project faced a hurdle over the summer when the Iowa River flooded nearly two dozen buildings on campus -- including the power plant. But four months later, the plant was back in business. Now the UI is working to expand its renewable fuel use. Engineering students are helping to study the possibility of converting a second coal boiler to burn hulls. Contact: Wendy Moorehead, Facilities Management, 319-335-1246,

POLLUTION IN THE POLE: It's amazing Santa can navigate his sleigh out of the North Pole. The Arctic is a collection area for much of the world's polluted air, according to a UI researcher who will use a $750,000 NASA grant to examine the atmosphere above the Arctic. Greg Carmichael, professor of chemical and biochemical engineering in the UI College of Engineering, said the Arctic is an atmospheric receptor of pollution from the northern mid-latitudes, as shown by thick aerosol layers called "arctic haze." It has been collecting smoke and residue from forest fires of northern Europe, Asia and North America. Contact: Greg Carmichael, 319-335-5191,

CAFETERIA COMPOST: UI engineering student Holly Moriarty spent a semester wiping counters and sorting silverware at a dining hall on campus. As closing time approached during each shift, she'd watch as massive pans of uneaten food went down the disposal or into the dumpster. The sight was, in a word, depressing. So she decided to do something about it. In the spring 2006 semester, she and three classmates penned "The UI Compost Project," a document detailing the benefits of composting pre-consumer food waste at the Hillcrest Market Place. What started as a class assignment led to roughly 17.36 tons of food waste diverted from the Hillcrest kitchen for composting in the spring 2007 semester. That's more than 34,000 pounds of browning lettuce, stale pizza and hardened casserole. The program continues, with the average of just under a ton of pre-consumer waste composted each week. Moriarty earned a civil engineering degree from the UI in May and is working for an environmental engineering consulting firm in Oak Brook, Ill. Contact: Fred Kurt, Hillcrest Market Place, 319-335-9368,

MAKING LEMONADE OUT OF LEMONS: The UI experienced a major flood in June. But researchers at the College of Engineering's IIHR-Hydroscience & Engineering research unit used the flood as an opportunity to study floods in general and prepare for future floods along the Iowa River. They contacted the National Science Foundation's National Center for Airborne Laser Mapping to capture the elevation of floodwaters along the Iowa River in Iowa City and surrounding communities. Using lidar (laser radar) technology, they mapped flood data to within about a centimeter. Comparing water levels during the height of the flood to normal levels will help regional planners when designating future land use. Contact: Larry Weber, 319-335-5597,

POTENITAL TOXINS PREVALENT IN WINDY CITY: UI researchers discovered PCB11, a byproduct of the manufacture of paint pigments and a potentially toxic substance, present throughout the city of Chicago. Industrial compounds known as polychlorinated biphenols or PCBs have been found in previous air samples collected in Chicago, but UI researchers believe this is the first published report of PCB11 in ambient air. The finding was published this fall in the journal Environmental Science & Technology. The potential health effects of the substance remain unclear. Contact: Keri Hornbuckle, UI professor of civil and environmental engineering and a researcher at the research institute IIHR-Hydroscience and Engineering, 319-384-0789,

COULD IOWA BE THE WINDY STATE? The state of Iowa is striving for the rank of No. 1 in the nation in wind power development and technology, and the UI College of Engineering is playing a key role in those efforts. The college is involved with the newly launched Iowa Alliance for Wind Innovation and Novel Development (IAWIND), a partnership among the Regents universities, community colleges, industry, and the Iowa Department of Economic Development, designed to support the state's efforts to attract and nurture wind energy and related industries in order to become the nation's leader in alternate energy technologies. Contact: Gary Galluzzo, 319-384-0009, University News Services, For more on the College of Engineering's sustainability efforts, visit

IMPROVING GLOBAL WARMING PREDICTIONS: UI researchers and their colleagues have found a way to improve existing estimates of the amount of carbon absorbed by plants from the air, thereby improving the accuracy of global warming and land cover change estimates, according to a paper published in the Nov. 13 issue of the journal Science. By knowing the effects of plants on the atmosphere, scientists will be better able to determine the amount of human-generated carbon dioxide injected into the atmosphere. Contact: Greg Carmichael, professor of chemical and biochemical engineering in the UI College of Engineering and co-director of the Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, 319-335-5191,

UI COMMITS TO SUSTAINIABILITY: The UI's school colors are black and gold, but the Hawks are going green. Already, one-quarter of the UI's conventional waste is recycled. The UI is ahead of schedule in its goal reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 6 percent by 2010, as required by its membership in the Chicago Climate Exchange. And President Sally Mason launched an Office of Sustainability, planning to hire five faculty members to study and teach on the topic. Liz Christiansen, deputy director of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, will take the helm of the office Dec. 8. Her job: to set and measure the UI's "green goals," seek funds for campus sustainability efforts, develop sustainability programs, and educate the campus about the value and feasibility of conservation from an ecological and financial perspective. Contact: Don Guckert, Facilities Management, 319-335-1248,

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACT: Nicole Riehl, University News Services, 319-384-0070 (office), 319-430-6576 (cell),