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University of Iowa News Release


April 17, 2009

Media Advisory: UI environmental research, sustainability initiative story ideas

Ahead of the University of Iowa's celebration of Earth Week Saturday, April 18 through Friday, April 24, the UI is providing news media with a list of story ideas that focus on UI initiatives and research related to sustainability and the environment.

Additionally, the UI will hold several events during Earth Week to promote environmental awareness and sustainable practices on and beyond campus. For more information on Earth Week visit

For more information on other sustainability practices at the UI, visit

UI goes green

Already, one-quarter of the UI's conventional waste is recycled and the UI is ahead of schedule in its goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 6 percent by 2010, as required by its membership in the Chicago Climate Exchange. Just four months since the UI launched its Office of Sustainability by hiring Director Liz Christiansen, a number of initiatives have taken off. Students have broken ground for a garden that will contribute to local produce served on campus, six new buildings are being designed for at least LEED Silver certification, and computer users are taking the "Power Down for the Planet" pledge.

Contact: Liz Christiansen, director, Office of Sustainability,, 319-335-5516

Oat hull program cuts carbon emissions and saves money

The "crown jewel" of the campus' energy conservation efforts is the university's oat hull burning program. The program, which began in 2002, burns biomass from a nearby Quaker Oats plant to generate heat and energy for the campus. The oat hulls are cheaper than coal, saving the university about $1 million per year, and are considered a renewable, or carbon-neutral, fuel. In January the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lauded the UI for reducing carbon emissions at its power plant by using one system to generate both heat and energy, saving the equivalent amount of carbon stored by 11,232 acres of pine forests for one year or the emissions from 8,046 passenger vehicles. Currently, the university gets 14 percent of its purchased power from renewable sources, says Christiansen. The UI is working to expand its renewable fuel use and considering options for a power plant that could eventually use 100 percent renewable energy.

Contact: Liz Christiansen, Director, Office of Sustainability,, 319-335-5516

UI to begin offering Certificate in Sustainability in fall 2009

To help put students on a path toward becoming effective leaders and agents of change for sustainability in whatever professional setting they choose, the University of Iowa will begin offering a new Certificate in Sustainability in fall 2009. The program will allow students to augment their majors and minors with a certificate that promotes an integrated understanding of human and environmental systems and the complex interactions between them.

Contacts: Barbara Eckstein, associate provost, 319-335-3565; Liz Christiansen, Office of Sustainability, 319-335-5516

Energy audits

Facilities Management continues to conduct energy audits in general education funded-buildings on campus. The audits include switching to more energy efficient lighting, "de-lamping" (reducing lighting in over lit areas), and using heating and cooling schedules for buildings. These energy audits save the UI approximately $1.8 million per year and are part of a larger effort to deploy energy conservation measures around campus as set forth in the aggressive goals of the UI's Energy Plan. See

Contact: Wendy Moorehead, Facilities Management, 319-335-1246,

Safe water from the palm of your hand

Some 15 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 Ghana and other countries with a need for inexpensive, clean water. The invention has the 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, which was the subject of a presentation at the February 2009 Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science held in Chicago.

Contact: Craig Just, UI Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, 319-335-5051,

Pollution in the Arctic

The Arctic is a collection area for much of the world's polluted air, according to a UI researcher who is using 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,

Making lemonade out of lemons

Following the flood of June 2008, 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,

Potential 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 their report -- published in the fall 2008 issue of the journal Environmental Science & Technology -- is the first published report of PCB11 in ambient air. 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. Researchers exploring wind energy include Andrew Kusiak, professor of industrial engineering in the College of Engineering, who uses data mining to maximize the capture of wind energy. Johna Leddy, associate professor of chemistry in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, is exploring catalysts that could increase battery life several-fold.

For more information on the College of Engineering's sustainability efforts visit

Contact: Gary Galluzzo, 319-384-0009, University News Services,

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, 2008, 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,

Green residence halls

The UI is working to make its residence halls more energy efficient by installing environmentally friendly light bulbs, new lighting and fixtures.  Energy-efficient Dyson Airblade hand dryers are also being installed in residence hall restrooms. These units blast sheets of high-velocity air at nearly 400 miles per hour and also use up to 80 percent less energy than warm air hand dryers. Residence hall showers have low-flow showerheads. More eco-friendly options for lighting are being explored in residence halls, such as dimming indoor lighting in the evenings in Stanley and Rienow halls. Also, compact fluorescent light bulbs are replacing incandescent light bulbs as they burn out; compact fluorescent light bulbs use two-thirds less energy than the incandescent bulbs. Facilities workers are considering using energy-efficient light-emitting-diode light bulbs to light outdoor areas, replacing floodlights. Recycling has expanded in Quadrangle Hall to include tin, aluminum and plastic as a pilot project. The project is looking to expand to the entire west side residence hall neighborhood in the fall. There is paper and cardboard recycling in most other residence halls.

Contact: Von Stange, director of University Housing, 319-335-3000,

'Waste Not' in residential dining

"Waste Not" is a student-initiated composting program in Hillcrest and Burge Market Place that turns food waste into organic matter for fertilizer, reducing the impact on the environment. Nearly 1 ton of food waste from campus residence halls is sent to a composting bin instead of the landfill every week. Signs have been posted around Hillcrest and Burge Market Places to encourage students to take only what they care to eat. Residential dining is also doing major plastic and can recycling. From April 20-24, Residential dining and associated residence halls will have an Earth Week program under the title "Making a Difference in Our Corner of the World." Highlights of the week include a special vegetarian station offered in the Hillcrest and Burge Market Places for lunch and dinner on Monday, April 20. On Tuesday, April 21, students will be encouraged to try going trayless to save water and waste. See

Contacts: Fred Kurt, Hillcrest Market Place, 319-335-9368,; Lisa McKirgran, Residential Dining at 319-353-2398,

UI student wins Udall Scholarship for environmental contributions

When University of Iowa student Chris Page arrived in Chengdu, China, for Chinese language study two days after a devastating earthquake hit in May 2008, he quickly learned the importance of responsible environmental policy. Months before the earthquake, the Chinese government unknowingly disrupted the region's seismic activity, Page said, when it dammed the Yangtze River for the Three Gorges Project for hydroelectricity. "The loss of more than 20,000 Sichuanese residents during the earthquake was an unacceptable consequence of the use of hydroelectricity," said Page, who has won a $5,000 Udall Scholarship. "As an environmental policymaker, I will always remember the earthquake in Sichuan as an important reason to advocate for environmental policy that puts human health and safety above economic growth." Page, a UI sophomore from Iowa City who hopes to pursue a career in environmental policy, is one of 80 of the nation's top sophomores and juniors who received the prestigious award in 2009.

Contact: Andrea Beloy, UI Honors Program, 319-335-1874

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

MEDIA CONTACT: George McCrory, University News Services, 319-384-0012,