Stories tagged environment

This page lists stories about the environment, energy, climate change, and global warming from Science Buzz, a website devoted to science in the news, emerging research, and seasonal phenomena.


Prairie grasses: This experimental plot contains four species of prairie plants. The nearby plots, going clockwise, contain eight species, four species, and 16 species. (Photo courtesy David Tilman, University of Minnesota)

Scientists at our very own U of M have made some exciting new discoveries about the prospect of using biofuels for energy! They found that planting a diverse mix of native prairie species is more efficient than corn or soybeans, even on degraded soil. Amazingly, their most diverse plots, with 18 different species, produced 238% more bioenergy than the plots with only 1 species.

While there is still a lot of research needed to make this system useable on a wide scale, these findings are encouraging for a few reasons. Unlike all of our other forms of fuel, including corn ethanol or biodiesel from soy beans, the native plants actually absorb more carbon from the atmosphere than is released when used for fuel. Because of the vast root network associated with prairie plants (which allow them to withstand Minnesota’s hot and dry summers), much carbon is stored below ground and is not harvested for fuel. Also, these environmentally friendly crops can be grown on land that is unusable for traditional food crops. They do not need to be fertilized, a benefit to growing a native species, and thus can be grown in nutrient poor areas. Fertilizer runoff from traditional agriculture is a big contributor to water quality problems. Additionally, because native prairie species are perennial crops, they can help prevent erosion. For much of the year, particularly during the rainy months in the spring, corn or soybean fields are bare. This leaves the ground vulnerable to soil loss. Planting a native mix, particularly on steep slopes or along riverbanks, which are less suitable to traditional crops anyway, could mitigate many environmental issues. Plus, we could increase the amount of prairie habitat for native wildlife!

For more information on sustainable agriculture and the latest research check out Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education and the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture.


MN Energy Challenge: Website here.

We need an intervention

Confronting an addict about their behavior usually doesn't have much impact. An intervention done by someone with a position of authority might. A successful intervention for those addicted to oil might resemble "treatment" and a "12-step program".

  • Overcome their denial.

    When the oil addict claims "I am not hurting anyone when I choose to waste energy," they should be made aware that depleting cheap and plentiful oil will result in scarcity and higher prices for future generations. The struggle to control oil resources will also continue to result in bloodshed.

  • Offer solutions and programs enabling recovery.

    Provide educational programs or "steps" that will eliminate abusive use of energy. Put on a sweater instead of cranking up the thermostat. Choose transportation that uses less gasoline. One means of learning "steps to recovery" is accepting the "Energy Challenge" (explained in this previous post).

  • Give incentives and recognition for appropriate behaviors.

    Governments could give rebates and tax credits for generating or using renewable energy.

  • Mandate consequences for abusive energy consumption.

    Again, governments could penalize those who refuse to clean up their act.

Change a bulb. Change the world.

To change the world, start with yourself. If every American home replaced just one light bulb with an ENERGY STAR compact fluorescent, we would save over $500,000,000 each year. That is a lot of fuel that can be left in the ground for future generations.

Join our SMM team.

When you sign up for the the Energy Challenge you can assign your energy savings to three teams. Minneapolis has pulled ahead of Saint Paul. The Science Museum of Minnesota is currently one of the top four business teams because individuals are taking steps to save energy.


Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment
Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment

Xcel donates multi-millions to Renewable Development Fund.

What would you do if you were given $16 million each year to develop renewable energy? Minnesota Statute 216B.2423 requires Xcel Energy to donate $500,000 annually for each dry cask containing spent nuclear fuel to a renewables development fund.
To date Xcel Energy has committed to funding nearly $53 million for projects to identify and develop new or emerging renewable energy sources. A third round of funding is to begin by March 2007. A one-time payment of $10 million was made to the University of Minnesota's Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment on July 1, 2003.

University of Minnesota creates Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment (IREE).

The mission of IREE is

to promote statewide economic development, sustainable, healthy, and diverse ecosystems, and national energy security through development of bio-based and other renewable resources and processes.

In fiscal year 2005 alone, IREE awarded nearly $11.5M to renewable energy research and demonstration projects at the University of Minnesota. These funds were used to support 67 projects and leveraged an additional $9.3M from state, federal and business and industry partners.

IREE's Third Annual Research Symposium is Tuesday

Want to talk to researchers about what they are doing with millions of dollars in grant moneys. University of Minnesota faculty and researchers will showcase groundbreaking new work in the areas of renewable energy and the environment next Tuesday, Nov. 28, at the McNamara Alumni Center.

Don Shelby, news anchor for WCCO TV, and Edward Garvey, Deputy Commissioner for the Energy and Telecommunications Division with the Minnesota Department of Commerce, are scheduled to give the keynote addresses. University of Minnesota Regents Professor David Tilman will give the capnote address at the conclusion of this year's conference.
A poster session featuring IREE-funded projects will also take place throughout the day in the main hall.

I attended last year's symposium and plan to go again this Tuesday. My favorite experience last year was talking to the U of M Solar Vehicle team about their car and their experiences racing it cross-country. Here is a link to the Research Symposium schedule. Online registration is now closed but IREE will be accepting walk-up registrations at the door the day of the conference.

Read more about IREE and their funded projects

IREE funded projects 2005, 2004, 2003.
IREE website index.
IREE objectives and activities.


Renewable fuel
Renewable fuel

Iron Range generator burns local wood

If you shop locally, your dollars help your local economy, creating jobs, cash flow, and tax revenues. Electric utilities in Hibbing and Virginia, working jointly as the Laurentian Energy Authority, plan to buy local wood to fuel their electric generators. They hold a contract to sell 35 megawatts of biomass power to Xcel Energy.

According to early reports, the project is anticipated to bring in more than $704 million over 20 years, with $20 million spent in labor, fuel and materials. Up to 70 jobs are expected to be retained, with a possibility of 100-plus new jobs in the wood yard, transportation and tree growth parts of the operation.

Local representative Tony Sertich, commented on the project. “We tend to look for a win-win situation, but I say it’s a win to the power of four. This project is about economy, environment, economic development and innovation.”

$25 million tree farm

The Biomass Mandate from the Prairie Island Nuclear Power Plant compromise from 1994 requires that 25% of the fuel must come from closed-loop biomass, aka tree farms specifically grown for this project. About $25 million was anticipated to be invested in tree farms for the project. One of the farms is in Aitkin.

District heating, too

Excess heat generated by the project will provide district heating for the two cities. Word on the street is that the electricity contract is in excess of 10 cents/kWh. Commercial operation is slated for year’s end.

Source articles via Solar Kismet
Making Biomass a Reality Mesabi Daily News
Bring on Biomass Hibbing Daily Tribune
Iron Range biomass projects unveiled StarTribune


Many people, from the President on down, believe that the US must reduce its reliance on oil. But where will we get the energy we need to run our homes, businesses and cars? People have suggested nuclear power, solar, wind, biomass and many other approaches. All have their advantages and disadvantages.

One idea getting a lot of support is hydrogen—as a fuel or in batteries. Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, and when you consume it, the only waste product is pure, clean water.

But hydrogen has a lot of drawbacks, too. An article in the November issue of Popular Mechanics runs down the challenges in hydrogen production, storage, distribution and use.

Meeting America’s energy needs will probably require a combination of approaches.


MN Energy Challenge: Website here.

Save money. Save our planet.

I just signed up for the "Minnesota Energy Challenge". By pledging to reduce my energy use in specific ways, I will reduce CO2 emmissions and save dollars. I was given the option of adding my savings to a team of participants. I chose Saint Paul (which is beating Minneapolis 2905 to 2692 tons of CO2 saved). I wish the Science Museum of Minnesota had a team. I think it would be neat to have our staff, members, and visitors demonstrate that they are willing to "become the change they envision"(Ghandi). You can join up on the website.

The Minnesota Energy Challenge is a statewide initiative, developed by the Center for Energy and Environment" (CEE), to encourage every homeowner, renter, business owner, educator, worship leader, city manager and student to reduce their electricity and energy use. CEE has projected that a 2 percent annual reduction in electricity energy use will eliminate the need to build more coal-fired energy plants in Minnesota.

There is a meeting tonight(Oct. 16)

Minneapolis newscaster, Don Shelby, will be speaking at 7:30 p.m.

  • October 16, 6 - 9 p.m.
  • Hale Elementary School
  • 1220 54th Street E, Minneapolis

In addition to introducing the energy challenge, displays and demonstrations will cover topics such as energy-saving light bulbs, programmable thermostats, energy audits, high-efficiency furnaces, project financing, tax incentives, and preparing the home for the heating season. The first 500 attendees at each fair will receive free light bulbs, and there will be activities for the kids.

Thankyou missgo76 for alerting me about this on the Energista website.

Joe, from the Energista website, reported on yesterdays Renewable Energy Workshop sponsored by the U of MN Electrical Engineering Department.


Spaceship Earth: image
Spaceship Earth: image

Captain, we are running low on supplies.

R. Buckminster Fuller's 1969 book imagines humanity as a crew aboard a tiny spaceship traveling through infinity. We have limited water, food, and fuel. Because of our proximity to the sun, we are given a limited budget of additional fuel which allows growth of food, trees, and fish. The sun's energy input also cycles our water and air. We even have past energy from the sun stored up in the form of coal and oil.

What is biocapacity?

What happens if we use up more food and energy each year than the Earth/Sun system can regenerate? Each year Global Footprint Network calculates humanity’s Ecological Footprint (its demand on cropland, pasture, forests and fisheries) and compares it with global biocapacity (the ability of these ecosystems to generate resources and absorb wastes). They declared that today (Oct. 9th) is Global Overshoot Day, the day we passed our biocapacity limit.

"We are clearly drawing natural capital ... the point about collapse is that we don't know when some of the systems in the global atmosphere and fish will collapse but we do know that collapse is a very real possibility" says Professor Tim Jackson, head of sustainable development at Surrey University via The Independent)

We are living beyond our means. Earth's six billion inhabitants and their rising living standards are putting an intolerable strain on nature.

Overfishing, deforestation, overpopulation, etc.

The biggest problem relating to the over-consumption of resources is climate change, but its other effects include deforestation, falling agricultural yields and overfishing.
Overfishing should be easy to understand. If you harvest fish with nets faster than they can reproduce, pretty soon there are not enough fish. Remember what happened at Red Lake.

Global Footprint Network's vision

Global Footprint Network is committed to fostering a world where all people have the opportunity to live satisfying lives within the means of Earth's ecological capacity. You can read about their accomplishments and publications here.


Compact fluorescent lighting: Changing lightbulbs. photo by Art Oglesby
Compact fluorescent lighting: Changing lightbulbs. photo by Art Oglesby

Lets go on a diet.

I am going on an energy diet. Each year I hope to reduce the amount of energy I use. By recording the gallons of gas, the electricity, and the natural gas I pay for each year, I will measure my success.

What will you give up?

“The Energy Diet,” a story in Thursday’s Home & Garden section of the New York Times gave me this idea. Its author, Andrew Postman, asks, "What would you be willing — or not willing — to give up in order to lessen your household’s impact on the environment?" So far, 159 people have answered in their comments.

Tell us what you are doing.

Please use comments to tell me what you are doing to reduce your energy consumption. I will add the most commonly used ones to this list.

    Change incandescent lightbulbs to compact fluorescent bulbs(CFLs)
    Dial down the thermostat in the winter.
    Dress warmer and exercise to warm up if needed.
    Reduce the number of times you run to the store, etc. (make a list and buy lots at a time)