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ISTC Annual Report 

ISTC has published its 2016-2017 Annual Report. This summary of our sustainability activities features the work of the Technical Assistance Program in providing value to companies, communities, and organizations in Illinois. Meet the technical assistance professionals who consult with facility managers and others interested in reducing waste, energy, and water use in their processes. The report also covers efforts of ISTC researchers and partners to develop sustainable approaches to preserve resources and protect the environment. Among these are projects funded by the Illinois Hazardous Waste Research Fund.

2017 illinois sustainability award 

Rich Berger, vice president of engineering for Clif Bar & Company, and Nancy Liaboe, director of global commercial environmental health and safety at Abbott, will be the keynote speakers for the Illinois Sustainability Awards (ISA) Ceremony to be held Tuesday, Oct. 24, at the Union League Club Chicago. Abbott, which won the ISA in 2016 for the 15th time, has led the way as a corporate bellwether for its ambitious sustainability goals demonstrated to also strengthen its profits, performance, and its brand around the world. Berger oversees design and construction for Clif Bar which has developed a loyal following with its commitment to building a sustainable food system, including certified-sustainable ingredients, a sustainable supply chain, a zero waste goal, climate-neutral business operations, and 100 percent green power sourcing. Registration is now open for the ISA Ceremony and Symposium by visiting Sponsorship opportunities are still available.


Common bacteria and a precious metal form the latest strategy by ISTC Senior Researcher B.K. Sharma to move biofuels into the mainstream of liquid fuels. Today corn sugars are distilled to make ethanol fuel. But a spectrum of other biomaterials have been studied for chemical, biological, or thermal conversion. It is their high nitrogen and oxygen content that makes such biofuels prone to promote smog when burned. By adding palladium molecules to a bacterial matrix, Sharma and his collaborators at the University of Birmingham in England have produced a catalyst for removing those contaminants which is more eco-friendly and as economical as petroleum-based catalysts. The work was recently published in the journal Fuel.


Three keynote addresses from the May 31-June 1 Emerging Contaminants in the Aquatic Environment Conference are available online, covering microplastics, PAHs, and legal issues on emerging contaminants. The conference was organized by ISTC and the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant Program on the U of I campus. Timothy Hoellein, department of biology, Loyola University Chicago presented "Microplastic and anthropogenic litter in rivers is abundant, mobile, and selects for unique bacterial assemblages." Barbara J. Mahler, research hydrologist, U.S. Geological Survey presented "PAHs and coal tar — old contaminants with emerging concerns." And Stephanie Showalter Otts, director of the National Sea Grant Law Center at the University of Mississippi presented "Untangling the legal web surrounding emerging contaminants." A two-minute video is also available online about ISTC-developed systems demonstrated at the conference to recover energy from wastewater and to remove hormones from wastewater:


The Prairie Research Institute shared environmental research interests with visitors from seven Chinese universities July 11-12 in a continuing relationship aimed at future collaboration. The two-day workshop demonstrated the two nations have a great deal in common in their efforts to understand and prevent environmental contamination of the air, water, and soil. Kevin OBrien, director of ISTC and interim director of the Illinois State Water Survey, said a lot of mutual benefits can be developed from the continued dialog with their academic peers, as well as with Chinese industry.


Factors that make plastic easy or hard to recycle depend largely on logistics in the local recycling market, according to B.K. Sharma, senior research scientist at ISTC. Sharma will be one of the presenters Sept. 12 at the “Revitalizing Plastics Recycling” symposium hosted by the Illinois Recycling Association and ISTC on the University of Illinois campus. Other topics to be covered at the event include agricultural plastic and expanded polystyrene (Styrofoam). Effective as lightweight protection during transportation, for recyclers Styrofoam is all volume and no weight. It is expensive to transport and few communities today offer opportunities to recycle it, Sharma explained. To register, and for more information about the symposium, visit the Illinois Recycling Association’s website.


ISTC's Sustainability Seminar Series opens at noon Thursday, Sept. 14 with Julie Reiter, vice president of Human Resources and Sustainable Development for the Clarke Group, Inc., of St. Charles, Ill. Speaking on "Journey to Flourishing - A Story of Transformation Through Sustainability & Engagement of the Whole," Reiter will describe how a commitment to becoming a more sustainable organization helped revitalize the culture of the entire enterprise. Clarke is a leader in mosquito control and aquatic habitat management and is a three-time winner of the Illinois Sustainability Award (2008, 2012, and 2016).  The series will continue on Oct. 5 with “Plastics Producers Solutions on Marine Litter,” by Steward Harris, director of marine and environmental stewardship, Plastics Division, American Chemistry Council.

Persistent Synthetic Molecules Studied for Destruction

Perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) have been used for over 60 years in fire-fighting foams, electronics, lubricants, outdoor apparel and equipment, and cookware. However, PFCs are very persistent in the environment and there are concerns about human and animal health impacts from exposure to these chemicals.  A new research project funded by the National Science Foundation will form a partnership between the U of I and the University of California, Riverside, to work on novel ways to degrade PFCs and investigate the defluorination products of this process and their toxicity. As part of the team, ISTC’s Assistant Director Nancy Holm and Resource Specialist Elizabeth Meschewski will develop public outreach strategies as well as a technical conference and seminar series on PFCs. The project will not only have impacts on the design of new chemicals and environmental remediation, but will also promote interdisciplinary education and outreach on sustainable engineering to a broad community.


A method to turn wastewater biosolids into liquid fuel was demonstrated for two months this summer at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Maryland. ISTC researcher Lance Schideman has led development of the technology with U of I colleagues in Agricultural and Biological Engineering. Instead of landfilling wastewater biosolids, the system heats the material under pressure to produce biocrude oil. Removing organics and other contaminants has the added benefit of allowing the remaining water to be reused for non-drinking purposes. Military bases at home and abroad work to be self-sufficient and have a minimum environmental impact. “In a hostile theatre, it is dangerous to supply fuel by truck to run electric generators,” said Schideman. “The ability to supply renewable energy on-post promotes readiness and minimizes its environmental impact,” he added.


As collegians head back to campus this fall it means campus water use will spike, so ISTC has released a video on a model program that dramatically cut water waste with a student-directed behavior change campaign. Loyola University Chicago implemented its “Gallons Saved and Shared” project with the help of a grant from ISTC’s Billion Gallon Challenge. Student interns and volunteers planned and executed fixture upgrades across much of the campus and designed an awareness/behavioral campaign with the expertise of psychology majors. In addition, Robyn Mallett, associate professor of psychology, and her colleagues were able to study the responses to produce scientific insights. A college campus is an ideal setting to build a culture of sustainability that can follow graduates throughout their lives. The experience of “Gallons Saved and Shared” is a model that can be considered to produce conservation results on other campuses, said Aaron N. Durnbaugh, Loyola’s director of sustainability.


A three-year University of Illinois study of using grasses mowed along Illinois highways for energy has been funded for a large pilot implementation during 2017-18. The multi-disciplinary team estimated the state-wide practice could defray the cost of mowing and add more than $2 million in income for the funding agency -- the Illinois Department of Transportation. The project also focuses on the need to maintain native plant corridors for pollinator species and wildlife that depend on wild plants for healthy habitats. ISTC will conduct dry runs spanning collection, sizing, and conversion of the material to pellets or briquettes. They will give special attention to handling and production issues necessary for co-combustion in coal power plants. A video outlining the multidisciplinary challenge of the project is available at:

Examining Lead in Rural Wells in Illinois
illinois groundwater resources 

Lead in drinking water has recently become a national concern. Public water supplies are required by law to test the quality of water at taps inside homes within their service area. However, private water supplies such as rural wells are not required to be tested.  ISTC is funding a two-year study of “Lead in Homes with Domestic Wells in Three Illinois Counties” led by Walt Kelly of the Illinois State Water Survey. Collaborators include the University of Illinois at Chicago, Northern Illinois University, and several county public health departments. The project will study lead concentrations and corrosivity in rural wells, evaluate home sampling methods, and determine options for mitigating elevated lead levels and/or corrosivity.