Illinois Public Media News
A misconception about African elephants can be put to rest.
Researchers from the University of Illinois, Harvard University, and the University of York discovered that there are actually two species of African elephants, rather than one. The DNA of African elephants was compared with the extinct American mastodon and wooly mammoth.
"Experimentally, we had a major challenge to extract DNA sequences from two fossils - mammoths and mastodons - and line them up with DNA from modern elephants over hundreds of sections of the genome," said research scientist Nadin Rohland of the Department of Genetics at the Harvard Medical School.
African forest elephants are smaller, but have a greater genetic diversity compared to African savanna elephants, according to University of Illinois animal sciences professor Alfred Roca. Roca said the African forest elephants make up about one tenth of the country's elephant population. He said these mammals could face extinction unless there is more of a concentration dedicated to preserving their existence.
"In the forest of Central Africa and certainly in the forest of West Africa, the protection is limited in some countries, and in many cases you have a lot of organized gangs of poachers that are coming in," Roca said. "Really the focus has to be on protecting the forest elephant."
Roca said the evolutionary differences between the mammals are about as old as the split between humans and chimpanzees. He added that it is likely climate change in Africa five million years ago led to their creation.
This research was funded by the Max Planck Society and by a Burroughs Wellcome Career Development Award in Biomedical Science.
(Photo courtesy of Mark Turner/flickr)
The companies working with the U.S. Department of Energy to develop the FutureGen clean-coal project say they've cut the list of six potential carbon dioxide storage sites to four.
The FutureGen Alliance announced Monday the city of Quincy and Pike County north of St. Louis are no longer being considered, but Tuscola in Douglas County is still being considered. Other sites under consideration include Christian, Fayette and Morgan counties.
"This next step in the site selection process keeps FutureGen 2.0 on track," said U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) in a press release. "While the geology was not ideal in the communities that received disappointing news today, the four communities that remain in competition will now have the opportunity to strengthen their proposals. Hosting FutureGen 2.0 in Illinois will create thousands of good-paying jobs and put our state on the forefront of clean coal research and technology."
Morgan County in western Illinois is the location of the power plant FutureGen plans to refit with newer technology. Carbon dioxide from the coal used at the plant in Meredosia would be piped to the underground storage site. The Energy Department earlier this year scrapped plans to both build a new FutureGen plant and store CO2 in Mattoon.
The FutureGen 2.0 project and pipeline network is expected bring in around 1,000 jobs to downstate Illinois and another 1,000 jobs for suppliers across the state.
The alliance said it expects to pick a site in February 2011.
Conservation groups upset over a plan to reuse a former Army weapons facility in western Indiana say the group charged with finding a new role for the property is not addressing concerns about a restored prairie on the site.
The Newport Chemical Depot Reuse Authority hopes to develop a business and industrial campus on 11 square miles at the Vermillion County site that once produced and stored the deadly VX nerve agent. Conservationists tell the Tribune-Star that the plan would destroy all but about 44 acres of the state's largest restored black-soil tallgrass prairie. They want the group to reconsider.
Phillip W. Cox of the Wabash Valley Audubon Society says the Army spent nearly $128,000 from 1994 to 2005 to restore 336 acres of tallgrass prairie.
A report out by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finds that pollution levels stayed the same and even improved throughout the state.
The agency gathered data from 80 monitoring sites across the state, and concluded that air quality was good or moderate 96 percent of the time in 2009. The study focused on an array of pollutants, including toxins, soot, and dust. There were 13 days last year when air quality was considered unhealthy for sensitive groups in certain areas, compared to 14 days in 2008. EPA Spokesperson Maggie Carson said pollution tends to be a larger problem in more congested cities, like Chicago and the St. Louis Metro East area. She said there weren't any major red flags raised about the air quality in Central Illinois.
"Central Illinois generally has pretty good air quality," she said. "We're blessed by a lot of white collar, a lot of agriculture (jobs), and neither of these contributes tremendously to air quality problems."
According to the report, The Quad Cities has the lowest level of pollution with good air quality 86 percent of the time in 2009. Other communities to follow include Peoria, Champaign, Normal, and Decatur, which had good air quality more than 78 percent during the same period.
Still, Carson said there are still environmental challenges that the state has to overcome.
"As long as we have industry, as long as we have cars burning gasoline on our roads, we're going to have air quality issues that we're going to have to deal with," she said. "It's just a fact of life in modern American and in this state.
A company that's now building a wind farm in Iroquois County hopes to receive permits next week to build a second facility that would straddle the Iroquois-Ford County line.
E.ON Climate and Renewables wants permission to build up to 111 wind turbines in Ford and Iroquois Counties near the towns of Loda and Paxton. Most of the turbines would go up in Ford County.
Ford County Zoning Officer Larry Knilands said E.ON officials would like to start work on the project next year.
"They wanted to get a contract signed, as far as a road agreement, construction permit, you name it --- everything taken care by warm weather, so that they might be able to start construction by, say, October (of 2011)," Knilands said.
But Knilands said the signing a road agreement could be the difficult part of the process. He said negotiations on road agreements for two other wind farm projects in Ford County has delayed their construction --- one has been on hold for two years.
"We have to make sure that whatever road agreement we establish the first time around is something that will apply to any other wind farm company that comes along," Knilands said.
E.ON is currently building a separate wind farm in eastern Iroquois County. Both the Ford and Iroquois County Boards are scheduled to vote on zoning permits for the 2nd E.ON wind farm project at their regular meetings next week.
The Ford County Board will meet Monday, December 13th at 7 PM at the Ford County Jail in Paxton. The Iroquois County Board meets Tuesday, December 14th at 9 AM, at the county Administrative Center in Watseka.
The tax cut deal reached by President Obama and Senate Republicans this week includes an extension of tax credits for ethanol --- but another green energy program is not included. Now, supporters of wind and solar energy are lobbying Congress to include an extension of the so-called "Section 1603" grant program in the final tax bill. The program is slated to expire at the end of the month.
The 1603 program converts tax credits for renewable energy projects into up-front grants. Environment Illinois' Max Muller said those grants have helped qualifying companies build 14 new solar, wind energy and fuel cell facilities in Illinois --- resulting in the creation of new jobs at a time of high unemployment.
"Basically, if we don't want to see a precipitous drop in the number of new clean energy projects in Illinois and nationally, we need to extend this program," Muller said.
Among the recipients of 1603 grants in Illinois are nine wind farms, including the Cayuga Ridge Wind Farm in Livingston County near Streator.
Kevin Borgia of the Illinois Wind Energy Association says the grant program provides funding for renewable energy projects at a time when financing is hard to come by, and he said that has led to the creation of new jobs in Illinois.
"I think that the past history with the program is pretty impressive," Borgia said. "And there could be a loss to the Illinois economy if the program does sunset."
In the case of Illinois wind farms, the 1603 grant program has helped only a fraction of the 46 projects that have been built or were slated for construction as of July of this year, according to the Center for Renewable Energy at Illinois State University. Wind farms and other green energy projects will still be eligible for federal tax credits, even after the grant program runs out. But Borgia says the 1603 grants give companies more flexibility when it comes to putting wind farms projects together.
Organizers of Champaign County's quarterly Residential Electronics Collection say they've kept over 220 tons of old computers, microwaves, cell phones, VCR and DVD players, printers, mp3 players, keyboards and other equipment from going to landfills this year. And they hope to collect several more tons at their final collection of the year, set for the morning of Saturday, November 6th.
Susan Monte of the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission says a contractor specializing in the recycling of high-tech electronic gear makes sure everything they collect gets re-used.
"They select certain of the functioning items, such as newer model desktop or laptop computers", explains Monte. "They sort those out, and they select those to be refurbished and re-marketed. And the majority of stuff collected, the nonworking electronics waste is dismantled and separated into basic commodities for marketing."
Monte says each event typically attracts about a thousand vehicles, and is organized so that motorists can drive up and drop off their electronics gear, as safely and efficiently as possible.
Monte says the collection event is safe in another way. She says their recycling contractor destroys any data left on old computers --- whether the computers are slated to be refurbished, or just torn down to their basic materials.
"Data wiping software is used on items to be refurbished", says Monte. "And on other electronic waste, hard drives and data storage devices are shredded - physically shredded. That takes care of the data security."
Saturday's Residential Electronics Collection runs from 8 AM to Noon at the News-Gazette Distribution Center,3203 Apollo Drive in Champaign. There's no charge to drop off old electronics gear. Monte says to keep the traffic flowing, motorists should enter from Olympian Drive, east of North Market Street.
The University of Illinois dedicated the Timothy Nugent Residence Hall and the Student Dining and Residential Programs Building on Friday in Champaign. The dormitory and dining hall are both handicap accessible.
The dormitory, which is University Housing's newest residence hall in more than 40 years, features proximity readers and large elevators to accommodate wheel chair bound individuals. The rooms also include technology to help students get in and out of beds and showers.
"This building was planned with the notion that students with disabilities could use each and every part of the building," explained John Collins, director of University Housing.
The new dorm's namesake is Timothy Nugent, who is director of emeritus for the Division of Disability Resources and Educational Services (DRES). Nugent established the center more than 60 years ago. He said society's views of people with disabilities have come a long way.
"I never expected anything this wonderful," Nugent said.
The U of I's commitment to providing accessible facilities for students with disabilities was an important factor for student John Burton, a junior from Indiana studying engineering, when he was deciding where to go to school. Burton, who has spinal muscular atrophy, praised the University for making Nugent Hall an inclusive dormitory for students with and without disabilities.
"It allows you to make friends and meet new people, so that's kind of nice," Burton said. "Although Nugent Hall is the first of its kind, we have the opportunity to lead the way for other universities to follow."
In addition to providing independent living for students with disabilities, the new dining facility will also reduce the university's carbon foot print by using less water and electricity. The dining hall will also use leftover residue oil that is processed from fried foods, and then convert it into bio-fuel for cars and buses on campus.
University president Michael Hogan said the new dining hall is the second green building of its kind at the U of I next to the Business Instructional Facility. Hogan said he predicts the environmental impact of the dining hall will save the U of I money, especially as it looks to trim its budget.
"If you can save your energy cost, you can save a lot of money, so anything that keeps our air conditioning bills down, anything that keeps the lights off when not necessary, anything that reduces our water use," Hogan stated. "That all saves the university money, and of course saves the planet."
The new dining hall is named after former U of I president Stanley Ikenberry, who estimated that the savings generated because of the dining hall's green technology could equate to "several million dollars" within the next 50 years.
"It's not jump change," he said. "It's very important to us."
Hogan said he hopes the U of I considers making more buildings on campus environmentally friendly. The rest of Nugent Hall is currently under construction. An additional 350 beds will be added by the fall of 2012.
Illinois EPA Chief Doug Scott came to Champaign County Wednesday to announce funding for three local projects aimed at cleaning up local air and water.
Scott visited the Champaign-Urbana MTD bus garage to announce a $445,000 Clean Diesel grant --- backed by federal stimulus money --- to retrofit 43 diesel buses with special exhaust filters designed to keep diesel particulate from getting into the outside air.
"They capture about 90 percent of the diesel sub-particulates, and 75-80 percent of the hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide emitted from diesel engines," Scott said. "This will provide more clean air for the employees and also for the public, the staff, the students at the U of I who ride the buses or walk near the bus routes."
The CU-MTD worked with researchers at the University of Illinois College of Agricultural Consumer and Environmental Sciences to choose the right filters for their buses and the local climate, as well as setting protocol for installation and maintenance.
While in Urbana, Scott also announced $47 million in federal stimulus and state loans to finance improvements at the Urbana-Champaign Sanitary District's Northeast Wastewater Treatment plant in Urbana.
Later, Scott visited the small Champaign County village of Homer, which is receiving more than $10 million dollars in state grants and loans to finance the construction of its first-ever wastewater plant and centralized sewage collection system. The project will replace the individual septic systems currently used by Homer residents and businesses.
During his Urbana stop, Scott also said the Illinois EPA is working to meet a federally imposed deadline for strengthening state regulation of large confined-animal farms, known as confined-animal feeding operations (CAFO).
The federal EPA has given its Illinois counterpart until the end of the month to complete an inventory of the state's CAFO's, overhaul its inspection program and set procedures for investigating citizen complaints.
Scott said his agency has been working on the issue for the last couple of years, and expects to have a "good response" for the federal EPA's demand.
"We take this issue very seriously," Scott said. "We know that these facilities have the potential to cause some large (scale) pollution, and we know that it's important for us to get the best handle we can on that --- both in terms of permitting, but also in terms of enforcement. And that's the steps we have been taking, and what we will continue to do."
A federal EPA report last month found widespread problems with Illinois' oversight of large-scale cattle, hog and chicken operations, and the huge amounts of waste that they produce. The report found state inspection reports that failed to say if a CAFO was following pollution laws or not, and many cases where the state failed to get farms to comply with those laws.
The report also indicated that the Illinois EPA's enforcement powers are too weak. Scott said he will ask state lawmakers next year to give his agency authority that is currently left to the state attorney general.
Communities and companies interested in hosting the CO2 storage site for the FutureGen project now have some details on what they will need to provide.
On Wednesday, the FutureGen Alliance sent out preliminary site selection guidelines for the project. CEO Kenneth Humphreys said this will give potential applicants an idea of the information they will have to provide.
According to the guidelines, the site used to store emissions from the FutureGen coal-fired power plant will need to be able to hold at least 39 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions over the next 30 years.
All sites must also utilize the Mount Simon sandstone formation, a formation underlying a large part of Illinois and other Great Lakes states. It is considered a good site for long-term CO2 storage.
The site-selection decision also will consider protection of the environment and public health around the site, how cheaply it can be constructed, and the ability to stay on schedule. Local community support also is crucial.
Mattoon, the original choice to host the FutureGen storage hub, withdrew from the project when it learned it would no longer host the FutureGen power plant. Humphreys said both Mattoon and Tuscola --- a previous FutureGen finalist --- could be viable sites for the storage hub, if they chose to apply.
"I think that should one of the prior sites want to compete in this process, there may be some additional actions they would need to take," said Humphreys. "But they would clearly be competitive, as would many other communities that have raised their hands with an interest."
Humphreys said about two dozen communities and companies have expressed interest in the FutureGen storage hub. Once completed, the facility will hold CO2 piped in from a retro-fitted power plant in the western Illinois town of Meridosia.
Humphreys said a more detailed "Request For Proposals" will come out in a few weeks, and then the applicants will have three weeks to submit their formal proposals. He said they hope to be able to announce a site for CO2 storage in early 2011. Humphreys added that he has heard informally from some two dozen communities and companies that may be interested in applying for the FutureGen storage site.
FutureGen plans to announce the site of the storage space in early 2011.
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