Fall 2011 Archive

9/21 - Better Still: Zeolite’s Promise as an Energy-saving Molecule Sorter

Michael Tsapatsis, Professor, Chemical Engineering & Materials Science
As any moonshiner can attest, separating mixed substances can demand tremendous amounts of heat. In days of abundant and inexpensive fuel, this was not a major consideration when designing industrial separation processes such as distillation. But as energy prices rise and policies promote efficiency, the need for more energy-miserly alternatives grows. One promising option is energy-efficient high-resolution molecular separation with membranes based on preferential adsorption and/or sieving of  molecules with minute size and shape differences.  And among the candidates for selective separation, zeolite materials show particular promise. Although the first reports on zeolite membranes date back to the 1940s, commercial implementation is lagging due to a lack of cost-effective, reliable, and scalable thin film deposition methods. Tsapatsis will describe an emerging, potentially scalable zeolite membrane fabrication method based on the combination of three enabling developments from his group, along with examples of possible applications. View presentation


9/28 - Coal, Climate, Health: Broadening the Public Dialogue on Energy Policy

J. Drake Hamilton, Science Policy Director, Fresh Energy
Science alone does not convince audiences about the largely invisible and globally mediated risk of climate change. Engaging opinion leaders and conservative audiences—people who are cautious, disengaged, or doubtful about prospects for a clean energy transition—requires compelling, targeted information about energy economics and health and security impacts of inaction. Observations from successful outreach work on climate policy with thought leaders around the Midwest, as well as recommendations on pathways through the misinformation to engaging the toughest crowds. View presentation


10/5 - Wind and Solar on the Power Grid: Emergence of Mainstream Renewable Electricity

Mark Ahlstrom, Chief Executive Officer, WindLogics
Electric power systems are working to integrate wind and solar as full-fledged power plants. With projections of huge growth, concerns about the variability and uncertainty of wind and solar energy are being addressed with new proposals from the power grid operators. Some new approaches are very promising, others are shortsighted, and the choices will impact the future size and success of renewable electricity in North America. Ahlstrom will discuss some surprisingly dynamic and exciting developments for integrating large amounts of wind and solar energy. View presentation


10/12 - Entrepreneurship and Environment: Innovative Business Leaders Can Positively Impact Our Environment

Todd Taylor, Attorney, Fredrikson & Byron
Exxon Valdez, Union Carbide, Tokyo Electric Power Company, British Petroleum. Their names give rise to images of polluted waterways, dead humans and animals, and nuclear, petroleum and chemical contamination on a massive scale. Yet, for each of these catastrophes and business failures, there are hundreds of entrepreneurs who are dedicated to using innovative technology and business practices to help the environment, while at the same time making a profit. Learn about the legal, business and policy issues involved in starting a green business and discuss whether "profit" is always a dirty word. View presentation


10/19 - Helping Forests Thrive in the Face of Global Change

Anthony D'Amato, Assistant Professor, Department of Forest Resources
How can we manage forests sustainably in the face of global change, including changing climate, invasive species, and changing land use? Given the scales and time frames over which forests are managed, the development of solid strategies requires both a long-term perspective on how forests have responded to change in the past and large-scale experiments relevant to forest management and conservation. D’Amato will discuss how studies of tree-ring patterns and long-term data collected from natural and managed forests in the upper Great Lakes region can help us identify forest management strategies that have conferred the most resistance and resilience to past stressors, and ways we might use that knowledge to prepare for future environmental change. He also will explore the long-term ecological impacts of emerging issues, including bioenergy production from trees, using results from several large-scale experiments in the region. View presentation


10/26 - Closing the Loop in the Product Life Cycle

Leo Raudys, Senior Director of Environmental Affairs, Best Buy
Innovations in product design, recycling, and customer engagement strategies are driving positive changes in the marketplace and moving us ever closer to closed loop systems. What is hype and what is real? And, even though progress has been made, challenges and barriers remain. Are they real, imagined, or both? View presentation


11/2 - Harnessing Sustainability and the Green Economy for Market Transformation

Tim Nolan, Sustainable Industrial Development, MN Pollution Control Agency
What is the sustainability movement really all about? How we can go beyond conventional approaches to gain widespread adoption, market transformation and competitive advantage? Nolan will offer a practitioners’ perspective and focus on forces driving the transition to a clean green economy using insightful examples to illustrate key issues.  View presentation


11/9 - The Frugal Future

Chris Farrell, Economics Editor, "Marketplace Money," American Public Media
Yogi Berra famously quipped, "It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future." But Farrell is willing to predict that, over the coming decade, the rise of the mobile Internet and the push for sustainability will transform the economy, driving the next wave of creative destruction (economist Joseph Schumpeter's phrase for the process by which new technologies, markets, and organizations supplant the old). For too long society equated living better with owning lots of stuff, much of it bought on credit. We always knew that wasn’t quite right—that what gives us real joy are experiences, learning, creativity, spirituality, friends and family. The promise of the new economy is the opportunity for a life made better not by ownership but by greater flexibility and meaning. View presentation


11/16 - Why Don't River Deltas Drown?

Chris Paola, Professor, Geology and Geophysics
The world's river deltas are home to extremely productive wetlands, hundreds of millions of people, diverse forms of agri- and aqua-culture, and coastal infrastructure ranging from commercial ports to recreation areas to oil refineries. Yet delta surfaces typically lie within a few meters of sea level and in most cases the crust beneath them is subsiding. It appears that they would be destined to founder even if global sea level weren't rising. But appearances deceive: river deltas can maintain their precarious-looking landscapes for millions of years without drowning. We will look at why, and what it means for the future of the world's deltas. View presentation


11/30 - Cultural History Meets Natural History

Richard Leppert, Regents Professor, Cultural Studies & Comparative Literature
Modern concern with the natural environment has historical roots in changing attitudes about the relationship between humans and nature that emerged during the 18th century, most dramatically manifested in the concept of the Sublime. These changing attitudes can be traced in philosophy, literature, visual art and music. They inform decisions to establish the first national park reserves. They also explain the general awareness of environmental crisis and the urgent necessity to rethink the fractured relationship between the natural world and its human inhabitants. View presentation


12/7 - Collaboration for Environmental Protection:  Integrating Knowledge, Communication, and Process

Carissa Schively Slotterback, Assistant Professor, Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs
Wouldn’t life be easy if environmental decisions were always made based on the best available science?  While it is often assumed that more and better information leads to better decisions, science alone is often ineffective in influencing stakeholders and decision makers.  This presentation will highlight emerging approaches to stakeholder collaboration for environmental protection that better respond to how people use information in making decisions.  Schively Slotterback will illustrate approaches to simultaneously enhancing environmental impact information, our communication about that information, and the environmental decision-making processes in which information is used. View presentation


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The opinions expressed in Frontiers in the Environment are those of the speakers and not necessarily of the Institute on the Environment/University of Minnesota.


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