All posts by brycegray

Beavers Build Dams to Battle Drought

By Bryce Gray

ELKO, NEVADA – Carol Evans parked the Bureau of Land Management pickup truck and stepped out onto dusty earth cracked with the scars of drought. Although it’s April – typically one of the wettest times of year, even in Nevada – a prolonged dry spell stretches into its fourth year, causing more trouble for the hardy people and wildlife that live in the nation’s most arid state.

“I’ve never seen anything this bad,” the BLM fisheries biologist and lifelong Nevada resident said, reflecting on the historic drought that has gripped much of the West. Continue reading

PETRO PERIL: The cross-country odyssey of Bakken crude

By Bryce Gray

From its Late Devonian and Early Mississippian resting place of some 300 million years, the light, sweet crude of “Bakken gold” is extracted through hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” and horizontal drilling techniques. As soon as the oil bubbles to the wellhead at the surface, the process of converting it into a market-ready commodity begins in earnest.

At the wellhead, the crude is stored in stock tanks, and eventually undergoes preliminary heating to remove water.

Natural gas also exits the wells through the drilling process. Satellite imagery shows widespread flaring that sets the region aglow at night, as approximately 30 percent of the area’s natural gas is burned off. When possible, the gas is captured and stored separately from tanks of crude, to be processed into fuels such as propane or butane.
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Carbon capture: Deep six the CO2

By Bryce Gray

325 parts per million in 1970… 350 ppm in 1988… 400 ppm in 2015…

At 400 ppm, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are now nearly 40 percent higher than in pre-industrial times and are higher than they have been in more than 800,000 years. As the global concentration of CO2 climbs ever higher and holds more heat around the Earth, scientists continue to devise strategies that might slow the accumulation of the greenhouse gas.

One technique with strong potential for climate change mitigation is carbon capture and sequestration, or storage. This process, or CCS for short, is being put to the test in Decatur where 1 million tons of carbon dioxide from an ethanol plant have been pumped 7,000 feet below ground.

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Food waste in the crosshairs of NUvention entrepreneurs

By Bryce Gray

That tomato on your salad and other produce items across the U.S. endure an odyssey of more than 1,300 miles from the field to your local grocery store. That journey not only costs energy, but also time that cuts into shelf life and contributes to $7 billion worth of domestic food waste annually.

When it comes to freshness, the dizzying logistics of this system require food to be picked when under-ripe and treated with chemicals and costly refrigeration until it reaches far-off consumers.

“This is a very complex system,” said Aidan Mouat, a chemistry Ph.D. candidate and the CEO of Hazel Technologies, speaking at last week’s end-of-term presentations for entrepreneurial NUvention Energy students at Northwestern University. “We’d like to say, ‘Let’s stop all that. Let’s just come up with a solution that works well and drops into a number of different spaces and just stops that senescence process – that ripening process.’” Continue reading

In Nicaragua, improving respiratory health starts at the hearth

By Bryce Gray

Inside Felipa Del Carmen’s tin-roof, dirt-floor home in Nicaragua, piles of wood stand at the ready to keep an indoor fire burning. The mother of six says that a number of her children have battled pneumonia that required treatment at Clínica Verde, a nearby non-profit clinic.

A traditional indoor cook fire fills the home of Felipa Del Carmen with smoke. (Bryce Gray/Medill)

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Working on the railroad: Chicago copes with worst rail congestion in years

By Bryce Gray

Chicago railroads are teeming with activity, routing 1,300 trains daily.  Travelers fill 800 passenger trains, while another 500 haul freight cars filled with corn from Iowa, coal from Wyoming, wheat from the Great Plains, oil from North Dakota and so many other commodities.

Currently the nation’s railways are the busiest they’ve been in years, causing logjams at spots throughout Chicago – such as 63rd and State, and along 75th Street. The bottlenecks reverberate throughout the economy and across the country.

“The railroads are moving more traffic than at any time since 2007 and the last recession,” said Ed Greenberg, a spokesman for the American Association of Railroads. Greenberg reported that 2014 saw more than 28.7 million carloads, containers and trailers take to the railways.

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