2020 Seed Grants

Addressing global bee decline through prairie restorations  Dr. Brian J. Wilsey, Department of Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology, Iowa State University

Wild bees are the main contributors to pollination in terrestrial ecosystems and are in decline worldwide. Restoring bee habitat is a feasible solution to global decline, but lacks sophistication in the tall grass prairie region, where non-native (exotic) plants strongly influence restoration outcomes. The objective of this proposal is to test the effectiveness of prairie plantings with different grass-forb seed mixes on flower production, resistance to invasive plants, and attracting wild bees. Plots within a 36-acre prairie restoration will be seeded with varying grass-forb ratios and the resulting plant and bee community will be documented. A separate experiment will quantify bee visitation to competing paired exotic-native plant species to estimate whether visitation differs between native and non-native (exotic) species. Results will be used to initiate an experiment to determine the optimal grass-forb ratio for creating bee habitat in the Midwest.

A unified information-driven model for CO2 reduction chemistry  Dr. James Shepherd, Department of Chemistry, University of Iowa

Chemical transformations of carbon dioxide, such as electrochemical CO2-to-fuel conversion, has been identified as a potentially viable renewable carbon-neutral energy source. There are a growing number of chemical descriptors and design parameters for molecules and materials that can catalyze this reduction. We propose to use an advanced computational technique called fully quantum mechanical embedding to isolate and study the electronic structure properties of CO2 as it binds to putative CO2-reducing catalysts. Our hypothesis is that single molecule properties of CO2 that can be measured from these calculations can be correlated to catalytic efficiency. The benefit of a model that focuses on CO2 is that it would be simple by nature, and widely transferable to heterogeneous, homogenous, and biological catalysts. In light of recent reports on climate change and growing student interest in global solutions, we will also integrate our research into an existing course-based undergraduate research program at the University of Iowa. - $35,000

Decarbonizing Building Thermal Control in Iowa and the Upper Midwest  Dr. Charles Stanier, Deparment of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering, University of Iowa; HS Udaykuman, Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Iowa; & Jerry Anthony, Department of Urban and Regional Planning, University of Iowa

In the Midwest, continued reliance on natural gas heating will lock in substantial and avoidable greenhouse gas emissions. Rapidly increasing renewable electricity creates a unique opportunity to solve this building thermal control (BTC) challenge using heat pumps. Further penetration of heat pumps in the upper Midwest requires lower costs and changes to outdated comparison methodologies. District heating configurations with heat pumps have seen impressive success, but require considerable thermal design optimization in concert with suitable state and local codes. We will address these challenges through (i) a design optimization case study for district heating with heat pumps in Iowa, and (ii) publication of comprehensive cost and carbon footprint comparisons at county-resolution. Both tasks require enhancements to existing publicly available energy modeling tools, and development of new tools integrating energy systems, demand profiles, environmental conditions and economic indicators. This project will deliver a Python toolbox for planning, projection and policy evaluation. - $30,000

Advancing tools to assess the impact of garbage burning on air quality  Dr. Elizabeth A. Stone, Department of Chemistry, University of Iowa

Garbage burning is a significant source of toxic air pollution, although little is known about its environmental and health impacts. Our overarching goal is to evaluate the impact of garbage burning onair quality. To achieve this goal, we will develop and validate a high-throughput analytical method to quantify 1,3,5-triphenylbenzene (TPB), a molecular tracer of garbage burning emissions. With this method, we will make the first measurements of TPB in ambient fine particulate matter (PM2.5) in Iowa and the United States. By source apportionment, we will establish the contributions of garbage burning to ambient PM2.5 and select classes hazardous pollutants. We will gain new insight to garbage burning impacts on air quality and establish preliminary data to leverage future funding in this research area. This research is especially pertinent to the state of Iowa where residential waste burning and agricultural plastic burning are allowed. - $30,000


Sunday, March 1, 2020