New plan aims to reduce emissions from power plants

Powers plants will carry a heavy burden under the Environment Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, said University of Tennessee Baker Fellow Mary English.

On Tuesday, English gave a presentation for the Clearing the Air workshop at the Howard Baker Jr. Center the ways in which the Clean Power Plan will reduce fossil fuels created by power plants.

“The interagency working groups would take into account other factors such as cost, what mix of electricity sources exist, what are the opportunities for carbon dioxide emissions for each state,” Baker explained.

English explained 32 percent of carbon emissions in the U.S. come from electricity production. The Clean Power Plan is looking for a 30 percent reduction in greenhouse gases produced from these plants by 2030.

“In the U.S., carbon dioxide is a very dominant greenhouse gas but that is not true globally,” English said. “Globally, you find more methane caused by enteric fermentation…it means farting and burping.”

Under the Clean Power Act, states will be charged with reducing greenhouse gases created produced by power plants. They are setting goals for each state, except for Vermont, based on a “best system of emissions reduction,” or BSER.

English told her audience that coal fired plants are the most commonly used means to create electricity. In turn, “coal states,” like Wyoming and Pennsylvania, will be the most widely affected, economically.

“Coal powered plants have the highest Carbon Dioxide emissions per kilowatt-hour, so they are the target of the Clean Power Plan,” English said.

The reduction goals will vary greatly from state to state. A 25 to 50 percent reduction is expected in most states.

“In terms of the state specific emissions goals, the idea is to have a 30 percent reduction in emissions from power plants by 2030…but each state will have a different target,” Baker said.

Tennessee is expected to reduce carbon emissions by 39 percent under the plan.

Baker pointed out that states could choose to put the burden of carbon reduction on the utility or take the burden on themselves. States can also join unions or teams to achieve reduction goals together.

Challenges will be proposed in opposition to the Clean Power Plan, but English is confident the decree will hold.

“The U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse emissions on three separate occasions,” English said.

The College of Communication and Information Department of Journalism and Electronic Media, the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists and the Howard Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy sponsored the workshop.

Edited by Maggie Jones


UT physicists to address questions after showing of “Particle Fever” documentary

University of Tennessee Professor of physics Dr. George Siopsis and associate professor of physics Stefan Spanier will answer questions following a screening of the documentary “Particle Fever” tomorrow at the Regal Downtown West Cinema 8 in Knoxville

The film follows six scientists during the launch of the Large Hadron Collider, an energy particle accelerator.  The documentary puts a personal touch on one of history’s largest scientific experiments. The characters emotions are documented as they search for the Higgs boson.

Local experts Siopsis and Spanier will be available for discussion following the 7:20 p.m. showing of the film. Friday is the opening day for the film.

A Large Hadron Collider is a machine that allows physicists to hold different experiments involving energy particles. Image courtesy of UT’s Department of Physics and Astronomy.

Siopsis says the film “conveys the enthusiasm of physicists, how we work together in international collaborations, and shows what it takes to do science.”

With the help of Siopsis and Spanier, the University of Tennessee High Energy Physics group has been part of the hunt for the Higgs boson since 2006.

The department website says that the group has made substantial contributions to the particle tracking detectors needed to study the decay properties, particularly the angular distributions of the Higgs boson.

Siopsis says that the Higgs is central to our existence and that he looks forward “to the excitement of new discoveries will generate in the coming years.”  

Showtimes for Particle Fever can be found here.

Edited by Maggie Jones

Researcher explains efforts to restore the American chestnut

Dr. Stacy Clark explain her research on the American chestnut to a crowd at Friday’s UT Science Forum.

Dr. Stacy Clark of the U.S. Forest Services, spoke at Friday’s installment of the UT Science Forum on “American Chestnut Restoration: Can We Bring Back the Mighty Giant.” Her presentation highlighted current efforts being made to restore the large tree.

The American chestnut was once one of the most important trees within its growth range, stretching from Canada to Mississippi and Alabama. In the last 100 years it has been nearly decimated due to blight, ink disease and insect habitation.

“It’s sad to think about, this tree that was once deemed one of the most important trees in terms of timber production and nut production is pretty much wiped out,” Clark said.

WATCH: News package about Dr. Stacy Clark’s presentation.

Clark and her team are currently conducting research to help protect, and eventually restore, the American chestnut.

She has been working closely with The American Chestnut Foundation, which breeds disease resistant chestnuts. The ACF provides nuts (seeds) to Clark and her team. The team has 11 planting sites in The South where they grow and perform research on plants.

The goal of the research is to test how the plants fair in a forest setting. The sites have been slightly manipulated to create more advantageous growing conditions for the saplings.

A crowd of UT students, employees and members of the community were in attendance for Clark’s presentation.

“You really have to have an approach that is multi-disciplinary. If you think you are going to restore a chestnut by creating a tree that is resistant to the blight, you’re not going to get very far,” said Clark.

Success rates have varied in the growing areas. Average survival for their 2009 planting is about 77 percent. If the tree had a lot of roots, it tended to survive at higher rates. The 2010 plantings were not as successful, with survival rates below 30 percent in some areas.

Clark warned, “We’re probably decades away from true, large scale restoration efforts.”

While researches still face plenty of obstacles, Clark feels that their work needs to continue.


Edited by Nichole Stevens 


UT aviation professor baffled by missing airplane, offers theories

Last Saturday, March 8, Malaysia Airlines flight 370 lost contact with air traffic control nearly an hour after takeoff and has since been missing. One week later, the fate of the flight remains a mystery as several theories have been dispelled or are yet to be proven legitimate.

Malaysia Airlines flight 370 was a Boeing 777, similar to the one in the image above.
Malaysia Airlines flight 370 was a Boeing 777, similar to the one in the image above. Courtesy of Hugh Llewelyn/Flickr.

University of Tennessee research professor of Aviation Systems and Flight Research Dr. Borja Martos said he was concerned about the communication from the cockpit, especially after learning the two pilots were highly trained.

“What’s very interesting I guess, unfortunately, is the lack of communication and the lack of what’s typically called a transponder that allows air traffic control where you’re at, who you are and what altitude you are at.”

“There is an axiom that is often taught,” Martos said. “It is: aviate, navigate and communicate. In that order is a priority. In case of emergency, the very first thing you do is not communicate. It is to manage the aircraft. Because, obviously, if you talk and don’t take care of the problem then you haven’t really helped out the situation.”

Martos said that, like many others, he was still confused by the chain of events.

“I heard some theories about a total electrical failure, which seems quite possible with what they’re saying. I don’t know why any cabin in distress would not announce that there is a problem. That, to me, goes against any training you ever receive.”

“To be quite honest with you, the only thing I could think of would have to be some sort of explosion. One catastrophic enough that the whole thing would have ripped up quickly.”

“I don’t have many answers; I have a lot of questions.”

Edited by Maggie Jones