Community Enjoys 6th Naturally Illinois Expo

naturally illinois expo

The Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) pulled out all the stops for this year’s 6th Naturally Illinois Expo which was held April 17 and 18. Because 2015 is ISTC’s 30th anniversary, we had an Open House as part of the Expo with approximately 20 exhibits here in our building showing many of our current research projects as well as one highlighting the history of ISTC.  There were roughly 500 attendees at ISTC over the two days.

kids learn about biochar and PPCPs from Wei ZhengIn general, the Expo is a great place for the general public, educators, families, and students to view the natural world in Illinois through the work of archaeologists, biologists, geologists, chemists, engineers and other scientists from the five divisions of the Prairie Research Institute. ISTC's exhibits were designed to allow attendees to see the many areas of sustainability in which ISTC is working and provide a window into career options available to those interested in science and environmental fields.

Patrons were able to interact with our scientists who are working on innovative research solutions to water, energy, ecosystem, climate, technology, and resource issues. Exhibits included ones on bio-oils, biochar, coal dewatering, desalination, light energy, zero waste, sustainable electronics, renewable energy, indoor environmental health, green jobs, and much more. A full list of ISTC's exhibits is given below along with any additional resources provided by the exhibit coordinator.

This year's Expo was a zero waste event and those efforts were led by ISTC technical assistance engineer Bart Bartels who indicated that Expo patrons successfully diverted 74.4% of their waste from landfill. "It was a challenging event to manage waste because most attendees [on Friday, April 17] were students who brought their own lunches from home.  That led to many 'teachable moments'.  Students learned about the sorting process and how that can be difficult if all unwanted materials are stuffed into one bag." said Bartels.


Exhibits presented by ISTC at the 2015 Expo

  • Native plantings for yard and fields - Photos and posters of students working with native plants will be displayed. Some plants will be on display as well.
Careers in Science
  • What is a green job? - Ever wondered what a green job is? Or if sustainability principles could be applied to other jobs outside of environmental science? Discover a world of possibilities with our interactive green jobs tool.
kids and adults learn about waste to oil from BK Sharma and Bidhya KunwarChemistry
  • Waste to Oils - Come and learn what different kinds of wastes can be converted into liquid fuels using a pyrolysis (heating in absence of oxygen) process. This process is usefulness in converting waste materials (e.g. plastic, used tires), waste lipids (e.g. waste fryer oil, animal fat, soapstock, trap grease) and biomass (e.g. corn stover, algae, defatted seedcakes, lignins) to fuels (drop-in fuels and bio-crude oils).
  • Buildings are cool, except when they are hot - Explore building energy use with our model house, and see yourself in predator vision with our Infrared cameras!
  • IDOT Stewards of the Environment: Claiming Roads for Renewable Energy - ISTC is working with U of I experts to evaluate the use of plants mown from along Illinois highways as a bio-energy source. IDOT spends a lot of money to maintain roadsides. What if that wasted resource could be turned into energy? The answer is complicated. University experts in agronomy, manufacturing processes, business, and public policy are working to see how to do it -- from planting the seeds to harvesting the energy.
  • Less is More: Changing the way we "see" light - By choosing light bulbs based on the lumen (light we get from the bulb) instead of by the watt (energy the bulb consumes), we can save money and reduce the amount of energy we use. You will be able to measure the amount of energy consumed by incandescent, CFL, and LED household light bulbs. Lighting Flyer (PDF)
Environmental Issues
  • 30 Years of Service to Illinois Citizens and Business - ISTC's 30th anniversary (ISTC's History poster) offers an opportunity to consider ISTC’s contributions to the progress the state has made in reducing pollution and optimizing our use of water and energy. In addition to a 30th anniversary poster, the display also highlighted the roles MOM, WRAS, GLRRPR, and the Illinois Governor’s Sustainability Award have played in the Center’s history.
  • Biochar: Is It a Win-Win Scenario for Sequestering Carbon and Improving Agronomic Yields? - Come and learn how to produce biochar from yard wastes and agricultural residues, how biochar acts as a novel strategy for carbon sequestration, how biochar serves as a soil amendment to improve soil productivity and enhance crop yields.
  • Biochar supersupercapacitor desalting - A modern Robinson was floated onto a remote island without freshwater because of a cruise accident. He needs survival first and wants to leave there some day. How could you help him?
  • kids and adults learn about forward osmosis and water purification from Jennifer Deluhery Charting a New Route to Cleaner Coal - Did you know that coal has to be washed before it can be used to make power? What happens to the water and fine coal particles after the washing process? Usually, this wash slurry is put into retention ponds that could leak harmful chemicals into the environment. Come visit us to find out a simple way to eliminate these retention ponds all together with advanced technology!
  • Emerging Contaminants: Extending Knowledge and Mitigation Strategies - Learn more about the sources of emerging contaminants such as pharmaceutical and personal care products (PPCPs) and hormones, how they enter into the environment from sewage treatment plants and animal farms, whether plants can take up and accumulate these pollutants from contaminated irrigation water, and what approaches we are using to control this pollution.
  • The Plight of the World in 5 Minutes - Have you ever heard about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch or wondered what it would be like to live without all the stuff we have? List of videos shown at the 2015 Expo
  • Ultrafiltration - Illinois is in the top 10 states for manufacturing jobs. See how companies use a simple concept to reduce waste and save money.
  • Using Lake Sediment as Reclaimed Topsoil - Display on restoring ecological and recreational benefits to lakes that are filling with sediment. Videos and photos will show heavy equipment removing sediment and trucks dumping it on land for use as topsoil.
  • Saving Water One Drop at a Time - As population increases, the demand for clean, fresh water will also rise, making existing supplies a very precious resource in Illinois and other parts of the US. Check out the sustainable practices and innovative technologies that businesses, citizens, and organizations in IL are using to save water through ISTC's Billion Gallon Challenge.
Zero Waste and Recycling
  • Is Your School Up To The Challenge? - Is your school up for a little competition? Are you willing to put your building's sustainability up against other schools? If so, consider joining the Illinois Green Office Challenge, a friendly contest to reduce the environmental impact of schools and other buildings. Find out more at
  • The Secret Life of Electronics: Environmental & Social Impacts from Design to Disposal - How much do you know about the natural and human resources invested in your new smartphone, tablet, or other device? This interactive quiz will present the impacts of electronic products throughout their lifecycles. Learn how design choices affect recyclability, and the connections between your gadgets and civil war, health, labor conditions, planned obsolescence, energy use, and other issues.
    • See the Sustainable Electronics Initiative (SEI) web site for more information on the topics covered in this display.
  • What is Sustainability? - Ever wondered what people mean by this buzz word “sustainability” or how sustainable you could be? Come explore the exciting world of all things sustainable!
    • Resources:
      • What is Sustainability? fact sheet
  • Zero Waste Illinois: Reducing Waste at Home, on Campus, and Beyond - When is nothing better than something? When the something recycling myths and factsyou’re talking about is waste. kids learning truth vs myth about recyclingZero waste is an approach to the way materials are handled throughout their life cycle, in which discarded materials are recognized as resources rather than wastes. Learn about zero waste projects across campus and throughout the State—including the Zero Waste Homecoming Game—and find out what you can do to reduce waste in your own home.
    • Resources:
      • To learn more about ISTC's Zero Waste Illinois program projects and services, see
      • Case study: City of Urbana
      • Case study: Illinois Sustainable Technology Center Champaign Headquarters
      • Nitrile Glove Recycling Implementation Project
      • Giving Sustainability a Hand: Student helps launch recycling program for disposable gloves
      • Zero Waste Guide: Waste-free lunches
      • "I Want to Be Recycled" Super Sorter Game from Keep America Beautiful. At a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF), you'll place sorters near a conveyor belt to recover as many recyclables as possible.
      • Virtual Tour of a Recycling Center