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The Race for Solar

Joshua Tree Light Pollution Dims BrightSource Energy’s 500MW Palen Solar Project

September 30th 2013

solar power plant

Slated for a site 36 miles west of Blythe, California, the 500MW Palen Solar Plant – a collaborative project between BrightSource Energy and Abengoa Solar – is meeting resistance from critics concerned about its light pollution.

BrightSource energy bought the Palen Solar Project when Solar Trust of America went bankrupt last year, My Desert reports. At the time, the project had received state, but not federal approval, and now both BrightSource Energy and partner Abengoa Solar are required to undergo a whole new round of permitting.

As part of this process, two meetings were scheduled to give the public an opportunity to express their reservations about the project. And this time (BrightSource is no stranger to obstacles in its multi decade pursuit to provide clean solar energy), it isn’t the desert tortoise causing a ruckus, but light pollution. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Advocates Applaud Sen Boxer's Transportation Funding Proposal

September 29th 2013

Traffic Jam

Transportation advocates are encouraged by a proposal this week from Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) to increase funding for road and infrastructure projects.

Boxer, chairwoman of the Senate committee that oversees transportation policy, said this week she is considering eliminating the 18.4 cents-per-gallon federal gas tax in the next surface transportation appropriations bill in lieu of a wholesale tax on oil purchases.

The gas tax, currently paid at the pump by automobile drivers, has paid for road and transit projects since the 1930’s. However, with Americans driving less since the 2009 recession and cars now getting better gas mileage than ever, the gas tax is no longer bringing enough money into the Highway Trust Fund to keep up with the cost of transportation projects. AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department President Ed Wytkind said that makes Boxer’s proposal to sever the ties between the gas tax and transportation funding intriguing. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Interior Gets Ball Rolling on New Arctic Drilling Auction

September 26th 2013

Alaska oil drilling

The Interior Department is taking early steps toward deciding which Arctic waters off Alaska’s northern coast to auction in 2016 for oil drilling.

On Friday, Interior will publish a notice seeking nominations for areas in the Chukchi Sea ahead of a planned 2016 lease sale.

It’s a bureaucratic move in the politically contentious battles over drilling in the Arctic waters, an area oil companies covet and many environmentalists want off-limits.

Oil companies want access to what are thought to be huge oil deposits beneath the harsh Chukchi and Beaufort Seas off Alaska's coast. Environmentalists say development threatens endangered wildlife and that a spill would be tremendously hard to contain. A lease sale in the Beaufort Sea is planned in 2017. Interior says its leasing plan aims to strike a balance between resource access and protection. Read more ..

The Environment on Edge

Crackdown on Emissions for New Gas, Coal

September 25th 2013


The Environmental Protection Agency on Friday proposed the first-ever limits on greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants. The much-anticipated announcement brings the agency one step closer to fulfilling a key pillar of President Obama’s sweeping climate plan — cutting carbon pollution from both new and existing power plants.

Speaking before reporters at the National Press Club, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy touted the agency’s plan as “one of the most significant actions we can take” to protect public health and the environment from the dangers of climate change. “By taking commonsense action to limit carbon pollution from new power plants we can slow the effects of climate change and fulfill our obligation to ensure a safe and healthy environment for our children,” McCarthy said.

Noting the “really long lifetimes” of power plants, McCarthy explained that “people are making decisions about these plants today, and that is why we need to act today.” The standards, the administrator added, would “ensure a clear path forward for a full energy mix.” Read more ..

The Race for Efficiency

New Steering Tech for Heavy Equipment Saves Fuel, Ups Efficiency

September 24th 2013

Rural Construction

Researchers at Purdue University have shown how to reduce fuel consumption while improving the efficiency of hydraulic steering systems in heavy construction equipment.

The new approach incorporates several innovations: It eliminates valves now needed to direct the flow of hydraulic fluid in steering systems and uses advanced algorithms and models to precisely control hydraulic pumps. New designs might also incorporate textured "microstructured" surfaces inside pumps to improve performance.

"Fuel consumption of heavy off-road equipment accounts for a significant portion of total global fuel usage, so improving efficiency is very important," said Monika Ivantysynova, Maha Fluid Power Systems Professor in Purdue's School of Mechanical Engineering. "It's also important from a commercial business point of view because money saved on fuel improves a company's bottom line." Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Oil Theft in Nigeria Has Worldwide Impact

September 22nd 2013

Nigeria Oil

In Nigeria, stolen crude oil flows out of the Niger Delta at breathtaking rates, landing in markets in Nigeria and around the world.  A new study by London-based think tank Chatham House says it is not just the Nigerian authorities that are to blame.

At a Niger Delta market Anna Arube sells black-market petrol from jerrycans for about 80 cents a liter.  She pays the police about $3 a month not to get arrested.  Even so, Arube says, the job is not without its dangers.

“They should be careful over this business that we are doing because there is risk, do you understand?” – asks Arube. The biggest risk is the flammable nature of her product, she says.  But there is very little risk of authorities clamping down.

Until 2009, militants in the Niger Delta battled the government and oil companies, saying they were fighting for the people’s right to the oil on their land.  Since then, the region has quieted, but oil theft and kidnapping are still rampant. 

Oil theft ‘deeply engrained’
A new Chatham House report says 100,000 barrels of oil are stolen daily from the Niger Delta, about five percent of the two million plus barrel per day output.  Some analysts put the total amount of stolen oil much higher, at 400,000 barrels a day. Council on Foreign Relations Senior Fellow John Campbell, a former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria, says the problem is endemic. Read more ..

The Race for Biofuels

Algae Biofuel can Cut CO2 by 68 Percent

September 21st 2013

Pond Scum

Algae-derived biofuel can reduce life cycle CO2 emissions by 50 to 70 percent compared to petroleum fuels, and is approaching a similar Energy Return on Investment (EROI) as conventional petroleum according to a new peer-reviewed paper published in Bioresource Technology. The study, which is the first to analyze real-world data from an existing algae-to-energy demonstration scale farm, shows that the environmental and energy benefits of algae biofuel are at least on par, and likely better, than first generation biofuels.

“This study affirms that algae-based fuels provide results without compromise,” said Mary Rosenthal, ABO’s executive director. “With significant emissions reductions, a positive energy balance, nutrient recycling and CO2 reuse, algae-based fuels will be a long-term, sustainable source of fuels for our nation.” Read more ..

The Race for Solar

Solar Packs for Peace-keepers, Festivals, and Eco-jocks Who Travel with the Sun

September 20th 2013

Rub al Khali Saudi Empty Quarter

Whether you travel alone or in packs, there is a new range of portable solar solutions by the Swiss company iLAND (said island) that will put crummy little solar panels on your backpack to shame: iLand has developed and now manufactures portable solar power packs for events with thousands and those small enough for one. One of their portable solar pack products can be thrown over your back and taken on a long trail to nowhere; another can serve your household as a silent backup generator.

iLand was recently commissioned to power up a massive 6-day desert marathon, the Marathon des Sables, for over 1100 runners plus 400 staff, reporters and spectators in Morocco’s Sahara Desert; they’ve seen sales increase in Japan post-tsunami as an alternate solar generator for locals; iLand gives solutions to NATO, the Red Cross, and soon the French Army; and for lone wolves everywhere who want to run, walk or be on the lone trail without leaving greenhouse gas behind. Read more ..

The Race for BioFuel

Algae-Derived Biofuel Reduces Life-Cycle CO2 Emissions by 50 Percent

September 20th 2013

Click to select Image

Algae-derived biofuel can reduce life cycle CO2 emissions by 50 to 70 percent compared to petroleum fuels, and is approaching a similar Energy Return on Investment (EROI) as conventional petroleum according to a new peer-reviewed paper published in Bioresource Technology. The study, which is the first to analyze real-world data from an existing algae-to-energy demonstration scale farm, shows that the environmental and energy benefits of algae biofuel are at least on par, and likely better, than first generation biofuels.

“This study affirms that algae-based fuels provide results without compromise,” said Mary Rosenthal,  executive director of the Algae Biomass Organization. “With significant emissions reductions, a positive energy balance, nutrient recycling and CO2 reuse, algae-based fuels will be a long-term, sustainable source of fuels for our nation.” Read more ..

The Race for Natural Gas

Good News Bad News on Climate-Impacting Methane Leaks from Gas Wells

September 19th 2013

Fracking gas well

Adding fresh fuel to the debate over whether natural gas is less carbon-intensive than coal, a study released today found that methane emissions from natural gas drilling sites are about 10 percent lower than recent estimates from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

While natural gas power plants emit smaller quantities of greenhouse gases than coal-fired plants, the extraction and distribution of natural gas release large amounts of methane, creating uncertainty about the fuel's overall climate impact. Methane is 20 to 100 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas.

The long-awaited study, led by the University of Texas at Austin and published in the peer-reviewed journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), marked the first time methane emissions were collected directly onsite during well completion. A total of 27 completions were measured, revealing methane emissions significantly lower than the EPA's numbers. Emissions during later stages of production — from equipment leaks and pneumatic controllers such as valves — were much higher than expected. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Ecuador Pushes for Oil Development at Any Price

September 18th 2013

Click to select Image

Abandoning his previous conservation plan, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa announced on August 15 that he will allow oil drilling in the country’s Yasuní National Park. The park, located in the pristine Amazon rainforest, holds 20 percent of the country’s total oil reserves, estimated to be worth $18 billion. After the discovery of oil in the Yasuní National Park in 2007, Correa announced an initiative designed to assure that oil companies that could not drill in the area.

The plan, the Yasuní ITT Initiative, aimed to collect $3.6 billion from the international community over a period of 13 years as a payment to Ecuador for foregoing oil exploitation in the national park. This money was to be invested into Ecuador’s economy, driving growth and paying for social programs while avoiding the destructive consequences of drilling.

However, the collected funds only totaled $13 million, a small fraction of the amount requested. In abandoning the plan, Correa expressed regret, offering that “the world has failed us.” Read more ..

The Race for Natural Gas

Study Finds Limited Greenhouse Gas Emissions From Fracking

September 16th 2013

Fracking gas well

A new study has concluded that the controversial natural gas development method known as fracking releases “significantly lower” emissions of the greenhouse gas methane thanks to pollution control equipment. The analysis from the University of Texas and the Environmental Defense Fund, which was supported by multiple oil-and-gas companies, found that leakage of the gas were 97 percent lower than 2011 estimates from the Environmental Protection Agency. The conclusion should provide a boon to proponents of hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, which supporters say is a cleaner source of energy than coal.

“This study tackles one of the most hotly debated issues in environmental science and policy today,” said Mark Brownstein, an associate vice president with the Environmental Defense Fund, in a statement. “It shows that when producers use practices to capture or control emissions, such as green completions, methane can be dramatically reduced.” Read more ..

Oil Adddiction

Post-Qadhafi Libyan Oil at Risk

September 15th 2013

Oil Barrels

One year after the murder of U.S. ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other foreign service members, Libya is fraying under the strain of numerous tensions. In addition to debilitating political problems and uncertain security, the country is suffering from an acute disruption in oil production and exports that has deprived it of irreplaceable revenue. This combination is potentially catastrophic, not just for Libya, but also for its neighbors.


Libya's current condition is the result of multiple dynamics, foremost of which is its almost complete lack of governance. For one thing, the General National Congress (GNC) is structurally flawed -- it was never intended to be a parliament and was only supposed to function as a constitutional assembly or, at best, the body that would appoint such an assembly. As a result, it is an institution without a clear purpose or set of responsibilities. Read more ..

The Race for Geothermal

World’s Biggest 100 MW Geothermal Plant Built by Israel’s Ormat in New Zealand

September 14th 2013


The New York Stock Exchange-traded company Ormat Technologies (NYSE:ORA) has built what’s being cited as the world’s largest geothermal plant. Geothermal plants tap into heat emitted by the earth’s core, turning this otherwise wasted heat into electricity. The 100 MW plant now online in New Zealand is being called the world’s largest: the Ngatamariki geothermal power plant cost $142 million USD to build ($12 million off target) and it is the biggest “singular binary power plant” ever constructed. 

Ormat says its energy converters are fed by a high temperature (380°F / 193°C) geothermal fluid. But until now only steam turbines or a hybrid combination using steam (and water) were in use. This new plant doesn’t use water, thereby keeping underground water reservoirs intact, and emissions low, the company reports. Read more ..

The Race for LEDs

Toward a Truly White Organic LED

September 14th 2013

LED bulb

By inserting platinum atoms into an organic semiconductor, University of Utah physicists were able to "tune" the plastic-like polymer to emit light of different colors – a step toward more efficient, less expensive and truly white organic LEDs for light bulbs of the future.

"These new, platinum-rich polymers hold promise for white organic light-emitting diodes and new kinds of more efficient solar cells," says University of Utah physicist Z. Valy Vardeny, who led a study of the polymers published online Friday, Sept. 13 in the journal Scientific Reports.

Certain existing white light bulbs use LEDs, or light-emitting diodes, and some phone displays use organic LEDs, or OLEDs. Neither are truly white LEDs, but instead use LEDs made of different materials that each emit a different color, then combine or convert those colors to create white light, Vardeny says.

In the new study, Vardeny and colleagues report how they inserted platinum metal atoms at different intervals along a chain-like organic polymer, and thus were able to adjust or tune the colors emitted. That is a step toward a truly white OLED generated by multiple colors from a single polymer. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Syrian Fights Boost Drive for Keystone

September 13th 2013

Keystone Pipeline

Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) believes the conflict in Syria could increase the odds that the Keystone XL pipeline will be approved. “I believe it does,” he told The Dickinson Press in an interview.

“Right now, we’re determining how to respond in the Middle East, specifically Syria, and it shows, with the volatile situation there, how important it is that we can produce our own energy in North America and not have to get it from the Middle East,” Hoeven, a vocal pipeline backer, told the North Dakota paper Thursday.

Syria isn’t a major oil producer. But the civil war there and the prospect of U.S. strikes have riled oil markets over concerns of a widening conflict in the oil-rich region. Hoeven is pushing for a vote on a resolution that would express approval of Keystone, the pipeline that would bring oil from Canadian oil sands projects across the border en route to Gulf Coast refineries. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Wireless Power System Remotely Charges Multiple Consumer Devices

E-book readers

After over 6 years of development in stealth mode, Ossia which was founded in 2008, made its the first public announcement of a new wireless power technology dubbed Cota. The company received $3.2 million in funding and is currently raising a new round of venture capital. On stage at the TechCrunch Disrupt event held in San Francisco, Ossia CEO, Hatem Zeine showcased how the technology could remotely power consumer devices by automatically delivering targeted energy to multiple devices from as far away as 10m, without requiring line of sight. Operating in the WiFi frequency range and with a similar reach within the home, Cota could redefine power distribution, enabling users to charge or power a wide range of devices well beyond smartphones, to include remote controls, cameras, video game controllers, flashlights, smoke detectors and other battery-based applications. Read more ..

The Race for Coal

Calculating the True Cost of a Ton of Mountaintop Coal

September 11th 2013

coal mine

To meet current U.S. coal demand through surface mining, an area of the Central Appalachians the size of Washington, D.C., would need to be mined every 81 days. That's about 68 square miles -- or roughly an area equal to 10 city blocks mined every hour.

A one-year supply of coal would require converting about 310 square miles of the region's mountains into surface mines, according to a new analysis by scientists at Duke University, Kent State University and the Cary Institute for Ecosystem Studies.

Creating 310 square miles of mountaintop mine would pollute about 2,300 kilometers of Appalachian streams and cause the loss of carbon sequestration by trees and soils equal to the greenhouse gases produced in a year by 33,600 average U.S. single-family homes, the study found. Read more ..

The Race for BioDiesel

Coffee Grounds: a Promising Energy Resource For the Future

September 10th 2013


For many of us, it’s the fuel that wakes us up and gets us started on our day. Now, University of Cincinnati researchers are discovering that an ingredient in our old coffee grounds might someday serve as a cheaper, cleaner fuel for our cars, furnaces and other energy sources.

Liu and fellow researchers used a three-pronged approach to converting waste coffee grounds into energy sources including biodiesel and activated carbon by:

   Extracting oil from the waste.
   Drying the waste coffee grounds after oil removal to filter impurities in biodiesel production.
   Burning what was left as an alternative energy source for electricity, similar to using biomass.

The researchers launched the project in 2010, gathering waste coffee grounds in a five-gallon bucket from a Starbucks store on UC’s campus. After collection, they removed the oil from the waste coffee grounds and converted triglycerides (oil) into biodiesel and the byproduct, glycerin. The coffee grounds were then dried and used to purify the biodiesel they derived from the waste coffee grounds. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

SIWA Oasis Near Libya to Get Solar from the Gulf

September 9th 2013

Solar panels

For outsiders, SIWA oasis in Egypt is a wonderful place to visit precisely because “civilization” has been so slow to arrive there. But for locals, the gift of a new 20MW solar energy plant will be received like a mountain of gold.

Just 30 miles east of the border of Libya, the oasis is remote, but its curious earth architecture, productive olive groves, and vibrant cottage goods – not to mention the nicest, friendliest people you could ever wish to meet – makes it a fairly popular destination among tourists intrepid enough to visit Egypt.

But as Dr. Richard Leakey once told me, living among the Cliffs of Dover is hardly as romantic as visiting; in other words, life is not always so easy in this corner of Egypt, which has access to only the most rudimentary goods and services, and a lot of people still rely on unhealthy sources of energy to maintain their a basic standard of life.

The United Arab Emirates has promised to build a 20MW solar energy plant, according to Egypt Independent. Such a plant can produce 7,000 hours of clean energy per year, which would benefit a large percentage of the population of roughly 23,000-25,000 residents. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Keystone Pipeline Foe Steyer Launches $1 Million Ad Push

September 8th 2013

Keystone Pipeline

Billionaire climate change activist Tom Steyer is launching a four-part, $1 million ad buy that attacks the proposed Keystone XL oil sands pipeline.

The former hedge fund chief’s first ad, slated to run during today’s political talk shows, alleges Keystone wouldn’t help the U.S. because the oil would be  “refined and loaded on ships to be sold overseas to countries like China.”

“Foreign countries will get more access to more oil to make more products to sell back to us, undercutting our economy and our workers,” the ad states. The Obama administration is weighing whether to grant a cross-border permit for TransCanada Corp.’s pipeline, which would bring oil from Canadian oil sands projects to Gulf Coast refiners.

Keystone pipeline supporters have pushed back against activists’ allegations that Keystone would largely be an export pipeline, either for crude it carries or refined products made with it. They also say that Keystone would benefit the economy even if some products refined with the oil it carries are exported. Read more ..

The Race for Biofuel

Microbial Teamwork Makes for Better Biofuel from Waste Plant Material

September 7th 2013

Click to select Image

A fungus and E. coli bacteria have joined forces to turn tough, waste plant material into isobutanol, a biofuel that matches gasoline's properties better than ethanol. University of Michigan research team members said the principle also could be used to produce other valuable chemicals such as plastics.

"We're hoping that biofuels made in such an efficient way can eventually replace current petroleum-based fuels," said Xiaoxia "Nina" Lin, assistant professor of chemical engineering and leader of the research.

Gallon for gallon, isobutanol gives off 82 percent of the heat energy gasoline provides when burned, compared to ethanol's 67 percent. Ethanol also has a tendency to absorb water, corroding pipelines and damaging engines, but isobutanol doesn't mix easily with water. While ethanol serves as a mixer in the gasoline infrastructure today, many researchers argue that isobutanol could be a replacement. Read more ..

China on Edge

China's Xi Seeks Central Asian Ties For Energy, Security

September 7th 2013

Xi Jinping

Chinese President Xi Jinping is working to build economic and political links with Beijing's neighbors in Central Asia this month with visits to four of the region's five former Soviet republics.

It is Xi's first tour of Central Asia since he was sworn in as president in March. His stops in Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan bookend a visit to the G20 summit in St. Petersburg later this week.

The final stop on Xi's Central Asia tour is Kyrgyzstan’s capital, Bishkek, where he plans to attend a September 13 meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization – a group that comprises Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan, as well as China and Russia. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

New Connection between Stacked Solar Cells Can Handle Energy of 70,000 Suns

September 6th 2013

Solar Panels

North Carolina State University researchers have come up with a new technique for improving the connections between stacked solar cells, which should improve the overall efficiency of solar energy devices and reduce the cost of solar energy production. The new connections can allow these cells to operate at solar concentrations of 70,000 suns worth of energy without losing much voltage as “wasted energy” or heat.

The discovery means solar cell manufacturers can create stacked solar cells that can handle high-intensity solar energies without losing voltage at the connecting junctions, potentially improving conversion efficiency.

Stacked solar cells consist of  several solar cells that are stacked on top of one another. Stacked cells are currently the most efficient cells on the market, converting up to 45 percent of the solar energy they absorb into electricity. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

Nova Lumos Solar Electricity in a Box is Cheaper than Kerosene

September 5th 2013

the sun

Nova Lumos, a new clean tech startup from Israel, has devised a mobile-based solar energy program for developing countries that produces clean electricity for less than it costs to purchase kerosene.

While1.5 billion people lack access to electricity, according to Nova Lumos, mobile phones have penetrated almost every corner of the globe. And in Africa especially, it has become common practice to conduct all kinds of business through cell phones.

Quite like M-pesa, a mobile-based money transfer service that is used in even the most remote parts of Kenya, Nova Lumos will provide solar energy on a pay-as-you go basis.

Users simply have to commit to a downpayment of $20-30 and they will receive a self install solar panel and storage unit that is activated after daily or weekly payments have been made. After five years, once the unit is paid off, it is theirs to keep. “Our goal is to ‘democratize’ electricity by making solar energy affordable and accessible to all,” writes Nova Lumos. ”Over the years, mobile operators have expanded from voice to data, to mobile banking and mobile commerce. Mobile utility could be the next natural step.”  Read more ..

The Race for Wind

Interior Dept. Touts Offshore Wind Auction, Promises More

September 4th 2013

Wind Turbine

The Obama administration said it's pleased with the start of its push to develop wind off the nation’s coasts after an auction for a tract of ocean near Virginia netted $1.6 million on Wednesday.

Virginia Electric and Power Co. — a subsidiary of Dominion Virginia Power — outbid Apex Virginia Offshore Wind for the 112,799-acre Atlantic Ocean plot 23.5 miles from Virginia’s shore, the Interior Department said.

“This year’s second offshore wind lease sale is another major milestone in the President’s all-of-the-above energy strategy and demonstrates continued momentum behind a robust renewable energy portfolio that will help to keep our nation competitive and expand domestic energy production while cutting carbon pollution,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in a statement.

Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) downplayed the fact that the auction attracted only two bidders. The agency’s first offshore lease sale, on July 31, drew interest from three firms.

BOEM Director Tommy Beaudreau said in a media call that “companies are recognizing” the potential benefits of offshore wind power. Those projects have historically run into financing and regulatory hurdles large enough to make projects unviable. As a result, there currently are no offshore wind turbines operating in the United States. But the technology is coming along — and so is interest in offshore wind, Beaudreau asserted.

Wednesday’s auction comes on the heels of a 164,750-acre lease off the coast of Massachusetts and Rhode Island that brought in $3.8 million. Beaudreau also noted the Obama administration has plans to initiate more auctions this year and in 2014 off the coasts of New Jersey, Massachusetts and Maryland. Read more ..

Japan After Fukushima

Japan Government to Deal with Fukushima Nuclear Leaks

September 3rd 2013

Fukushima plant worker

Japan's government says it will take the lead in trying to stem the leaks of highly radioactive water at the Fukushima nuclear power plant.  The nuclear reactors were crippled by a huge tsunami generated by a devastating earthquake two and a half years ago.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is vowing to spend whatever is needed to contain the ongoing disaster at the destroyed Fukushima reactors on the Pacific coast in the northeastern part of the country.

Abe took steps on Tuesday after repeated leaks of highly toxic water at the site indicated that the plant's operator has not been able to sufficiently manage the cleanup. An aerial view shows the tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant and its contaminated water storage tanks

The Japanese prime minister said it can no longer be left to Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) to handle the problems resulting from the contaminated water leaks. “Instead of the ad hoc approaches that have been taken in the past, we put together a basic policy today that will offer a fundamental solution to the problem of contaminated water," he said. "The government needs to resolve the problem by standing at the forefront.” Read more ..

Alternative Energy Edge

Anaerobic Digester is Powering Up Michigan State University

September 2nd 2013

An anaerobic digester that will re-use waste from Michigan State University’s farms and dining halls and create energy for several buildings on the south end of campus is now open for business. A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held last month at the East Lansing campus, marking the start of operations. An anaerobic digester is a sealed tank, deprived of oxygen, in which organic waste is degraded at an elevated temperature. This allows the waste material to decompose quickly and produce methane that can be captured and used as bio-gas fuel.

“This system is the largest on a college campus in the United States,” said Dana Kirk, a specialist from MSU’s Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering who is overseeing the project. “It’s the largest in volume and in energy output.” The digester will utilize about 17,000 tons of organic waste to generate 2.8 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year. “Only about 20 percent of the energy we produce is being used to sustain the process,” Kirk said. “The other 80 percent is available for other uses on campus.” Read more ..

The Race for Hydrogen

Hydrogen Fuel From Sunlight

September 1st 2013

Hydrogen fueling

In the search for clean, green sustainable energy sources to meet human needs for generations to come, perhaps no technology matches the ultimate potential of artificial photosynthesis. Bionic leaves that could produce energy-dense fuels from nothing more than sunlight, water and atmosphere-warming carbon dioxide, with no byproducts other than oxygen, represent an ideal alternative to fossil fuels but also pose numerous scientific challenges.

A major step toward meeting at least one of these challenges has been achieved by researchers with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) working at the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP). “We’ve developed a method by which molecular hydrogen-producing catalysts can be interfaced with a semiconductor that absorbs visible light,” says Gary Moore, a chemist with Berkeley Lab’s Physical Biosciences Division and principal investigator for JCAP. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

New Nanoparticles Make Solar Cells Cheaper To Manufacture

September 1st 2013

Sunrise or Sunset

University of Alberta researchers have found that abundant materials in the Earth's crust can be used to make inexpensive and easily manufactured nanoparticle-based solar cells.

The U of A discovery, several years in the making, is an important step forward in making solar power more accessible to parts of the world that are off the traditional electricity grid or face high power costs, such as the Canadian North, said researcher Jillian Buriak, a chemistry professor and senior research officer of the National Institute for Nanotechnology, based on the U of A campus.

Buriak and her team have designed nanoparticles that absorb light and conduct electricity from two very common elements: phosphorus and zinc. Both materials are more plentiful than scarce materials such as cadmium and free from manufacturing restrictions imposed on lead-based nanoparticles. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Booming Oil Production Boosted GDP Estimate

August 31st 2013

Oil Barrels

Two of President Obama’s top economic advisers are crediting increasing petroleum production with the rosier estimate for second quarter economic performance announced this week.

“This is yet another reminder that the President’s focus on increasing America’s energy independence is not just a critical national security strategy, it is also part of an economic plan to create jobs, expand growth and cut the trade deficit,” Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Jason Furman and National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling wrote in a blog post on Thursday.

The United States petroleum trade deficit hit a record low in June as booming domestic oil production displaced imports and exports of refined petroleum products increased. That played a significant role in revising U.S. gross domestic product growth in the second quarter to 2.5, up from 1.7 percent, said Furman and Sperling. Read more ..

The Race for EVs

EV Fast-charging Stations to Reach 200,000 by 2020

August 29th 2013

Electric car Israel

Fast-charging technologies are driving the growth of the electric vehicle (EV) recharging market, with the cumulative number of stations established worldwide expanding by a factor of more than 100 times from 2012 to 2020, according to a new report from IHS Automotive, part of IHS Inc. Total fast-charging stations for EVs are set to reach 199,000 locations globally in 2020, up from just 1,800 in 2012. The number of these stations, meanwhile, is anticipated to rise more than threefold in 2013 to 5,900 and then nearly triple to 15,200 in 2014. Overall growth will continue at a rapid pace through 2020.

Hooked up to a fast-charging system, which offers a high-voltage DC charge instead of a slower AC charge, a vehicle can be fully charged in as little as 20 minutes. This could be a major step toward EVs becoming generally equivalent to ICE vehicles when it comes to refuelling. Read more ..

After Fukushima

Tepco Must Plan for 132 Olympic Pools of Fukushima Water

August 28th 2013

Fukushima nuke plant

Tokyo Electric Power Co. has accumulated the largest pool of radioactive water in the history of nuclear accidents. The utility must now decide what to do with it: dump in the ocean, evaporate into the air, or both. The more than 330,000 metric tons of water with varying levels of toxicity is stored in pits, basements and hundreds of tanks at the wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant. The government said this week it will take a bigger role in staunching the toxic outflow that’s grown to 40 times the volume accumulated in the atomic disaster at Three Mile Island in the U.S.

Processing and disposing of the water, enough to fill a very large crude oil tanker or 132 Olympic-size swimming pools, will be one of the most challenging engineering tasks of our generation, former nuclear engineer Michael Friedlander said. Tokyo Electric has chopped down forest to add more water tanks at the site 220 kilometers (137 miles) northeast of Tokyo. Read more ..

The Race for EVs

France Leads Europe in E-cars

August 27th 2013

Ford Focus electric

By far the most battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) within Europe are sold in France - probably a result of financial incentives granted by the French government. Though the largest country market for cars, Germany only ranks third - after Norway.

In 2012, French customers bought 9314 electric cars - more than twice as many as the second player, Norway. In the Scandinavian country, 4007 e-cars were sold. The reason for the relatively high demand in Norway with just about 5 million inhabitants: Huge hydroelectric power capacities make energy cheap. In Germany, only 3254 electric vehicles were sold though the country counts about 80 million inhabitants and claims to be the largest automotive market in Europe. These figures were provided by Munich Expo, organizer of the eCarTec fair for electric driving. Read more ..

The Race for Biofuel

Biofuel Group Intensifies Attacks Against Big Oil

August 26th 2013

Grown from Biofuel

The corn-ethanol group Growth Energy is taking aim at the oil industry in a new multimillion dollar national TV advertising campaign, the group announced Monday. The push portrays the oil industry as using its clout to prevent biofuels from entering the marketplace. It’s the latest in a series of escalating attacks between biofuel and oil industry trade groups.

“While Big Oil may be one of the largest and well-funded industries on the planet – they are not entitled to use their influence to control Congress to maintain unbridled control over the transportation fuels marketplace,” Growth Energy said in a statement. The advertising effort will last several weeks, Growth Energy spokesman Michael Lewan told The Hill. It will broadcast nationally on FOX, CNN, MSNBC and RFD-TV, as well as in some local markets. It’s another example of the growing animosity between the biofuel and oil industries. Read more ..

The Race for Nuclear

Lawmakers Summon Nuclear Chief to Testify About Wast Site

August 25th 2013

Nuclear Waste

Legislators in the House want the head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to answer questions about the agency’s efforts to decide whether or not to approve the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste site in Nevada.

Reps. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and John Shimkus (R-Ill.), the heads of the Energy and Commerce Committee and its subcommittee on the Environment and the Economy, asked Allison Macfarlane on Friday to appear before the subcommittee at a hearing in September.

They want her to answer questions about the status of the NRC’s review of the dump site, which a federal appeals court last week ordered it to resume.
“Our country has invested 30 years and $15 billion in determining whether Yucca Mountain would be a safe repository,” they wrote in a letter to the NRC. “The NRC is this nation’s nuclear safety regulator and its reputation for independence and objectivity rests on its transparency in this matter. As such, NRC’s objective, scientific findings regarding the safety of Yucca Mountain would provide the public an independent, authoritative assessment of this important project.” Read more ..

The Race for Alt Fuel

Dishwasher-Sized Fuel Cells Designed To Be Ten-Fold Cheaper

August 23rd 2013

Fuel Cell-Dishwasher

Maryland-based start-up Redox Power Systems struck a partnership deal with researchers at the University of Maryland to commercialize a potentially game-changing distributed generation technology, with plans to bring to market a fuel cell that is about one-tenth the size and one-tenth the cost of currently commercial fuel cells by 2014.

The breakthrough solid oxide fuel cell technology is the brainchild of Eric Wachsman, the director of the University of Maryland’s Energy Research Center.

Redox says that it will provide safe, efficient, reliable, uninterrupted power, on–site and optionally off the grid, at a price competitive with current energy sources.

“Every business or home should be able to safely generate its own energy,” said Warren Citrin, CEO and director of Redox. “We currently rely upon a vulnerable electrical grid. The best way to decrease that vulnerability is through distributed energy, that is, by making your own energy on-site. We are building systems to do that, with an emphasis on efficiency and affordability. These should be common appliances. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

Middle East Solar Manufacturing Boom Imminent Say Industry Experts

August 22nd 2013

Solar Panels

Energy industry experts are predicting a new solar manufacturing boom next year after an extended slump, and they claim that the Middle East is ranked among the top three leading markets in the industry.

After China went on a massive photovoltaic-making binge, their generic panels flooded the global market, prices plunged, and many businesses in the United States and Europe could not compete.They consequently lost a lot of money, got mad, and walloped solar manufacturers with tariffs.

That malarkey seems to have settled itself, solar manufacturers are bouncing back, and the Middle East, Africa and South America are expected to grow the fastest, Colorado-based industry research group, IHS inc. predicted in a recent report.

Of course, these nations have further to climb so it’s no great revelation that their growth will outpace more established solar markets, but at least there appears to be a strong consensus in the Middle East, Africa and South America that anyone who bets on coal or gas now will land up on the wrong side of natural history. Read more ..

Japan After Fukushima

Fukushima Plant Faces One Crisis After Another

August 21st 2013

Fukushima nuke plant

More than two years after suffering a nuclear disaster, Japan is stuck in damage-control mode. The embattled operator of the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, which suffered multiple meltdowns after it was hit by a massive earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, is scrambling amid new revelations that hundreds of tons of contaminated water have leaked from a steel storage tank and into the ground.

As it fights to contain the leak and address the possibility that hundreds of similar tanks could also leak and contribute to contamination reaching the nearby Pacific Ocean, numerous other challenges loom.

One is how to prevent the seepage of contaminated water into the groundwater. Another is the highly dangerous task of removing spent fuel rods from one of the plant's damaged reactor buildings. And then there is the issue of what to do with the radioactive water that has been stored.

The Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) is currently injecting water into damaged reactors to keep them cool and pumping out contaminated water. But Komei Hosokawa, professor of environmental sociology at Kyoto Seika University in Japan, says that international assistance will be needed to deal with the mounting issues. Read more ..

The Race for Wind

Remote Sensing Replaces Meteorological Towers in Growing Wind Power Market

August 21st 2013

London Array

Meteorological towers will increasingly give way in the coming years to remote sensing devices, such as sound detection and ranging (sodar) and light detection and ranging (lidar) systems forecasts market analyst, Navigant Research.

The wind power market currently provides almost three percent of global electricity production and as the wind power industry matures, wind forecasting technologies such as meteorological towers are becoming critical in order to integrate greater amounts of variable wind energy into the grid.  Meteorological towers, or met towers, the predominant solution at present, serve a range of forecasting needs.  

“As wind turbines grow in size, met towers are no longer cost-effective, and the value proposition for using met towers alone is rapidly vanishing,” explained Feng Zhao, managing consultant with Navigant Research.  “Additionally, pressure from grid operators demanding more accurate power scheduling from wind farm operators and the challenges of lowering the cost of offshore wind energy are making remote sensing devices increasingly attractive.” Read more ..

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