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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 ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Nuclear Facilities as Vulnerable as Ever to Terrorist Threats

August 20th 2013

Nuclear Reactors

Nuclear facilities throughout the United States continue to provide inadequate security measures against possible terrorist attacks and threats, especially unauthorized access to -- and removal of --weapons-grade material as well as measures to prevent acts of sabotage that can cause devastating and catastrophic nuclear reactor meltdowns, according to a report released Monday by a Washington, D.C., watchdog group that investigates and exposes government corruption and malfeasance.

According to Judicial Watch's "Corruption Chronicles," the costly and divisive 9/11 Commission revealed years ago that the al-Qaeda terrorists who hijacked the commercial airliners considered crashing at least one of the planes into a nuclear power plant in the New York metropolitan area. "The report explains that Mohamed Atta, who piloted one of the planes that hit the World Trade Center considered targeting a nuclear facility he had seen during familiarization flights near New York,” states Monday's disturbing release. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

Third Consecutive IEEE Cherry Award for NREL

August 19th 2013

Solar panels

Keith Emery always had amazing computer programming skills, but he lacked that special gift for creating solar cells. So, 30 years ago he switched to something more in his wheelhouse — characterizing and measuring the efficiency of solar cells and modules.

He succeeded so well, building a world-class testing facility at the Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), that he was recently given the annual William R. Cherry Award by the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) — one of the most coveted awards in the world of solar photovoltaic (PV) energy.

Emery is the third consecutive Cherry Award winner from NREL. In 2011, Jerry Olson, who developed the multi-junction solar cell, won the award. Last year, Sarah Kurtz, who helped Olson develop the multi-junction cell and is now a global leader in solar module reliability, won the award. And three other NREL scientists have won the Cherry Award in earlier years — Paul Rappaport (1980), Larry Kazmerski (1993), and Tim Coutts (2005). Emery says the cross-fertilization at NREL, with great scientists inspiring greatness in others, is the reason there have been so many Cherry Award winners at the lab — and is certainly the reason he won his. Read more ..

The Race for Batteries

New Flow Battery Could Enable Cheaper, More Efficient Energy Storage

August 18th 2013


MIT researchers have engineered a new rechargeable flow battery that doesn't rely on expensive membranes to generate and store electricity. The device, they say, may one day enable cheaper, large-scale energy storage.

The palm-sized prototype generates three times as much power per square centimeter as other membraneless systems -- a power density that is an order of magnitude higher than that of many lithium-ion batteries and other commercial and experimental energy-storage systems.

The device stores and releases energy in a device that relies on a phenomenon called laminar flow: Two liquids are pumped through a channel, undergoing electrochemical reactions between two electrodes to store or release energy. Under the right conditions, the solutions stream through in parallel, with very little mixing. The flow naturally separates the liquids, without requiring a costly membrane. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Keystone XL Could Harm Parks, Wildlife

August 17th 2013

Keystone Pipeline

The Interior Department said the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline could have a negative impact on natural resources, wildlife and national parks. Interior said Keystone builder TransCanada Corp. must better assess the Canada-to-Texas pipeline’s impact on noise and lighting.

“Scientific studies demonstrate that light pollution and noise can adversely affect natural and cultural resources, wildlife, and visitor experiences,” Willie R. Taylor, director of Interior’s office of environmental policy, said in a comment posted this week on the State Department’s website.

The April 29 comment was one of the 1.2 million Foggy Bottom is reviewing regarding its Keystone draft environmental impact statement. The department is reviewing the pipeline because TransCanada needs a cross-border permit to finish the northern leg. Interior’s comment focused on the impact Keystone would have on national parks and public lands the department oversees. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

Solar Panels Return to White House

August 15th 2013


The White House is making good on a late 2010 pledge to put up solar panels. “The White House has begun installing American-made solar panels on the first family’s residence as a part of an energy retrofit that will improve the overall energy efficiency of the building,” a White House official said.

The installation drew cheers from an environmental group that in 2010 called for panels to return to the White House after the Reagan administration removed a Carter-era solar panel installation. “Better late than never — in truth, no one should ever have taken down the panels Jimmy Carter put on the roof way back in 1979,” said Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org.

“But it's very good to know that once again the country's most powerful address will be drawing some of that power from the sun,” he said. The new solar energy panels are part of broader energy-related changes to the first family’s residence. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Libyan Oil Output Cut in Half by Strikes, Disruption

August 14th 2013

Arab Oil Derick

The Libyan oil industry is in the midst of its worst crisis since the 2011 civil war because of lawlessness and strikes at major petroleum facilities.

In the latest disruption, security guards re-imposed a strike they called off over the weekend, forcing the closure of Libya’s two main crude oil export terminals. Operations had resumed on Sunday at the ports of Es Sider and Ras Lanuf after a two-week stoppage. The two ports have a combined export capacity of around 600,000 barrels per day.

The work stoppage came just hours after gunmen wounded a guard and ransacked an oil service center Sunday evening in the eastern oasis town of Awjila. Libyan officials said they believe the attack was linked to competition between militia groups over oilfield contracts and the placement of their members in the newly created national Petroleum Facilities Guard, a force under the direct authority of the Defense Ministry, but made up largely of former militia members who have often fought among themselves.  Read more ..

The Race for Cool

Advantix Air-Con Empire Built on Ice and Salt

August 11th 2013


The Israeli inventors took their ice-skating rink technology and put it into efficient air-conditioning systems used by businesses across the world.

When three Israeli brothers back from vacation decided to start a recreational ice-skating business in Israel, they came up against the obvious challenges of making ice float in the Middle East: heat, humidity and high energy bills.

Taking a slab of Dead Sea salt and inspired by the way the lowest place on earth sucks up water from the atmosphere, a new cooling idea was born.

Dan, Tom and Mordechai Forkosh, with their father and uncle, eventually went on to build 22 slush-free ice rinks in Israel and Europe using their patented energy-saving approach. And since 2010, their company Advantix has been applying the same basic approach — using salt and a heat pump — to take a bite out of the industrial air-conditioning systems market around the world. Read more ..

The Race for Biofuels

Powering Buildings With Bioreactor Algae Skin Facades

August 10th 2013


A five-story apartment building in Hamburg, Germany gets its juice from its algae skin.  It’s an example of the kind of architectural innovation that could readily transplant to the Middle East.  So why is partnership between designers, investors and government largely absent in this region?

The continuing drought of global investment requires innovative approaches to project underwriting.  The most successful strategies involve collectives of stakeholders each with a  unique interest in a common project. Singularly, none would back the initiative, but in combination with others, sufficient momentum is created to realize the scheme.  There’s power in unusual partnerships, but let’s get back to the building.

The Bio Intelligent Quotient House (BIQ) was designed by Arup, SSC Strategic Science Consultants and Splitterwerk Architects to demonstrate the use algae as an alternative to other renewables for heating and cooling large buildings. BIQ, which contains fifteen apartments, is the first building in the world to be powered exclusively by algae. Read more ..

The Race for Natural Gas

Israel's Zero Gas Game

August 8th 2013

When natural gas was first discovered off of Israel’s coast, analysts and pundits, myself included, identified the finds as a “geopolitical game changer.” Some even went as far as to refer to Israel as an emerging energy superpower – a Qatar in the making.  The country’s vibrant society was euphoric and consumed with speculation about how the windfall of natural gas revenues would be used and how natural gas exports to Asia, Europe and even to neighboring Turkey and Jordan might improve Israel’s strategic posture. Such discussions were not meritless. The natural gas discoveries, nearly 900 billion cubic meters, were among the world’s recent largest, and the involvement of a competent Houston-based company, Noble Energy, in the recovery process instilled confidence in the prospects of turning Israel into a non-trivial part of the global natural gas landscape. After six decades of total dependency on foreign sources of energy Israel was suddenly not only on the cusp of an era of energy self-sufficiency but also well on its way to becoming a net energy exporter and the proud owner of natural gas revenues and a  derived $100 billion sovereign wealth fund. This vision is drifting further away by the day. Israel has made all the right moves to squander its gas bonanza and scare off foreign investors to a point that the celebrated gas discoveries might turn into a huge missed opportunity.  Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Fracking a Threat to the Saudis

August 7th 2013

Saudi Oil

A Saudi prince has warned that his oil-reliant nation is under threat because of fracking technology being developed elsewhere around the world. Billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal said the Gulf Arab kingdom needed to reduce its reliance on crude oil and diversify its revenues. His warning comes as rising shale energy supplies in the United States cut global demand for Saudi oil.

In an open letter to his country's oil minister Ali al Naimi and other government heads, published on Sunday via his Twitter account, Prince Alwaleed said demand for oil from Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) member states was "in continuous decline". Read more ..

The Race for Solar

UAE & Saudi Seek Whopping $1 Billion for Solar

August 6th 2013

solar power plant

Two of the top four oil-producing OPEC members, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, have joined forces in a push to secure $1 billion in funding for Middle East solar-power, Bloomberg reports.

The joint goal to build solar energy plants with a combined generation of 1,000 MW capacity should result in power for up to 200,000 homes, writes Bloomberg.

This project is not related to either the UAE’s other solar energy developments, including the impressive Shams 1 CSP plant, or Saudi’s ambitious intention to spend up to $100 billion to lift itself out of the ranks as one of the less solarized Middle Eastern nations. Instead, the Kingdom and Emirate are seeking grants and loans to help finance the project, which will bring solar power as far afield as the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. And it can’t happen a second too soon. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

Cobalt Replacements Make Solar Cells More Sustainable

August 5th 2013

Test Tubes

Researchers at the University of Basel have replaced the rare element iodine in copper-based dye-sensitized solar cells by the more abundant element cobalt to take a step forward in the development of environmentally friendly energy production.

Dye-sensitized solar cells (DSCs) transform light to electricity. The cells consist of a Semiconductor on which a dye is anchored. The colored complex absorbs light and through an electron transfer process produces electrical current. Electrolytes act as electron transport agents inside the DSCs.

Usually, iodine and iodide serve as an electrolyte. Chemists at the University of Basel have now been able to successfully replace the usual iodine-based electron transport system in copper-based DSCs by a cobalt compound. Tests showed no loss in performance. Read more ..

The Race for Personal Transit

Toyota Tests Winglet E-Scooter

August 1st 2013


The Segway PT, a scooter with two side-by-side wheels, has gained significant awareness. Now it looks like it gets competition from the Far East: Toyota is testing a very similar electric vehicle.

In an extensive field trial in the Tsukuba Mobility Robot Experimental Zone, Toyota currently tests prototypes of its "Winglet" scooter. Employees of Japan's National Institute for Applied Labour sciences and Technologies as well as local administration staff utilize the Winglet for their daily way to work. They explore how the two-wheeled battery-operated scooter harmonizes with pedestrians and other traffic participants. Besides on safety, the tester take a close look on comfort and functionality with respect to the demand for sustainable mobility.

Announced for the first time already in August 2008 the Winglet is designed as a safe and simple transport means. It is driven by a locally emission-free electric motor; the driver stands on a footboard. Read more ..

The Automotive Edge

Ladies and Gentlemen, Stop Your Engines: Americans are Driving Less

July 31st 2013

Traffic Jam

Miles driven by U.S. motorists in light-duty vehicles are down about 5 percent since its peak in 2006, says a University of Michigan researcher.

Following up his recent research that showed that the number of registered vehicles reached a maximum five years ago, Michael Sivak of the U-M Transportation Research Institute analyzed recent trends in distances driven by cars, pickup trucks, SUVs and vans in the U.S. from 1984 to 2011. He also examined rates per person, per licensed driver , per household and per registered vehicle.

Sivak found that Americans drove 2.647 trillion miles in 2011 (the latest year available), down from a high of 2.773 trillion miles in 2006. In 1984, the distance driven by light vehicles stood at 1.559 trillion miles.

His study also showed that the distance-driven rates per person, per licensed driver and per household have all dropped 9 percent since 2004, while the rate per registered vehicle is down 5 percent during that time. Read more ..

The Race for Geothermal

Kenya's Geothermal Industry Grows

July 30th 2013

Nesjavellr Geothermal Power plant

With Kenya's proximity to the Great Rift, once a hotbed of volcanic activity, the country is the biggest producer of geothermal energy on the continent. Currently 13 percent of the national grid is powered by this renewable energy, but untapped geothermal fields have the potential to cover all of Kenya's power needs, and then some.

Near the Kenyan town of Naivasha, Isaac Kirimi treks up a steaming hillside. Kirimi is a drilling superintendent with KenGen, Kenya’s leading power company.

“This is like a live volcano! You can easily convince someone you’re in hell,” he said. The rocks underfoot are still soft. He looks for a small bushy plant known as geothermal grass, which thrives in high ground temperatures.

“It is normally used by scientists to give them an indication of where there is potential for geothermal resources,” said Kirimi. "A scientist is like a wild person. You are imagining things and now trying to transfer that imagination. And try to convince someone to invest in that is not very easy." Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Obama Rebuked for Keystone Claims

July 29th 2013

Keystone Pipeline

President Obama’s dismissal of the job benefits from the Keystone XL pipeline drew a furious rebuke on Monday from supporters of the project who accused him of ignoring his own State Department.

Republican lawmakers and industry groups said the president is making baseless claims about the proposed pipeline that have already been disproven by members of the administration.

“A president disparaging private-sector jobs while backstage at a jobs rally is beyond belief. The president’s own State Department reported that Keystone would support upwards of 40,000 jobs. In this economy, any source of private job creation should be welcomed with open arms,” House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said in a statement.

The pipeline’s boosters challenged Obama’s remark that Keystone would create only 2,000 construction jobs, pointing him to State’s finding in a draft review that the project would actually generate 42,100 direct and indirect jobs during the initial two-year assembly phase. Read more ..

The Race for Alt Energy

Battle Brews Over Obama Renewable Energy Plan

July 28th 2013

Obama Electric Car

America’s deserts are stark, quiet places, where isolation and the elements have long kept development at bay. To outsiders, these arid expanses may not seem like prized land.

But they are poised to play a key role — and perhaps, to serve as a battleground — in President Obama's plan to double U.S. electricity from wind, solar, and geothermal sources by 2020. To help ramp up that amount of clean energy, the White House has urged approval of an additional 10,000 megawatts of renewable energy production on public lands.

Estimates vary on exactly how many households would be served by the expansion, but the Obama administration says the 25 utility-scale solar facilities, nine wind farms and 11 geothermal plants it has approved on federal lands so far will provide enough juice to power 4.4 million homes. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Cyprus Oil Spill Threatens Pristine Coastline

July 28th 2013

Gulf oil spill

Better call out that airborne Mediterranean pollution surveillance crew Tafline just wrote about! Last Tuesday, an oil tanker delivering fuel to a power plant in the Turkish Cypriot-controlled north of Cyprus spilled approximately 40 tons of oil into the Mediterranean Sea.

In a separate report, officials estimated more than 100 tons of oil were spilled near pristine coastline, threatening wildlife and tourism facilities. There has been no explanation for the conflicting fuel estimates.

A spill barrier has been established but officials, anticipating additional leakage, are seeking to extend it, Turkish Cypriot Environment Minister Mehmet Harmanci told Reuters in a telephone interview.  He described the risk as “ongoing”. According to Harmanci, power plant owner Aksa Enerji pins the spill on a pressure problem or an improper connection in the pumping process. Human error has not been ruled out. Local authorities were struggling to contain the slick which extends for 4.5 miles along the Karpasia peninsula. Clean-up materials, including oil-absorbing solvents, were ordered from Turkey but, as of this writing, delivery has been delayed.  Read more ..

Oil Addiction

House Dems Push Bill to End Oil and Gas Waste Exemption

July 26th 2013

Hydrolic Fracking pollution

A pair of House Democrats floated legislation Thursday that would end the oil and gas industry’s exemption to a federal waste disposal law, which could have implications for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

“Under current federal law, oil and gas companies do not even have to test their waste to see if it is toxic, leaving us with no way of knowing what is being disposed of and how it is being treated. It is time oil and gas companies comply with existing minimum standards and oversight,” Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.), a bill co-sponsor, said in a Friday statement.

Opponents of the controversial drilling method want to restrict use of “pools” that hold large amounts of fracking waste that they worry will leak and seep chemicals into the ground. They also have concerns about waste injection wells, in which oil and gas firms pump drilling waste underground for storage. Read more ..

Automotive Edge

Diesel Vehicles Save Owners Thousands, Maybe

July 25th 2013

Ram Chrysler diesel truck

Drivers of diesel-fuelled vehicles can save thousands of dollars in total ownership costs compared to similar gasoline vehicles, according to a University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute study. "The estimates of savings for three and five years of ownership vary from a low of $67 in three years to a high of $15,619 in five years, but most of the savings are in the $2,000-to-$6,000 range, which also include the extra cost that is usually added to the diesel version of a vehicle," said UMTRI researcher Bruce Belzowski. "Though there are some exceptions, the overall direction of the results supports the idea that diesel vehicles compete well within the U.S. market.

"In particular, the idea that one can get a return on one's initial higher investment in a diesel vehicle within three years is a very positive sign, considering that new vehicle buyers tend to keep their new vehicles for an average of three to five years." Read more ..

The Race for Biofuels

Wood-Boring Gribbles Intrigue Researchers

July 24th 2013

Wood-Boring Gribbles

Tiny wood borers known colloquially as gribbles make their own enzymes and use them to eat through docks in harbor towns, earning enmity from fishermen all around the world.

Now, researchers from the Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and elsewhere are exploring whether that curse can be turned into a blessing for the biofuels industry.

The trouble with gribbles — that they can break down biomass into sugars even in harsh environments — might become the great thing about gribbles, as the industry searches for enzymes that can thrive in salt-rich, high-solids settings.

Gribbles (scientific name: Limnoria quadripunctata) are 1 to 3 millimeters long and have an organ called the hepatopancreas that extends almost the entire length of their bodies. This organ is where gribbles make their own enzymes. In other words, they don't rely, as termites, cows, and humans do, on the organisms that find their way into their stomachs to aid in digesting the food they eat.

The gribble enzymes also hold promise of tolerating salts better than other enzymes, likely due to the fact they evolved in a marine environment. These unique properties could teach biomass researchers how to make better enzymes that operate in a high-solids industrial environment, breaking biomass down more effectively into sugars, which can then be converted into ethanol or a renewable fuel to replace gasoline, diesel, or jet fuel. Read more ..

The Race for Coal

Greenpeace Accuses Chinese Coal Company of Draining Water Resources

July 23rd 2013

coal mine

International environmental group Greenpeace is accusing China’s largest state-run coal company of massively exploiting water resources in the country's arid Inner Mongolia region.  In a newly released investigative report, the group says wells have dried up, lakes have shrunk and desert dunes are expanding near the company's plant.

According to Greenpeace, since state-owned Shenhua Group began extracting water for its plant to process coal into liquid fuels, groundwater levels have dropped by nearly 100 meters.

One lake where the plant extracts its water has also shrunk by two-thirds since operations began in 2006.  The group says the plant is not only drying up water resources, but illegally dumping toxic industrial wastewater as well. Local farmers and herders are finding it difficult to maintain their livelihoods, sparking social unrest.  But the company is in the midst of plans to massively expand the project. Read more ..

The Race for Alt Transit

Electric Bike Revenue To Rise to Nearly $11 Billion by 2020

July 23rd 2013

Click to select Image

Worldwide revenue from e-bicycles will grow from $8.4 billion in 2013 to $10.8bn in 2020 according to a recent 'Electric Bicycles' report released by Navigant Research. The market research analyst says that although electric bicycles (e-bicycles) are still a nascent market in North America, they have been embraced in many Asia Pacific countries as well as some countries in Europe.  As the use of bicycles, scooters, and other forms of two-wheeled transport as commuting vehicles rises in large cities around the world, e-bicycles are expected to expand their reach steadily.  
“Growing urbanization is contributing to traffic snarls on city streets in many countries, and pushing people toward other options,” says Dave Hurst, principal research analyst with Navigant Research.  “The aging global population is seen by many as one driver of e-bicycles’ popularity, but the fact is that more young people are choosing them as well.” Read more ..

The Race for EVs

Qoros Electric Vehicle: China and Israel Partner with USA

July 20th 2013

Plug-in Vehicle

After losing the Better Place electric vehicle company, Israel Corporation moved forward with a different holding in the same industry. Qoros Auto Company Ltd., a 50:50 joint venture between Israel Corp and China’s Chery Automobile Co. Ltd., has agreed to purchase EV and hybrid parts from American Axle Manufacturing Inc. (AAM).

Qoros is a relatively new brand. Although the company formed as Chery Quantum Automotive Corporation (CQAC) in December, 2007, they made their first public appearance as Qoros just a few months ago at the 2013 Geneva Motor Show.

Globes reports that Qoros will install AAM’s hybrid and electric driveline systems on the 2015 model of their Qoros 3 sedan, which is destined for both the Chinese and European automotive markets. It will be manufactured in Changshu, where a production plant is currently being built (sustainably, supposedly.) Read more ..

Oil Addiction

The Lac-Mégantic Oil Spill and the Future of American Energy

July 19th 2013

train on fire

The train derailment and explosion near Lac-Mégantic, Quebec earlier this month heightened debate over how we move oil across North America. Supporters of pipelines, including the Keystone XL project, are calling the efficacy of railroads into question, while rail advocates are highlighting their safety record and the need to keep up with the output from the Bakken oil deposits in North Dakota and elsewhere.

This conversation, however, misses a bigger reality: Our metropolitan economies are addicted to energy, meaning we will need to bear the direct and indirect costs of feeding that addiction.

Even as we rely less on coal and use more alternative energy sources, petroleum and natural gas are still the primary fix for our energy habit. Together, they accounted for nearly 64 percent of America’s primary energy consumption in 2012, far eclipsing other sources. For better or worse, they are the essential ingredients powering our industries and moving our workers. Read more ..

The Race for Batteries

Extremely Fast Ion Conductors: Another step Towards Better Batteries

July 18th 2013


Though they started their research on future battery materials only past April, they already have achieved potentially seminal results: A research team at the Technical University of Graz (Austria) succeeded in providing fundamental data on the nuclear dynamics of a specific ion conductor that could greatly improve the characteristics of lithium-ion batteries.

Not only the development electromobility but also the design of more powerful smartphones and portable computers pose high challenges to battery systems: Engineers and not least customers expect the energy storage to offer increased capacity and safety as well as better longevity. Towards this end, solid-state lithium batteries are among the white hopes of battery research. In comparison to conventional lithium-ion batteries with liquid electrolytes, solid-state batteries feature superior characteristics with respect to safety, service life and thermal stability. For this reason, scientists from disciplines such as solid-state chemistry, physics and materials sciences are searching feverishly for solid-state ion conductors suitable for use in such batteries. Read more ..

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