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The Race for EVs

Alcohol-Based Fuel Cells to Extend Range of E-Cars

May 29th 2013

Plug-in Vehicle

With a novel energy storage technique, researchers of the Berlin Technical University will improve the driving range of electrically driven cars: They use ethanol - but instead of filling it into the tank, they plan to build an ethanol-based fuel cell.

Fuel cells are not new as an energy source in the automotive industry. Actually, several carmakers including Daimler and Opel (General Motors) are in the prototype phase for a potential roll-out of serial-built fuel-cell powered e-cars later in this decade. Their common denominator is a hydrogen fuel cell whose electric power could directly drive an electric car.

The approach of the Berlin research group headed by professor Peter Strasser is different. While it basically is possible to build fuel cells based on alcohol instead of hydrogen, alcohol-based fuel cells feature a significantly lower energy density than their hydrogen counterparts. Nevertheless, alcohol fuel cells could offer significant benefits over hydrogen cells. The reason is that storing the very energy-rich hydrogen in high-pressure tanks as well as the process of refuelling requires strict safety measures. Since this tank frequently takes place under the passenger compartment, fuel cell vehicles face safety concerns in the public. Read more ..

The Race for Natural Gas

A Level Road for CNG Vehicles Could Energize Americans' Vacation Drives

May 28th 2013

Click to select Image

Every Memorial Day, as sure as barbeques and baseball games, Americans can count on the familiar tradition of watching gasoline prices rise. The Energy Information Agency summer cost forecast estimates that gasoline prices this summer will average $3.63 per gallon. While this price is down from last summer’s average of $3.69 per gallon, it still burdens the average driver.

AAA predicted that Memorial Day weekend average gasoline prices will top the 2012 $3.64 level and even the 2011 $3.79 price. This follows AAA’s April survey showing that two-thirds of Americans say gasoline prices strain their budgets at $3.64, and half of Americans say gasoline is too high at $3.40.

In Europe, government policies support high gasoline and diesel prices to encourage fuel economy and reduce petroleum demand. Here’s the good news: America has a better option. We have an abundant, accessible resource of clean natural gas that can drive us where we need to go at nearly half the cost of gasoline. Read more ..

The Race for BioFuel

Nation Equipped to Grow Serious Amounts of Pond Scum

May 27th 2013

Pond Scum

A new analysis shows that the nation's land and water resources could likely support the growth of enough algae to produce up to 25 billion gallons of algae-based fuel a year in the United States, one-twelfth of the country's yearly needs.

The findings come from an in-depth look at the water resources that would be needed to grow significant amounts of algae in large, specially built shallow ponds. "While there are many details still to be worked out, we don't see water issues as a deal breaker for the development of an algae biofuels industry in many areas of the country," said first author Erik Venteris.

For the best places to produce algae for fuel, think hot, humid and wet. Especially promising are the Gulf Coast and the Southeastern seaboard. "The Gulf Coast offers a good combination of warm temperatures, low evaporation, access to an abundance of water, and plenty of fuel-processing facilities," said hydrologist Mark Wigmosta, the leader of the team that did the analysis. Read more ..

The Race for EVs

Better Place Files for Bankruptcy

May 26th 2013

Project Better Place

Shai Agassi's vision that led to the founding of Better Place is the right one for today and was right five years ago. There is a real need to find an alternative to the internal combustion engine used in the world's vehicles. The contemporary car, despite all the technological developments of the past century, is still anti-environment, burns non-renewable fuels, pollutes the atmosphere, and harms our health.

Nobody has any doubt that sooner or later fuel reserves will be used up. While the global recession keeps the price of oil at a reasonable level, if the rapid rise of living standards of a billion people in the developing world continues as it has done over the past decade, the demand for gasoline will soar as will prices. We must not forget that a few years ago oil prices reached $150 per barrel and $200 per barrel is inevitable. Read more ..

The Race for EVs

Two DOE Electric Car Loans, Two Different Paths

May 25th 2013

Fisker EV

They are two cutting-edge electric car makers, headquartered in California and backed by powerhouses of politics and money. In 2009, each secured half-billion dollar loan commitments from President Obama’s Department of Energy to help transform their clean-energy cars from drawing boards to showrooms. But this week, the fortunes of Tesla Motors and Fisker Automotive took sharply divergent turns. On Wednesday, the Energy Department announced that Tesla repaid the balance of its $465 million government loan nine years early. Fisker, meantime, has ceased making cars as it weighs potential bankruptcy, confronts a $171 million loan balance with DOE and, last month, faced questions from the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform. Read more ..

Ecology on Edge

New Standards Approved for Extractive Industries

May 24th 2013

coal mine

New performance standards have been announced (5/23) for oil, gas and mining companies, requiring them to be much more transparent in their business dealings.

The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative approved the new performance standards at a meeting in Sydney, Australia. Created in 2003, the initiative includes government, business and civil society representatives.

Among those supporting the tougher standards is Alexandra Gilles, head of governance at the Revenue Watch Institute, which monitors extraction industries.

She said, “Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, or EITI, is a voluntary standard of disclosure in the oil, mining and gas sectors. The countries sign-up to the EITI and in doing so agree to release certain kinds of information about their extractive sectors.” Up until now, the initiative simply required the release of revenue data. Read more ..

The Race for Batteries

Lithium-Ion Batteries Withstand 10,000 Charging Cycles

May 23rd 2013


Scientists from the Centre for Solar Energy and Hydrogen Research Baden Wuerttemberg (ZSW) have developed lithium-ion-batteries that could offer new perspectives for electromobility: After more than 10.000 charging cycles, the batteries still had more than 85 percent of its initial capacity.

According to the ZSW, the cycle stability demonstrated in the current project represents a top value within the international competition. Also with regard to the energy density the batteries from Ulm are competitive, the institute said. The technology developed by the ZSW scientists establishes a basis for the production of ouch cells as well as large prismatic cells which could be used as energy storage in electric vehicles and for solar power, believes Dr. Margret Wohlfahrt-Mehrens, head of the section Materials Research for Recharcheable Batteries at ZSW Ulm. "After 10.000 complete charging cycles at a speed of one cycle per hour, our lithium-ion batteries still feature more than 85 percent of its capacity. This also offers a good perspective for the calendric life expectancy." Read more ..

The Race for Solar

Solar Industry Capital Spending Hits Seven-Year Low in 2013 But Upturn is On the Cards

May 22nd 2013

Solar Panels

Although global capital spending during 2013 in the photovoltaics supply chain is expected to fall to its lowest level since 2006 market analyst IHS predicts the downturn in investment has hit bottom and that purchases of equipment may soon rebound.

Capital spending among PV companies is set to drop to $2.3 billion in 2013, down 36 percent from $3.6 billion in 2012, according to the PV Manufacturing & Capital Spending Tool released by IHS.

The anticipated fall will represent the lowest level of spending since $2.4 billion in 2006. The fall also marks the second year of decline after the market peaked in 2011, as spending plunged by 75 percent in 2012. However, capital expenditures are expected to rebound in 2014, rising 30 percent to $3.0 billion.

“Companies across all nodes of the PV business have been lowering utilization rates and letting manufacturing lines go idle for the past year and a half,” said Jon-Frederick Campos, solar analyst at IHS. “PV firms have been doing this in an effort to counter overcapacity and mitigate declines in average selling prices (ASP). This phenomenon resulted in a major plunge in spending on new manufacturing equipment in 2012 and so far in 2013.  But with prices stabilizing and manufacturing on the rise in some segments of the PV market, signs are appearing that that the drop in capital spending may be coming to an end.” Read more ..

The Race for Solar

Solar PV Wafer Production to Grow 19 Percent in 2013

May 20th 2013

Sunrise or Sunset

Solar photovoltaic wafer production is forecast to grow 19 percent in 2013, passing 30 GW and recovering to the 2011 level, according to the latest NPD Solarbuzz Polysilicon and Wafer Supply Chain Quarterly.  The market fell 15 percent in 2012.

Industry utilization is expected to remain below 60 percent, and while prices have stopped falling, no significant increases are expected, so profitability for wafer makers will remain challenging.

Multicrystalline silicon (multi c-Si) technology is forecast to continue its dominance of the wafer market in the short to mid-term. However, the higher efficiency solar cells that can be produced using monocrystalline silicon (mono c-Si) wafers continue to be in demand for applications where space is restricted. The higher efficiencies enable pricing at a premium over standard multi c-Si modules. In particular, rapid growth in the Japanese market is creating demand for premium efficiency modules that use mono c-Si wafers. Read more ..

The Race for Natural Gas

DOE Gives Green Light to Controversial Natural Gas Project

May 19th 2013

LNG Tanker

The Energy Department (DOE) on Friday approved a controversial application allowing liquefied natural-gas exports to nations that lack a free-trade agreement with the United States.

The department gave the green light to Freeport LNG Expansion and FLNG Liquefaction’s proposal to send 1.4 billion cubic feet per day of natural gas overseas from a terminal on Quintana Island, Texas, for 25 years.

The DOE said that project opponents “have not demonstrated that the requested authorization would be inconsistent with the public interest,” which is the standard proposals for exports to nations lacking a free-trade pact with the U.S. must satisfy.

The project is the second to get DOE approval to send natural gas to non-free trade nations. The developers will now take their plan to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). The decision comes less than 24 hours after the Senate confirmed Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, whose position on exporting natural gas had been somewhat ambiguous. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

Solar Panels as Inexpensive as Paint?

May 15th 2013

the sun

Most Americans want the U.S. to place more emphasis on developing solar power, recent polls suggest. A major impediment, however, is the cost to manufacture, install and maintain solar panels. Simply put, most people and businesses cannot afford to place them on their rooftops.

Fortunately, that is changing because researchers such as Qiaoqiang Gan, University at Buffalo assistant professor of electrical engineering, are helping develop a new generation of photovoltaic cells that produce more power and cost less to manufacture than what’s available today.

One of the more promising efforts, which Gan is working on, involves the use of plasmonic-enhanced organic photovoltaic materials. These devices don’t match traditional solar cells in terms of energy production but they are less expensive and - because they are made (or processed) in liquid form - can be applied to a greater variety of surfaces. Gan detailed the progress of plasmonic-enhanced organic photovoltaic materials in Journal Advanced Materials. The paper, which included an image of a plasmonic-enhanced organic photovoltaic device on the journal’s front page, Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Turkey, ExxonMobil Strike Iraqi Oil Deal

May 14th 2013

Arab Oil Derick

Turkey has reportedly struck a deal to explore for oil in northern Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region in a move that’s likely to rile the United States and Iraq. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced Tuesday that its state-owned oil firm will work with U.S. giant ExxonMobil Corp. to develop oil in the Kurdish-run area, according to media reports. Erdogan said Turkey would pursue separate arrangements with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

The news could make for a tense meeting between Erdogan and President Obama, who are scheduled to meet this week in Washington, D.C. U.S. officials have opposed a Turkish-KRG oil agreement, fearing it would undermine Iraq’s central government. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki says that the KRG does not have authority to cement such deals without a green light from Baghdad, though the KRG disputes that. Read more ..

The Race for Wind Power

Turkey’s Largest Wind Plant to Power 170,000 Homes

May 13th 2013

Wind farm Caen

Turkey’s largest wind power plant has broken ground and is expected to generate enough clean energy to electrify up to 170,000 homes. Until now the country’s renewable energy program has lagged behind Europe and some Middle Eastern countries, with far too much emphasis placed on hydroelectricity and nuclear.

But now the government is pushing to harness its ubiquitous wind resource and the 143 MW wind farm in Balıkesir is just the start. Last week energy Minister Taner Yıldız announced the country’s intention to generate a total of 20,000 MW of wind energy by 2023.

The €153 million Bares plant is owned by Enerjisa, a joint venture between Turkey’s Sabancı Holding and Germany’s E.ON, and €135 million was funded by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), according to Hurriyet Daily. Read more ..

The Race for Bio Fuels

Sustainable Auto Art Fuels Success with Waste Vegetable Oil

May 11th 2013

sustainable art car

Michigan State University graduate student Ryan Groendyk has been driving around town in his restored 1973 Mercedes-Benz 220D with a license plate that reads WVO – short for waste vegetable oil – counting the hours until he receives his master’s degree in fine arts. The 40-year-old car sports a red exterior delicately pinstriped by Groendyk in a never-ending worm-like pattern. It’s the centerpiece of Groendyk’s master’s degree thesis project, “Living Off the Fat of the Land,” which was recently on display at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum for the Master’s of Fine Arts exhibition.

Groendyk’s “art car” is the first graduate project to stem from MSU’s Form from Thought Laboratory, an interdisciplinary research and studio environment in the Department of Art, Art History and Design. The car runs mostly off WVO, and it’s amazing how three letters can foster such intense conversation, admiration and sometimes contention, Groendyk said. Read more ..

The Race for Wind

Wind Power Firms Push to Extend Tax Credit

May 10th 2013

Wind farm Caen

Kansas cattleman Pete Ferrell almost lost his ranch in the recent drought that ravaged much of the United States, but he credits a series of 100-meter tall wind turbines situated on his property for saving his business. “In my case, it doubled my income stream, and it helped me essentially weather the storm," Ferrell said. "It was essential in my ability to maintain my livelihood.”

Wind farms like Ferrell’s are now a common sight throughout the United States. This alternative energy source helps power America while providing an alternative source of income for landowners.

“The wind blows, even during a drought, and it may be our best drought-resistant crop we have, and a lot of farmers and ranchers are really waking up to that fact,” Ferrell said. But while farmers are waking up to that fact, so are U.S. lawmakers, who scrutinize programs like the Federal Renewable Energy Production Tax Credit when attempting to end tax breaks to close budget deficits. Read more ..

The Race for Hydropower

Work Begins on Controversial Cambodian Dam

May 9th 2013


As work begins on Cambodia’s biggest dam, those advocating against its construction have warned that the region’s rush for hydropower will have a disastrous effect on millions of people who rely on the Mekong River to survive.

Last month, workers began preparing an area in northeastern Cambodia for a huge hydropower project, the 400-megawatt Lower Se San 2 Dam. The $800 million dam on the Se San River, a major tributary of the Mekong, will take the Cambodian, Chinese and Vietnamese companies behind it five years to build.

Opponents say the dam’s real cost will be paid by the millions of people who rely on fish for the bulk of their protein intake. Cambodians eat more freshwater fish than any other nationality, says Eric Baran, the senior research scientist with WorldFish, an independent group that studies food security. “So people have become very reliant on this source of animal protein," he explained. "And, fish is also by far the first source of animal protein.” Read more ..

The Race for Solar

NREL Quantifies Significant Value in Concentrating Solar Power

transformer farm

Researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have quantified the significant value that concentrating solar power (CSP) plants can add to an electric grid.

The NREL researchers evaluated the operational impacts of CSP systems with thermal energy storage within the California electric grid managed by the California Independent System Operator (CAISO). NREL used a commercial production cost model called PLEXOS to help plan system expansion, to evaluate aspects of system reliability, and to estimate fuel cost, emissions, and other operational factors within the CAISO system. The analysis is detailed in a recent publication, Analysis of Concentrating Solar Power with Thermal Energy Storage in a California 33 percent Renewable Scenario. Read more ..

The race for batteries

Enstorage Pioneers 50kW Hydrogen Bromine Storage in Israel

May 7th 2013

Electric Energy

Energy storage company Enstorage Inc. connected a 50 kW Hydrogen Bromine flow battery to the grid at their test site in southern Israel. This began the world’s first large-scale deployment of this promising new energy grid technology. The battery is said to be capable of storing up to 100kWh and can be recharged more than 10,000 times.

One long-standing problem with energy grids is that there are hourly, daily and seasonal variations in electrical demand. For example, electrical demand can double over the course of an August day in Jordan and the average daily load can vary by more than 25% between March and August.

The generation output of promising alternative energy sources such as solar, wind, hydroelectric and tidal power also fluctuates. Matching this variable supply with variable demand is a huge challenge for electricity producers. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

South Sudan Set to Resume Oil Exports

May 6th 2013

Oil Barrels 400px

South Sudan says it has resumed one-third of its oil production, which it shut down last year, and will export its first cargo next month. Oil Minister Stephen Dhieu Dau pushed a button Sunday to resume production at the new nation’s main oil field in Upper Nile state.

“This is really a great day for the people of South Sudan.  The official resumption of production in Paloch oil field, and we will be pushing the oil from South Sudan to the pipeline in South Sudan within two weeks, we are expecting it,” Dau said.

Black smoke billowed into the bright sky, signaling the restart of pumps that have lain dormant since January 2012, when a dispute with Sudan over transit fees led the South to halt production.  Weeks of border fighting followed, threatening to bring the two sides back to all-out war. But a deal was reached in March for South Sudan to pay around $10 per barrel to export via the north.  South Sudan resumed production last month in neighboring Unity state with just 8,000 barrels per day production. Read more ..

The Way We Are

The Cost for Universal Access to Energy

May 4th 2013

solar cooker

Universal access to modern energy could be achieved with an investment of between 65 and 86 billion US dollars a year up until 2030, new research has shown.

The proposed investments are higher than previous estimates but equate to just 3-4 per cent of current investments in the global energy system. The findings also include, for the first time, the policy costs for worldwide access to clean-combusting cooking fuels and stoves by 2030.

Access to electricity and clean-combusting cooking fuels and stoves could combat the estimated four million deaths a year from household air pollution caused by traditional cooking practices.

In their study, the researchers calculate that improved access to modern cooking fuels could avert between 0.6 and 1.8 million premature deaths in 2030 and enhance wellbeing substantially.

The international group of researchers estimate that an additional generation capacity of between 21 gigawatts and 28 gigawatts would be required to provide a modest amount of electricity to all rural households. This is less than the annual additions to generation capacity being made by China alone. They estimate this will cost around 180 to 250 billion dollars over the next 20 years with dedicated policies and measures also needed. Read more ..

The Race for Alt-Fuels

Superpower “Laxative Nut” Tree Could Solve Egypt’s Fuel Crisis

May 3rd 2013


In Egypt, people often have to line up for hours to fill their cars and trucks with diesel fuel – particularly during summer months when it comes at a premium.

Concerned to ease these shortages, as well as pollution and climate change, Egyptian agricultural engineer Wadad Khaireddine is pushing to grow a desert full of “Laxative Nut” trees.  More commonly known as the Jatropha, this wonder tree has multiple benefits: it fights desertification, requires very little water, and – most importantly – can be used to provide biofuel.

Speaking with Al-Shorfa, Khaireddine said that the Jatropha tree is a wild plant native to South America that belongs to the Euphorbiaceae family. The tree has yellow flowers that first turn into seeds and then a fruit that resembles olives. Seeds inside the fruit are comprised of up to 45 percent oil that can be used as biodiesel. Read more ..

The Race for Natural Gas

House to Probe Geopolitics of Natural Gas Exports

April 30th 2013

LNG Tanker

The impact of natural gas exports on everything from foreign relations to jobs will get a look in the House during a May 7 hearing. The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power will hold the 10 a.m. hearing, committee spokeswoman Charlotte Baker stated. Witnesses for the hearing have not yet been finalized, she said.

The hearing will sharpen the focus on the geopolitical effects of expanding natural gas exports. The Energy Department (DOE) is weighing a number of applications to export natural gas to nations that lack a free-trade agreement with the United States. Such deals receive more scrutiny than others, as federal law says they must be in the national interest.

Many of the nations that would benefit geopolitically from importing U.S. natural gas don't have a free trade arrangement. Backers of natural gas exports say sending the energy source to those countries — largely European or Asian ones — would weaken the hold Russia has on markets in the Eastern Hemisphere, among other things. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

Building Integrated Photovoltaics Slash Energy Costs in Abu Dhabi

April 29th 2013

solar power plant

Finally the Middle East is attuned to the numerous benefits of solar energy, and large scale Photovoltaic (PV) and Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) plants are popping up all over the region. There’s Shams 1 outside of Abu Dhabi, the largest CSP plant in the world, Egypt’s hybrid CSP plant, Kuraymat, and most recently, Masdar inaugurated the largest PV plant in Africa, which is now generating a whopping 10 percent of Mauritania’s energy supply.

But small scale solar is catching on less quickly. In addition to being prohibitively expensive for most people, the government offers very little incentive for residents of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) to coat their roofs with costly solar modules. It’s a shame, because a new study shows that affixing Building Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPV) to windows in Abu Dhabi could slash energy costs by as much as 33.5 percent. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Indonesia Braces for Rising Fuel Costs

April 28th 2013

Gas prices

 Indonesian authorities are expected to slash fuel subsidies next month by 44 percent, sending fuel costs soaring. Economists say the subsidies are a costly expense that increases Indonesia’s reliance on foreign oil imports. But they remain politically popular and politicians are worried about a public backlash.

Rising gasoline costs are bemoaned across the globe and particularly in Indonesia - a nation heavily dependent on subsidized fuel.

For decades, fuel subsidies have been politically volatile. The government planned to cut the fuel subsidy last year, but balked in the face of national uproar. This year, the proposed cuts - the first in five years - no longer hinge on a parliament vote. On his official Twitter account, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono admits it will be the toughest decision of his presidency. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

Solar PV Demand Rises Sixfold in the Middle East and Africa

April 27th 2013

Solar Panels

Proponents of environmental reform (renewable energy, greener economy) are racing against the forces of environmental destruction (fossil fuel industry, global warming), while the rest of us wait to see which will reach the finish line first.

In the Middle East and Africa (MEA), fossil fuels are way ahead. Many countries, South Africa in particular, rely too much on coal, while others like Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi have played a crucial role in our oil addiction. But there may be hope. Leading analysts for the photovoltaic industry, NPD Solarbuzz recently reported that PV demand in the MEA has soared in the last year with an astounding 625 percent increase. 

Solarbuzz outlines how the PV industry is taking off in the Middle East and Africa in their annual Middle East and Africa PV Market Report. This year they have zeroed in on three countries that are taking the largest strides, all of which we found surprising. Whereas MEA only accounted for 0.5 percent of the world’s PV demand in 2012, according to PV Magazine, by 2017, the region’s share of global PV solar generation is expected to climb to six percent. Read more ..

The Race for EVs

Possible Breakthrough Towards Cost-Efficient E-Car Batteries

April 26th 2013

Plug-in Vehicle

Lithium-sulphur batteries have all it takes to replace lithium-ion batteries as the technology of choice for energy storage in electric vehicles. They are much more powerful and cost-effective than all known lithium-ion variants.

So far however, the lithium-sulphur batters suffers from a significant drawback: Its operating lifetime falls short of what is needed for serial vehicles. This however could change now: Researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Materials and Radiation Technology (IWS) in Dresden have developed a new battery design that promises to multiply the number of charging cycles by a factor of seven.

"So far, this battery type hardly exceeded 200 charging cycles", explains Holger Althues, head of the department for Chemical Surface Technology at Fraunhofer IWS. "Through a specific combination of anode and cathode material we could increase the lifetime of lithium-sulphur button cells to 1400 cycles". Read more ..

The Race for Solar

European Solar Module Prices Rise

April 25th 2013

Solar Array

Reflecting a major shift in the global solar market after four years of severe erosion, prices for photovoltaic (PV) modules in the key European market are rising due to number of factors, including the newly restored balance between supply and demand.

The average selling price (ASP) for Chinese crystalline silicon (c-Si) PV modules shipped to the European Union increased by 4 percent in March, the first monthly rise since January 2009, according to the IHS iSuppli PV Module Price Tracker. Prices are set to rise by another 1 percent in April and by an average of 4 percent during the next three months.

“For years, solar module manufacturers have contended with profit-killing market conditions characterized by oversupply and rapidly falling prices,” said Glenn Gu, senior analyst at IHS. “Now, with clear signs that the balance between supply and demand is correcting, prices have stopped their decline and have begun to rise. This is mostly good news, because sales are increasing from Asia, causing worldwide demand to catch up with supply. On the other hand, prices also are rising because of antidumping legislation in the European Union, which is negatively impacting sales for Chinese suppliers.” Read more ..

The Race for Alternate Energy

KTH Develops World's First Water-Activated Charging Device for Mobile Phones

April 24th 2013

Smart phone

The world’s first water-activated charging device developed at KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm claims to be able to use ordinary water to extend  life for devices of up to 3 W.

Based on micro fuel cell technology, the MyFC PowerTrekk device now means that a power source for your mobile phone can now be as close as the nearest tap or stream. Anders Lundblad, KTH researcher and founder of MyFC, said that the device can be powered by fresh or seawater. The water need not be completely clean.

“Our invention has great potential to accelerate social development in emerging markets,” Lundblad says. “There are large areas that lack electricity, while mobile phones fulfil more and more vital functions, such as access to weather information or electronic payment.”

A USB connector attaches the compact PowerTrekk charger to the device. When plain water is poured onto a small disposable metal disc inside the unit, hydrogen gas is released and combines with oxygen to convert chemical energy into electrical energy. The resulting charge is enough to power an iPhone to between 25 and 100 per cent of its battery capacity. Read more ..

The Environment on Edge

Court Backs EPA Veto of Mountaintop Mining Project

April 23rd 2013

coal mine

A federal appeals court has upheld the Environmental Protection Agency’s power to scuttle a previously issued permit for a big mountaintop removal coal mining project in West Virginia.

Tuesday’s decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit overturns a lower court ruling that found the EPA had overstepped its bounds in yanking a mining company’s right to put waste into two streams and their tributaries.

It’s the latest — but not the last — chapter in the political and legal battle over the agency’s 2011 veto of the Clean Water Act permit for Arch Coal Inc.’s Spruce No. 1 mine, which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers granted in 2007.

The EPA’s 2011 action enraged Republicans and some coal-country Democrats who called the permit veto evidence of an agency run amuck, while green groups cheered the veto as a blow against mountaintop mining, a practice they call environmentally disastrous. Several lawmakers have pushed bills to strip the environmental agency’s power to “retroactively” veto the Corps's Clean Water Act permits that allow companies to dispose of mining wastes in Appalachian streams. Read more ..

The Race for Natural Gas

Strategic Gas

April 22nd 2013

LNG Tanker

The liquid natural gas facility at Cove Point, Maryland​—​a seven-tank complex on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay​—​has borne witness to the up and downs, the good times and the bad, of the American natural gas market. Built in the 1970s to handle liquid natural gas (LNG) imports from abroad, the plant was mothballed within two years as deregulation of the domestic gas market boosted supplies and lowered gas prices at home.

That’s where things stood for much of the next 20 years. Supplies of natural gas more than kept up with demand, and gas prices in the 1990s bounced around between $1.60 and $2.30 per million British thermal units (Btu).

But at the turn of the century, as ready supplies of natural gas peaked and demand grew, natural gas prices climbed appreciably higher, reaching $10 per million Btu over the winter of 2000–2001, and spiking to well over $14 in 2005 in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Reflecting the conventional wisdom of the day, Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan testified before the Senate’s Energy Committee in the summer of 2003 that “tight natural gas markets have been a long time in coming, and distant futures prices suggest that we are not apt to return to earlier periods of relative abundance and low prices anytime soon.” Around the same time, a new energy company bought the Cove Point plant and spent over a billion dollars to upgrade the facility in the expectation that LNG imports would start flowing from abroad to address the supply shortage in the United States. Read more ..

The Race for Natural Gas

Fracked Gas Far More Climate-Friendly Than Coal

April 21st 2013

coal fired power plant

Natural gas produced in the northeast's booming Marcellus shale region leads to far fewer greenhouse gas emissions than coal, a competing source of electric power, according to a new study by Exxon Mobil’s research arm.

“We conclude that substantial [greenhouse gas] reductions and freshwater savings may result from the replacement of coal-fired power generation with gas-fired power generation,” states the study in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

The findings will bolster natural gas advocates’ contention that increasing use of gas – which has been growing as a power source at coal’s expense – is an important way to curb U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. The role of gas in climate change has been the subject of debate in recent years as production, enabled by the technique called hydraulic fracturing, has boomed. Read more ..

Energy Politics

Guarding the Energy Department

April 20th 2013

Nuclear Bomb MK17

Last year, the Energy Department disclosed that guard forces at two key nuclear facilities had cheated on tests meant to assess their capability to respond to terrorist threats. One facility, located in Tennessee and known as Y-12, is the principal storage location for highly-enriched uranium used in nuclear warheads, and the other, located in Texas and known as Pantex, is the main storage site where the warheads themselves are assembled and taken apart.

Now it appears that the culture of fudging test results extends to the guard force protecting the department’s top officials in Washington. A new report by the department’s inspector general claims the small unit assigned to keep the Energy Secretary and his top deputies out of harms’ way scored well on tests of their response times and tactical skills partly because examiners gave them advance notice of exams and drilled them on the correct answers, and partly because they automatically got passing grades on sections they did not complete.


The Race for Solar

India Emerges as New Frontier for Solar Power Developers

April 19th 2013

Solar panels

India’s emergence as a new frontier for solar power has turned it into a key market for solar power developers. Plummeting prices and a push by the government have made solar energy a viable option in the sun-drenched country.

Thousands of blinking, photovoltaic solar panels sprawled in a barren, arid region in the western state of Gujarat have been lighting up homes for nearly a year. Asia’s largest solar energy park, near Charanka village, was established last April by more than a dozen international companies to produce 214 megawatts of power daily.

Since then, more solar parks have come on line in a country that produced virtually no solar energy three years ago. Amit Kumar at the The Energy and Resources Institute in New Delhi says rapidly falling prices for solar energy have made it commercially viable to harness the power of the sun. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Congress Gets Poor Grade on Offshore Drilling Safety

April 17th 2013

Gulf oil spill

Actions by the Obama administration and oil-and-gas companies have improved offshore drilling safety since the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, but congressional gridlock still poses a threat, according to ex-members of a federal panel that investigated the incident.

Congress’ failure to adopt budgets and offset automatic spending cuts known as sequestration has dinted funding for offshore drilling programs, a report card released Wednesday by Oil Spill Commission Action (OSCA) said.

“This could well be expensive to both the companies, which may well have to wait longer to obtain needed permits, and to the nation if reduced resources diminish the quality and care of the government’s oversight activities,” the seven-member group said. OSCA’s members were once part of the now-defunct National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Spill and Offshore Drilling, an independent White House panel. They formed their group to keep tabs on federal implementation of their 2011 suggestions. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

Sun Power to Purify Polutted Water

April 16th 2013

the sun

The latest water-tech idea out of Israel is a solar device that provides clear drinking water with no need for infrastructure or electricity. Thousands of years ago, sailors would spread seawater in flat beds aboard ship to let the sun evaporate it to separate out the salt. The same principle is behind a modern Israeli technology that relies on sun power to distill clean water for drinking and agriculture.

“About 97 percent of the world’s water is saltwater or polluted water,” says Shimmy Zimels, CEO of Jerusalem-based SunDwater. That is why some 750 million people in 45 countries need to drill expensive wells, buy bottled water or even use contaminated water despite the huge health risks.

SunDwater’s solar-powered distiller, about to hit the market, is targeted at these populations — particularly in Africa, South America and parts of Asia. It’s a “green,” low-cost, low-maintenance system that converts dirty or salty water into potable water without any need for infrastructure or an external energy source. The water is pumped into the unit, which is outfitted with a four-square-meter (43-square-foot) round photovoltaic dish that concentrates the sunbeams for fast evaporation. The water vapor flows into a cylinder where it gets condensed back into freshwater. Read more ..

The Race for Batteries

Better Batteries from Waste Sulfur

April 15th 2013


A new chemical process can transform waste sulfur into a lightweight plastic that may improve batteries for electric cars, reports a University of Arizona-led team. The new plastic has other potential uses, including optical uses.

The team has successfully used the new plastic to make lithium-sulfur batteries. "We've developed a new, simple and useful chemical process to convert sulfur into a useful plastic," lead researcher Jeffrey Pyun said.

Next-generation lithium-sulfur, or Li-S, batteries will be better for electric and hybrid cars and for military uses because they are more efficient, lighter and cheaper than those currently used, said Pyun, a UA associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry. The new plastic has great promise as something that can be produced easily and inexpensively on an industrial scale, he said. Read more ..

The Race for Natural Gas

Israeli Tamar Gas Edges Closer to Turkish Supply

April 13th 2013


US energy firm Noble Energy, which is the largest operating partner in Israel’s Tamar Gas Field, has stated that the company has already started to work on possibly launching an energy project between Turkey and Israel, according to Today’s Zalman. The two regional powers have recently moved to normalize ties after a falling out over the deaths of nine Turkish nationals during a routine raid on a flotilla in 2010. Company CEO Charles Davidson said in a statement that the possibility is being  discussed by the company to pipe the newly discovered Israeli gas to Turkey. “We are targeting two-fold growth in the upcoming five years. We are planning to double our production as well as our reserves and cash flow,” Davidson said recently while visiting to Israel.

The Tamar platform was designed to process up to 1.2 bcf/d of natural gas; Noble estimates that peak production will hover around 1 bcf/d. The subsea wells connect to the platform by 150-km (93-mi) long flowlines supplied by Aker Solutions, which also delivered subsea control equipment and an MEG reclamation unit for the project. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Violence on Rise in Iraq's Oil-Rich Kirkuk Area

April 11th 2013

Arab Oil Derick

Over the past year, hostilities have flared between Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdish region and the central government. Attacks and bombings have increased in the disputed oil-rich city of Kirkuk, which both governments claim as their own. With tensions showing no sign of abating, many fear the violence will only get worse.

Four months ago, Tuz Khormatu, a sleepy town 80 kilometers southeast of Kirkuk, became the new frontline between Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdish region and the central government. Political tensions over oil rights have flared in this disputed area, which is as rich in fossil fuels as it is in diversity. Kurds, Arabs, Turkmen, and Christians claim Kirkuk as their own. Colonel Ismael Rasoul Mustafa - who is in charge of this outpost - has been a Kurdish guerrilla since 1986 when he fought for Kurdish independence from Iraq's Ba'ath regime. Read more ..

The Race for Natural Gas

Will Israel’s Natural Gas Tap Flow to Turkey?

April 10th 2013

Gas Well Israel

The discovery and development of large natural gas deposits by Israel in the eastern Mediterranean by local and foreign energy companies such as Delek Energy and Noble Energy  has become a game changer for Israel. Up to now, Israel has had to import most of its energy supplies which became problematic following the frequent attacks against the gas line bringing natural gas from Egypt to both Israel and Jordan. This alone caused Israel to shift its energy attention offshore;  and upon reaching large natural gas deposits in the Tamar undersea gas fields, Israel began constructing an undersea pipeline to bring the gas ashore.

The recent completion of this undersea gas pipeline resulted in this much needed energy source finally reaching the Israeli mainland. This event was hailed by Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu who said: “this is an important day for Israel’s economy. We are making an important step for independence in the field of energy”. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Keystone XL: Fear White House Decision is 'Many Months' Away

April 9th 2013

Keystone Pipeline

A top official with TransCanada Corp., the developer of the proposed Keystone XL oil sands pipeline, said a White House decision on the project appears to be “many more months down the road.” Alex Pourbaix, a top TransCanada official, made the comment in testimony for Wednesday’s House hearing on legislation that would approve the Alberta-to-Texas pipeline.

Pourbaix expresses support for the GOP-led bill, which some conservative Democrats are co-sponsoring. He noted that the State Department’s latest environmental study is currently receiving comment, and that when it’s finalized, several more steps will follow.

Here’s his assessment, in testimony to a House Energy and Commerce Committee subpanel, of what follows the study: [T]he Department is expected to re-initiate the National Interest review with an as-yet undefined time frame. That is followed by the issuance of a Record of Decision and a National Interest Determination. At that point, a number of agencies (many of whom have been participants in the ongoing reviews since 2008) will have the opportunity to comment on the issuance of a Presidential Permit. If no agency objects within 15 days, the State Department is free to issue a Permit. If there is an objection, it is addressed through interagency consultation. Read more ..

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