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The Race for Biofuel

Colorado Teen Wins $100,000 for Oil-Oozing Algae

March 17th 2013


Sara Volz of Colorado Springs, Colorado, accepted the top prize in the 2013 Intel Science Talent Search: a $100,000 scholarship for her alternative-energy research. But days before the Washington awards gala, the 17-year-old high school senior, along with 39 other finalists, shared her project with the public at the Intel science exhibition at the National Geographic Society.

That day, Volz's eye-catching accessory wasn't a first-place medal, but dangling earrings that spelled out "N-Er-Dy" using elements from the periodic table. The teen describes her efforts to increase algae oil yields for use as an economical source of biofuel. "I'm trying to use guided evolution, artificial selection, focusing on a population of algae and trying to make the algae evolve to produce more oil," Volze says. "So I'm using a chemical — it's actually an herbicide — that kills the algae if they don't produce enough oil." Read more ..

Oil Addiction

'Leading by Example' and the Keystone Pipeline

March 17th 2013

Keystone pipe

While many have long seen America as the global bad boy, everybody likes Canada. If Uncle Sam tucks his pack of Marlboros under his T-shirt sleeve and plays by his own rules, the Canadian moose — or whatever their Uncle Sam equivalent is — always wears his blue blazer and school tie and does his chores without being asked. Canada is a global citizen, a good neighbor, a northern Puerto Rico with an EU sensibility that earns its gold stars from the United Nations every day.

This fact should have relevance below the 49th parallel. Right now, we’re all waiting for President Obama to decide on whether the Keystone pipeline can go forward. The pipeline would take oil from the tar sands of northern Alberta and deliver it to refineries in the U.S. It would extend all the way down to ports in Texas.

The prospect that Obama might approve the pipeline has environmentalists ready to handcuff themselves in a drum circle around anything that moves. For a while, they insisted that their core objections had to do with fears of spills in environmentally sensitive areas in Nebraska and elsewhere. As many suspected, this was always political cover. When the proposed route was changed to accommodate these concerns, opponents weren’t mollified. They were only further enraged. Opponents of the pipeline want America to lead by example, and the pipeline is a step in the wrong direction. “Who wants the U.S. to facilitate the dirtiest extraction of the dirtiest crude from tar sands in Canada’s far north?” asks New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

House to Vote Before Memorial Day on Keystone Pipeline

March 16th 2013

Keystone Pipeline

House GOP leaders will bring legislation to the floor before Memorial Day to approve the Keystone XL pipeline and have assigned it the number H.R. 3, signifying the importance of the measure, a top Republican said Friday.

“H.R. 3 is really about one thing. It is about energy independence for North America,” House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said at a bicameral press conference with several Republicans and centrist Democrats. Leaders of the GOP-controlled House assign the lowest bill numbers to measures that reflect top political and policy priorities. H.R. 1 has been set aside for comprehensive tax reform. “It shows ... the significance the leadership puts into this legislation and our intent is to bring it to the floor before Memorial Day,” Upton said. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

American and Israeli Universities Team-Up for Solar Innovation

March 15th 2013

Sunrise or Sunset

The University of Michigan and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel will forge a research partnership to collaborate on developing renewable technologies.

A memorandum of understanding to establish the partnership was signed today by U-M Vice President for Research Stephen Forrest and BGU Vice President and Dean for Research and Development Moti Herskowitz. Each university has pledged half of the $1 million that will jumpstart the three-year program. At U-M, the funding is provided by the Office of the Vice President for Research and the U-M Energy Institute.

The partnership aims to bring diverse minds together to progress toward solving major challenges in the areas of advanced vehicle fuels, solar energy and thermoelectric materials, which convert heat to electricity. Beginning this month, collaborative faculty teams can apply for grants to start projects in one of these three areas. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

Libya's Oil Reserves Pale in Comparison to Solar

March 14th 2013

Rub al Khali Saudi Empty Quarter

Libya has long relied on its crude oil resources for revenue, but the country possesses a natural resource far more abundant and hardly tapped at all: sun.  Nearly 90 percent of the country is comprised of sun-drenched desert or semi desert and only 1.03 percent of the land is arable. Match this with solar irradiation that far north countries would die for, and Libya is sitting on a veritable gold mine.

Researchers estimate that while Libya currently produces approximately 1.4 million barrels of crude oil a day, covering just 0.1 percent of Libya with solar panels could produce the energy equivalent of seven million gallons of crude oil. But that is easier said than done. With an average daily solar radiation rate of about 7.1 kilowatt hours per square meter per day (kWh/m²/day) along the coast and 8.1kWh/m²/day in desert interior, Libya could be a serious solar powerhouse. Read more ..

The Race for Nuclear

Anti-Nuclear Energy Activists Becoming More Vocal in Taiwan

March 13th 2013

Fukushima nuke plant

A wave of mass street protests in Taiwan has prompted the island’s government to reconsider a fourth nuclear power plant. Demonstrators at concerts and elsewhere this past weekend said the plant would threaten inhabitants of Taiwan’s north coast.

About 220,000 people turned out for loud, emotional demonstrations in Taiwan’s three biggest cities to ask that the government stop plans for the island's fourth nuclear power plant. They were the largest protests since President Ma Ying-jeou took office in 2008.

The demonstrators said they are worried a catastrophe similar to Japan's Fukushima nuclear power plant meltdown two years ago could occur on the island. Lee Yi-chun, a 40-year-old software engineer from Taipei, says she joined a demonstration on Saturday because she fears a nuclear accident. She says the first issue is consideration of a disaster much like that in Japan.  She says the Japanese plant had gone through a rigorous inspection and its management was not bad, but that does not mean an earthquake or tsunami will not cause damage or suddenly cut electricity to the plant, leading to a meltdown. Read more ..

The Race for Batteries

Chinese Battery Manufacturer TWS Ramps Up Investment in European Engineering

March 12th 2013


TWS, the world's third largest manufacturer of lithium battery packs, is investing to expand its European engineering design centre in Stirling, near Edinburgh in Scotland.

Founded in 1998 and based in Guangzhou in China, the company has a monthly production volume of over eight million lithium-ion battery packs that go into mobile phones, laptops and tablet computers.
It is now investing in European engineering expertise to spearhead its drive into new markets such as e-bikes and pedelecs; energy storage systems for telecoms equipment; power tools; and electric vehicles. The new investment has funded the recruitment of five additional engineers at the Stirling design centre, joining the three engineers on staff when the centre started up at the end of 2011. Read more ..

The Race for Natural Gas

The Future of Fracking in New York Studied

March 12th 2013

Fracking gas well

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo will soon decide whether to approve hydraulic fracturing for natural gas in the state. To date, no alternative to expanded gas drilling has been proposed.

But a new study finds that it is technically and economically feasible to convert New York's all-purpose energy infrastructure to one powered by wind, water and sunlight (WWS). The plan shows the way to a sustainable, inexpensive and reliable energy supply that creates local jobs and saves the state billions of dollars in pollution-related costs. Mark Z. Jacobson co-authored the study with scientists from Cornell University and the University of California-Davis. "Converting to wind, water and sunlight is feasible, will stabilize costs of energy and will produce jobs while reducing health and climate damage," said Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

The Two Sudans Agree to Restart Oil Exports

March 12th 2013

Oil Barrels

Sudan and South Sudan have agreed to restart oil exports, setting a two-week deadline for resuming the process of sending oil from South Sudan through pipelines in Sudan. The countries have been hurt by a lack of oil revenue after disputes led oil-rich South Sudan to shut down production more than a year ago. Negotiators from the two sides signed the fresh agreement mediated by former South African president Thabo Mbeki.

Several previous deals, including one in January, failed to take hold and get the oil flowing again. The new agreement comes amid other moves by Sudan and South Sudan to resolve issues remaining from South Sudan's 2011 independence. They have pledged to pull their troops back from the shared border in an effort to create a demilitarized zone, with South Sudan saying Monday it has ordered its forces to withdraw from the area. Read more ..

The Race for LEDs

Market for Hi-brightness LEDs Continues to Show Double-digit Growth

March 11th 2013

LED bulb

Market researcher Digitimes predicts that the inexorable victory run of high-brightness LED will continue - at least for the time being. According to Dgitimes, the global output value of high-brightness LEDs in 2013 will grow by 15.8% during the current year to reach a value of US$11.29 billion. But not all market segments are on the winning side. LED lighting applications are estimated to account for 30% of all LED applications in 2013. Among all LED applications, the percentage of medium and large-size LED backlight applications is forecast to drop to 27.6% in 2013 due to falling shipments of notebooks and monitors. In addition, direct-lit LED TVs require fewer LEDs per unit. The global LED lighting market is likely to achieve an output value of US$25.4 billion in 2013. The penetration rate is expected to grow because there is still room for price drops for LED products. Digitimes estimates the price reductions at around 20-25% in 2013. In addition, the price-performance ratio of LED components in 2013 is forecast to reach 1,000lm/US$1. Furthermore, commercial tubes and ceiling lights that use a higher number of LEDs are the focus for commercial users in 2013, which will help to increase the penetration rate of LED lighting among all lighting products. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

Quantum Dot Voltaics Promises Significantly Efficient Solar Cells

March 10th 2013

Sunrise or Sunset

A new technique developed by University of Toronto Engineering Professor Ted Sargent and his research group could lead to significantly more efficient solar cells, according to a recent paper published in the journal Nano Letters.

The paper, “Jointly-tuned plasmonic-excitonic photovoltaics using nanoshells,” describes a new technique to improve efficiency in colloidal quantum dot photovoltaics, a technology which already promises inexpensive, more efficient solar cell technology. Quantum dot photovoltaics offers the potential for low-cost, large-area solar power – however these devices are not yet highly efficient in the infrared portion of the sun’s spectrum, which is responsible for half of the sun’s power that reaches the Earth.

The solution? Spectrally tuned, solution-processed plasmonic nanoparticles. These particles, the researchers say, provide unprecedented control over light’s propagation and absorption. The new technique developed by Sargent’s group shows a possible 35 per cent increase in the technology’s efficiency in the near-infrared spectral region, says co-author Dr. Susanna Thon. Overall, this could translate to an 11 per cent solar power conversion efficiency increase, she says, making quantum dot photovoltaics even more attractive as an alternative to current solar cell technologies. Read more ..

Race for Ethanol

Brazil Ramps up Sugarcane Production: Regional Climate Effects?

March 8th 2013

Sugar Cane

Conversion of large swaths of Brazilian land for sugar plantations will help the country meet its needs for producing cane-derived ethanol but it also could lead to important regional climate effects, according to a team of researchers from Arizona State University, Stanford University and the Carnegie Institution for Science.

The team found that anticipated conversion to sugarcane plantations could lead to a 1°C decrease in temperature during the growing season, to be followed by a 1°C increase after harvest.

"When averaged over the entire year, there appears to be little effect on temperature," said Matei Georgescu. "However, the temperature fluctuation between the peak of the growing season, when cooling occurs relative to the prior landscape, and crop harvest, when warming occurs compared to the previous landscape, of about 2°C (3.6°F) is considerable." Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Senator Menendez Plans Keystone Pipeline Hearing

March 7th 2013

Keystone Pipeline

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said Thursday that he intends to hold a hearing on the State Department’s review of the proposed Keystone XL oil sands pipeline

“We want to review their process, especially as they go into the next phase,” he said of the State Department’s review of TransCanada Corp.’s proposed pipeline.
The hearing would ensure an even greater spotlight on the looming federal decision over Keystone XL, which would bring Canadian oil sands to Gulf Coast refineries.

A wide-ranging State Department draft environmental report last week dealt a major blow to climate change activists opposed to Keystone. A key conclusion is that Keystone is “unlikely to have a substantial impact on the rate of development in the oil sands,” a finding that counters green group claims that Keystone would be a major catalyst for carbon-intensive oil sands development. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

BP CEO: 'Peak Oil' Talk Quieted by Abundance

March 6th 2013

oil pump

BP CEO Robert Dudley said booming oil-and-gas production from sources including onshore shale formations and deepwater regions has defeated arguments that global oil production will soon peak and go into an irreversible decline.

Dudley, in a speech, noted projections of overall global demand energy growing by over a third by 2030, including the need for around 16 million more barrels per day at that time. But he said that the ability produce from oil-and-gas reservoirs that were once out-of-reach will enable supply to keep up.

“Many in the industry used to worry about whether demand on this scale could be met – we weren’t among them by the way – but there hasn’t been much talk of ‘peak oil’ lately,” he said at the IHS CERAWeek energy conference here. “Thanks to new frontiers such as shale and deepwater, our industry is now producing an enormous amount of previously unreachable oil and gas,” Dudley added. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Canadian Official Raps Greens On Oil Pipeline

March 5th 2013


A top Canadian official on Tuesday delivered a broadside against environmentalists in the United States who oppose the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline. Canadian Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver touted a U.S. State Department draft environmental review released Friday that dismissed claims from green groups that Keystone would accelerate oil sands development and exacerbate climate change.

“Why then all the fuss? Why the demonstrations and movie stars chaining themselves to the White House gate?” Oliver said in prepared remarks for a Tuesday speech in Chicago, where he met with Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

“The answer is that some environmental and other groups see this as a symbolic issue in their larger battle against the development of hydrocarbons and specifically the oil sands. In a democratic society, they are entitled to their views, but not to take liberties with the truth. The stakes are high for Canada and, I suggest, the U.S. as well,” he said. Environmental activists have tried to make Obama’s decision on the pipeline the litmus test for where he stands on climate issues.

They have denounced the findings of the State Department's draft report, and have sought to remind Obama that he alone will choose whether the Canada-to-Texas pipeline goes forward since it crosses national borders. Green groups contend the proposed pipeline would drive an expansion of oil sands development. They have raised concerns about the climate change impact of burning more oil sands, which are more carbon intensive than traditional crude.

Still, the State Department said the oil sands would come out of the ground regardless of Keystone, either by rail transport or through other pipeline projects. Oliver, who several times invoked the State Department review, defended Canada’s environmental record while downplaying the effects of oil sands on the climate. He reiterated a claim made recently by several Keystone proponents that oil sands account for 0.1 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

Energy Storage Super Capacitors Bottle Energy in New Breakthrough

March 4th 2013

Plug-in Vehicle

UCLA and Egyptian scientist accidentally find a new way to bottle stored energy. This missing link for solar energy, hydro and electric cars could be a fast, tiny, biodegradable battery.

Penicillin, Teflon, microwave ovens and superglue were all discovered by accident. And now graphene super-capacitors might be the most important accidental discovery of our time – one that can change the way energy is stored. A team of UCLA researchers led by chemist Richard Kaner used a commercial DVD burner to produce sheets of a carbon-based material known as graphene.

The “accident” occured when Cairo University graduate Maher El-Kady wired a small piece of graphene to an LED and found that it behaved as a super-capacitor, able to store a considerable amount of electricity. Their laser-scribed graphene is ideal as a super capacitor partially because of its enormous surface area, 1520 square meters per gram. Here’s how it works: Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Keystone XL Pipeline Clears a Hurdle

March 2nd 2013

Keystone Pipeline

A draft State Department report concludes that building the Keystone XL pipeline would not speed up development of Canada’s oil sands, dealing a blow to environmentalists who claim Keystone would worsen climate change.

The report from the State Department says the Canada-to-Texas pipeline would have little impact on the environment.
“Approval or denial of the proposed project is unlikely to have a substantial impact on the rate of development in the oil sands, or on the amount of heavy crude oil refined in the Gulf Coast area," the report says.

That line infuriated green groups, which have made the case that approving the full Keystone pipeline would lock in expanded development of carbon-intensive oil sands projects and the expanded use of the fuels, worsening climate change over time. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Senate to Hold Hearing on Surge in Gas Prices

March 1st 2013


Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) will soon convene a hearing on soaring gasoline prices that he contends have “no reasonable explanation.” Average nationwide gasoline prices have risen by nearly a half-dollar per gallon since the beginning of the year.

“I think you ask the question, ‘what is going on to make the prices go up so dramatically now?’ The custom has always been — one we didn’t enjoy in America but it has been sort of a tradition — [that] prices go up in the spring. We are still in the winter,” Wyden said Friday. He spoke during a taping of the C-SPAN program “Newsmakers” that will be broadcast Sunday.

“There is no reasonable explanation for this right now. The Iranians are not rattling around this week in the Straits of Hormuz, we have not see any kind of unusual developments, that is why I want to look at a whole host of issues, and one that hasn’t been on the table at all has been the question of refineries,” Wyden said. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Gulf Exploration Deal with Mexico Headed to Congress

February 28th 2013

Gulf oil spill

The Obama administration will shortly be asking Congress to approve last year's deal with Mexico for oil exploration in the Gulf, the State Department said.

The so-called Transboundary Hydrocarbons Agreement, signed by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Felipe Calderón on the margins of last year's G-20 summit in Los Cabos, establishes a legal framework for joint U.S.-Mexican exploration. The agreement also lifts the moratorium on oil exploration and production in the Western Gap portion of the Gulf of Mexico.

“Let me assure you that this will be coming in front of Congress,” Roberta Jacobson, the assistant secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, said Thursday at a House hearing on U.S. interests in the region. “I hope we can count on everyone's support. We hope to do that as expeditiously as possible.” Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Shell Pauses Arctic Drilling Effort

February 27th 2013

Alaska oil drilling

Royal Dutch Shell said Wednesday that it will not seek to drill in Arctic waters off Alaska’s coast in 2013, an announcement that follows several mishaps last year for the controversial development effort.

“We’ve made progress in Alaska, but this is a long-term program that we are pursuing in a safe and measured way,” said Marvin Odum, who heads the oil giant’s U.S. operations, in a statement. “Our decision to pause in 2013 will give us time to ensure the readiness of all our equipment and people following the drilling season in 2012,” added Odum.

Shell has spent years — and billions of dollars — seeking to drill in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas off Alaska’s northern coast, which are thought to contain massive oil deposits. Shell, in announcing the decision to “pause” the drilling, said it plans to return to the Arctic eventually, noting “Alaska remains an area with high potential for Shell over the long term, and the company is committed to drill there again in the future.” Read more ..

The Nano Edge

Graphene Viable Alternative Material For Light-Based Energy Harvesting Technologies

February 27th 2013


Researchers at the Institute of Photonic Science (ICFO) have demonstrated that graphene is able to convert a single photon that it absorbs into multiple electrons that can drive electric current to make graphene an alternative material for light harvesting technologies.

"In most materials, one absorbed photon generates one electron, but in the case of graphene, we have seen that one absorbed photon is able to produce many excited electrons, and therefore a greater electrical current" explained Frank Koppens, group leader at ICFO. This feature makes graphene an ideal building block for any device that relies on converting light into electricity. In particular, it enables efficient solar cells that can harvest light energy from the full solar spectrum with low loss. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

Spray Painted Solar Cells Could Cut Costs Significantly

February 26th 2013

the sun

Experts from the University of Sheffield's Department of Physics and Astronomy and the University of Cambridge have created a method of spray-coating a photovoltaic active layer by an air based process - similar to spraying regular paint from a can.

This could yield a very cheap way of mass-producing solar cells. If successful, the technology could be provided to people in developing countries and perhaps one day be used on glass in buildings or car roofs, explain the researchers.

Professor David Lidzey from the University of Sheffield said "Spray coating is currently used to apply paint to cars and in graphic printing. We have shown that it can also be used to make solar cells using specially designed plastic semiconductors. We found that the performance of our spray coated solar cells is the same as cells made with more traditional research methods, but which are impossible to scale in manufacturing. We now do most of our research using spray coating. The goal is to reduce the amount of energy and money required to make a solar cell. This means that we need solar cell materials that have low embodied energy, but we also need manufacturing processes that are efficient, reliable and consume less energy." Read more ..

The Race for Nuclear

Wyden to Ask for GAO Examination of Washington State Nuclear Leaks

February 23rd 2013

Nuclear Reactors

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the chairman of the Senate Energy committee, has asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to examine recent nuclear waste leaks in Washington state.

Wyden has long had an interest in the contaminated Hanford nuclear reservation in southeast Washington, where six tanks are now said to be leaking. Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington, a Democrat, and Energy Department officials have stressed that neither the public nor the environment is currently at risk from the underground leaks.

But Tom Towslee, a spokesman for Wyden, said that the Oregon Democrat will ask the GAO to investigate how the Hanford tanks, which hold tens of millions of gallons of radioactive waste, are monitored and maintained. The request was earlier reported by the Associated Press. Read more ..

The Coal Problem

As EPA Delays New Coal Ash Rules, Residents Turn to the Courts for Relief

February 22nd 2013

Coal ash

Sabrina Mislevy is tired of the odors, the way they “hit” her as she drives by the blue-tinted lake, the way they burn her nose. Like many of her neighbors, Mislevy has grown weary of living near the nation’s largest coal ash pond, Little Blue Run, which straddles the Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio state lines.

In Little Blue Run and beyond, coal ash, waste from the production of electricity, has fouled water supplies and endangered public health. “We want action,” said Mislevy, of Georgetown, Pa., explaining why she has joined some 200 other area residents in launching legal challenges against FirstEnergy Corp., the owner of Little Blue Run. Her community is just one across the country pursuing legal challenges against coal-ash ponds, landfills and pits — a grassroots onslaught stoked, in part, by slow regulatory action by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Last May at Little Blue Run, residents laid the groundwork for a potential citizens’ suit against FirstEnergy, sending a notice of intent to sue. Calling themselves the Little Blue Regional Action Group, they accused the company of operating its 1,000-acre ash pond “in a manner that may present an imminent and substantial endangerment to human health and the environment.” In December, residents sent another notice to FirstEnergy alleging “additional significant and ongoing violations,” including dirtying a creek that flows into the Ohio River with arsenic and selenium — toxic constituents found in coal ash. A FirstEnergy spokesman, Mark Durbin, calls the residents’ claims “wholly without merit.” Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Obama's Energy Pick Stirs the Pot

February 22nd 2013

Ernest Moniz MIT
Ernest Moniz

President Obama’s rumored choice for Energy secretary is giving heartburn to some in the environmental movement. Ernest Moniz, a physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and familiar presence in Washington, has emerged as the front-runner to replace Steven Chu as Obama’s energy chief.

That’s not sitting well with green advocates, who say Moniz’s support for natural gas is at odds with the risks of “fracking,” the controversial drilling process, and the need for tough steps to address climate change.

“Moniz is a status quo pick at a time when we can’t afford the status quo,” said Tyson Slocum, who heads the energy program at Public Citizen.

Sources tracking the selection process say Obama is leaning strongly toward picking Moniz, who served as undersecretary of Energy in the Clinton administration and currently directs the MIT Energy Initiative. Read more ..

Edge of Energy Sustainability

Contemplating Recycled Water for a Net Zero Energy Home

February 22nd 2013

button toilet flush

Imagine if your home had walls filled with water, toilets that composted their own waste and a roof capable of disinfecting water through the sun's UV rays.

This vision may become reality for one Ann Arbor MI home, as a group of engineering students from the University of Michigan work to retrofit a 100-year-old Victorian to capture and treat its own water. The home belongs to the Grocoff family, and is an unassuming structure in the heart of the town's "Old West Side." It has already achieved recognition as one of the country's first Net Zero Energy homes—meaning the house produces more energy through the use of solar panels and geothermal than it consumes.

Now, owner Matt Grocoff and the team of Michigan Engineering students hope to accomplish that same feat with water—something that, to their knowledge, has never been done on this type of structure. Their goal is to capture and treat enough rainwater on site to supply the house with clean drinking water then find creative solutions for recycling or reusing waste water for cleaning or irrigation. Read more ..

Broken Government

Top Oil Lobbyist: New Climate Bill Will Never Reach Senate Floor

February 21st 2013

Hurricane Sandy

The head of a powerful oil industry trade group predicts the Senate will shy away from debate on new Democratic legislation that imposes fees on carbon emissions from coal and petroleum.

American Petroleum Institute CEO Jack Gerard said he did not expect the Senate to vote on the bill sponsored by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

“I think no, it will not get to the floor, and I think the reason it won't get to the floor is the dynamics surrounding carbon has changed,” Gerard told E&E TV. Boxer said she wants the bill to get a vote, but a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was noncommittal last week. Gerard noted that the expansion of natural gas production, which is allowing gas to increasingly displace more carbon-heavy coal, has helped drive the recent reduction of U.S. carbon emissions without legislation. Read more ..

The Race for Renewables

Renewables Constitute All New US Electricity Capacity Added in January

February 20th 2013

Wind Farm

Renewable energy accounted for all new electric capacity added in the United States last month, according to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. In all, 1,231 megawatts of new generating capacity were installed in January. Of that total, wind provided 958 megawatts, solar chipped in 267 megawatts and biomass contributed 6 megawatts.

That's a marked difference from January 2012, when coal led the way with 808 megawatts of the 1,693 megawatts added. Natural gas followed with 445 megawatts, and wind tossed in 276 megawatts to take the pole for renewables. On Wednesday, President Obama sought to expand promotion of renewable energy by reviving the Commerce Department’s Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Advisory Committee.

Deputy Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank appointed 37 private-sector members to the committee on Wednesday. It will feature members from trade associations, private firms and nonprofit organizations from a range of energy industries. Read more ..

The Environment on Edge

Petition Seeks New EpA Pathway to Require Greenhouse Gas Curbs

February 19th 2013

LA Smog

An environmental group affiliated with New York University’s law school is petitioning the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to wield a seldom-used section of the Clean Air Act to require greenhouse gas emissions curbs.

The petition urges EPA to act under Section 115 of the air law, which enables EPA to demand action to curb pollution that’s endangering public health or welfare in foreign countries.

“Section 115 provides a mandatory, efficient, and comprehensive approach to regulating greenhouse gas emissions. It is therefore the preferred mechanism under the Clean Air Act for responding to the dangers of climate change,” states the Institute for Policy Integrity’s petition, to be filed Tuesday.

The attorneys, in the petition and an accompanying statement, argue that Section 115 should be employed to have EPA require states to control emissions, while providing the ability to use “flexible regulatory tools like market incentives” such as cap-and-trade. Read more ..

The Race for Energy

What Green Algae Are Up To In the Dark

February 18th 2013


How green algae produce hydrogen in the dark is reported by biologists at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum in the "Journal of Biological Chemistry". Hereby, they have uncovered a mechanism for the production of the gas which has hardly been examined before; usually, researchers are interested in light-driven hydrogen synthesis. "Hydrogen could help us out of the energy crisis", says Prof. Dr. Thomas Happe, head of the working group Photobiotechnology. "If you want to make green algae produce more hydrogen, it is important to understand all the production pathways."

Single-celled green algae of the type Chlamydomonas are microscopically small organisms: ten of them fit side by side on a human hair. In some ways, microalgae are not so very different from higher plants, such as trees. For example, they also perform photosynthesis. Unlike land plants, they can use light energy for the production of molecular hydrogen (H2). Read more ..

The Race for Geothermal

Could Ethiopia’s Geothermal Exploration Relax Dam Plans?

February 18th 2013

Blue Nile in Ethiopia

Given that 85 percent of the country’s residents lack access to electricity, it is no surprise that Ethiopia has pursued an aggressive hydropower plan. But the Grand Renaissance Dam and similar projects are expected to create significant environmental and social disruptions,  problems that the former President Meles Zenawi both denied and defied.

But the Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation (EEPCO) recognizes the danger of relying too much on hydropower, which is an erratic and possibly endangered source of energy. While the country has the staggering potential to produce 45,000 megawatts of hydroelectricity, geothermal also offers promise – so much so that the World Bank has backed a plan to conduct preliminary exploration and drilling. Towards the end of last month, the Development Bank of Ethiopia unveiled plans to spend USD 20 million to explore sites in the country that have especially good geothermal potential. Read more ..

The Race for Geothermal

Wyden Floats Plan to Boost Geothermal Energy

February 17th 2013

Nesjavellr Geothermal Power plant

Pieces of new Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Ron Wyden’s (D-Ore.) legislative agenda are beginning to take shape. On Thursday, Wyden introduced a measure aimed at boosting development of geothermal energy by tweaking the leasing program for tracts of federal land to develop the renewable resource.

Currently the Interior Department holds lease sales, and then offers land on a “noncompetitive” basis if no bids are received, Wyden said. The bill, Wyden said, would expand access to land that’s offered outside of competitive lease sales.

“This legislation extends the authority for noncompetitive leasing in cases where a geothermal developer wants to gain access to Federal land immediately adjacent to land on which that developer has proven that there is a geothermal resource that will be developed. This will allow a geothermal project to expand onto adjacent land, if necessary, to increase the amount of geothermal energy it can develop. It will also add to the royalties and rents that the project pays to the U.S. Treasury,” he said in a statement Thursday. The measure is co-sponsored by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the Energy Committee’s top Republican, a long with a bipartisan mix of other lawmakers. Read more ..

The Race for Nuclear

Greens to Rally on Mall to Demand Climate Specifics from Obama

February 16th 2013

Nuclear Reactors

More than 20,000 protestors from around 160 organizations will swarm the National Mall Sunday in hopes of intensifying the pressure on President Obama over climate policy. The president has not yet detailed the specifics of how he will address the issue, aside from a pledge made in the State of the Union address to take executive action on climate if Congress fails to make progress.

Demonstrators are likely to offer plenty of loud suggestions in what green groups are branding the largest ever United States climate rally. “We’re really past the point of playing games with any of this stuff,” climate activist and 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben said in a Friday press call. “There’s no time for half measures.”

McKibben said buses from 31 states are hauling people to Washington for the rally, which 350.org, Sierra Club and a number of other environmental and progressive groups are spearheading. Participants will meet at noon near the Washington Monument, where speakers such as McKibben, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and others will address the crowd before marching on the White House. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

GOP Bills Target EPA Power

February 15th 2013


A package of new bills introduced this week in the Senate seek to limit the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulatory reach and subject the agency to penalties for missing reporting deadlines.

Offered by Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb), the legislation reflects the latest in a series of Republican attempts to rein in an EPA that GOP lawmakers say has amok and must be held accountable. Johanns took to the Senate floor Wednesday, saying the people of his home state are fed up with the EPA’s record during the Obama administration.

“And their message is very loud, clear, and unmistakable,” he said. “EPA is overreaching, overbearing, and overstepping boundaries that have long existed.” Republican angst has mostly been directed at the agency’s use of regulations and official memoranda to further the administration’s environmental agenda without congressional approval. Lawmakers also complained loudly after EPA’s regulatory agenda was released long after its statutory deadline. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

New Class of Materials Offering Solar Cell Benefits Revealed

February 14th 2013

the sun

Researchers at the Vienna University of Technology claim to have discovered a class of materials that can be used to create a new kind of solar cell.

Single atomic layers are combined to create novel materials with completely new properties. Layered oxide heterostructures are a new class of materials that has attracted attention among materials scientists in the last few years. A research team at the Vienna University of Technology, together with colleagues from the USA and Germany, has now shown that these heterostructures can be used to create a new kind of extremely efficient ultra-thin solar cells.

“Single atomic layers of different oxides are stacked, creating a material with electronic properties which are vastly different from the properties the individual oxides have on their own,” said Professor Karsten Held from the Institute for Solid State Physics, Vienna University of Technology. Read more ..

The Race for Hydrogen

UKH2Mobility Project Maps out Future of Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cars in the UK

February 13th 2013

Hydrogen fueling

The UKH2Mobility project has released the results of its Phase 1 interim report, evaluating the benefits of hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) and paving the way for commercial rollout in the UK.

Launched in January 2012, this project brings together leading businesses from the automotive, energy, infrastructure, and retail sectors with government to provide a roadmap for the introduction of fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) and hydrogen refuelling infrastructure in the UK. This will push well beyond the recently announced London Hydrogen Network Expansion (LHNE) project, the UK's first integrated hydrogen transport system in London and the South East.

Key findings from the interim report on Phase 1 include:

Up to 10% of new car customers will be receptive to fuel cell cars when they are first introduced, attracted by the newness of the technology and environmental benefits. Importantly, the study quantified the impact of non-financial decisions on the amount that consumers are willing to pay for an FCEV in different circumstances. Read more ..

Inside Russia

The Past, Present and Future of Russian Energy Strategy

February 13th 2013

Gas pipe line

The future of Russia's ability to remain a global energy supplier and the strength the Russian energy sector gives the Kremlin are increasingly in question. After a decade of robust energy exports and revenues, Russia is cutting natural gas prices to Europe while revenue projections for its energy behemoth, Gazprom, are declining starting this year.

Russia holds the world's largest proven reserves of natural gas and continually alternates with Saudi Arabia as the top oil producer. The country supplies a third of Europe's oil and natural gas and is starting to export more to the energy-hungry East Asian markets. The energy sector is far more than a commercial asset for Moscow; it has been one of the pillars of Russia's stabilization and increasing strength for more than a century. The Kremlin has designated energy security as the primary issue for Russia's national security, especially since recent changes in global and domestic trends have cast doubts on the energy sector's continuing strength.

Throughout Russian history, the country's energy sector periodically has strengthened and weakened. Managing this cycle has been a centerpiece of Russia's domestic and foreign policy since czarist times. This historical burden now rests on Vladimir Putin's regime.  Read more ..

The Race for Batteries

Silicon Nano-Particles Improve Capacity of Rechargeable Lithium Batteries

February 12th 2013

Researchers at the University of Souther California have developed a new lithium-ion battery design that uses porous silicon nanoparticles in place of the traditional graphite anodes to provide superior performance.

The new batteries—which could be used in anything from cell phones to hybrid cars—hold three times as much energy as comparable graphite-based designs and recharge within 10 minutes. The design, currently under a provisional patent, could be commercially available within two to three years.

"It's an exciting research. It opens the door for the design of the next generation lithium-ion batteries," said Chongwu Zhou, professor at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, who led the team that developed the battery. Zhou worked with USC graduate students Mingyuan Ge, Jipeng Rong, Xin Fang and Anyi Zhang, as well as Yunhao Lu of Zhejiang University in China. Their research was published in Nano Research in January. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

World's Solar Photovoltaic Capacity Passes 100-GW Landmark

February 11th 2013

Solar Array

The world's cumulative solar photovoltaic (PV) electricity capacity surpassed 100 GW in 2012, achieving just over 101 GW, according to new market figures released by the European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA).

The global capacity to harness the power of the sun produces as much electricity energy in a year as 16 coal power plants or nuclear reactors of 1 GW each. Each year, the world's PV installations reduce CO2 emissions by 53 million tons. The surpassing of the 100-GW mark occurred in a year of strong global PV development, with an estimated 30 GW connected to the grid and made operational in 2012 - roughly the same as the record-setting level of 2011. The results are preliminary, and the 30 GW figure could be increased by an additional 1 or 2 GW when final numbers come in. Final results for the year will be published in May 2013, in EPIA's annual Global Market Outlook for Photovoltaics 2013-2017' report.    

"No one would have predicted even 10 years ago that we would see more than 100 GW of solar photovoltaic capacity in the world by 2012," said EPIA President Winfried Hoffmann. "The photovoltaic industry clearly faces challenges but the results of 2012 show there is a strong global market for our technology. Even in tough economic times and despite growing regulatory uncertainty, we have nearly managed to repeat the record year of 2011."     Read more ..

The Race for LEDs

Phosphors, Rare Earths Supply Remains Crucial for LED Production

February 11th 2013

China rare earth mine

In the LED industry, the availability of phosphors is a critical and potentially limiting factor - phosphors are needed to build white LEDs. In the beginning of the millennium, the bulk of the LED phosphor and the associated IP was under the control of the major LED manufacturers, but today many alternatives are available. In a report, market research company Yole Développement shades light to this puzzling industry.

The Yole report "LED phosphors -Independent phosphor companies free the market from IP blocking by market leaders" details more than 50 companies involved in the LED phosphor business. More of them are located in China, and Yole observes the emergence of vendors with improved quality there. The market watchers expect the phosphor market to grow significantly over the five years ahead - they see the potential to pass the $1 billion mark as early as 2015 mark. Read more ..

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