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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

algae

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

Smokestacks

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 ..


Oil Addiction

Sen. Murkowski: 'Energy Is Good'

February 10th 2013

Lisa Murkowski

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) used the Republican weekly address Saturday to promote her new energy blueprint, a comprehensive plan that she argues will increase energy supplies and lower prices by removing government regulations.

“Energy is not a necessary evil. Energy is good. And that’s why it is in our national interest to make energy abundant, affordable, clean, diverse, and secure," Murkowski says in her address. "I believe that there’s a consensus around these five objectives, and our challenge now is to align federal policy with them."

In the plan, Murkowski calls for an end to regulations that Republicans believe will constrain the growth of coal-fired power plants, along with the immediate approval of the Keystone XL pipeline and the opening of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling. Other components include expediting liquefied natural-gas exports, promoting the use of small modular nuclear reactors, and creating a new quasi-federal agency for nuclear waste management.

"Every recommendation in my blueprint is associated with a clear goal for the year 2020," Murkowski said. "We can end our dependence on OPEC oil. We can help make renewable energy more competitive, build on our efficiency gains, and re-establish the supply chain for critical minerals." The plan also calls for the government to beef up cybersecurity for energy infrastructure and toughen criminal statutes for those who would target the nation's power grid.

The Alaska senator argues that adopting her proposals would have far-reaching, positive impacts across the American economy. "The ideas in my blueprint would create new jobs, generate new revenues, and slash our dependence on foreign energy. They would shore up our security and strengthen our economy. They would help us minimize the impacts of energy development and reduce the emissions that are blamed for climate change,” Murkowski said. Read more ..


Oil Addiction

Major Oil Company Breaks with Trade Group Over SEC Disclosure Lawsuit

February 8th 2013

Oil Refinery

Norwegian oil-and-gas giant Statoil is distancing itself from petroleum industry litigation to scuttle Securities and Exchange Commission rules (SEC) that will force oil and mining companies to disclose payments to foreign governments.

The multinational company’s position has delighted human-rights groups that back the rule, and activists are using Statoil’s stance to try and build support for the controversial regulation that’s required under the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial law.

“Statoil has not supported the lawsuit initiated by [the American Petroleum Institute]; in fact, Statoil has explicitly withheld support for the litigation. As you know, we have not taken an active stand regarding the lawsuit, but chose to communicate our view on the new rule to the SEC, internally in the API and in other relevant fora,” the company said in a late January letter to the watchdog group Global Witness. Read more ..


The Race for Coal

Interior Department to Investigate Coal Exports

February 8th 2013

Coal Train

The Interior Department will investigate whether mining companies are gaming the federal government by skirting royalty payments, a pair of senior senators announced Friday. The agency is looking into whether mining firms lowball the value of coal excavated from federal lands to minimize the fees they pay the government.

“The Department shares your concern that this matter should be taken seriously and be thoroughly investigated to determine if there is any merit to the allegations contained in the December 4, 2012, Reuters articles referenced in your letter,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar wrote in a letter Thursday to Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). Reuters said mining companies are underreporting the price of coal at mine sites — where royalties are assessed — then selling it to marketers that they oftentimes own. Reuters said those intermediaries then ship the coal abroad, where they fetch higher prices. Read more ..


The Race for Batteries

Norway is Leader in Developing Battery-Powered Ships

February 7th 2013

Turkish car ferry

The Norwegian shipping industry is teaming up to take a leading role in developing battery-powered ships. The first four hybrid vessels will start to sail in 2013/14.

In 2015, the world largest fully electric ferry, will start to regularly cross Norway's largest fjord.

“15 years ago, the Norwegian cluster was looking into opportunities for gas-fuelled ships. Today, Norway is the front-runner when it comes to LNG-fuelled ships. Electricity stored in batteries on board ships is another opportunity in the future energy mix and another technology race has started. We have been running that track for a while already,” said Narve Mjøs, Director of Battery Projects in DNV and in charge of a DNV seminar that hosted 120 managers representing Norway's entire maritime cluster. Read more ..


The Transportation Edge

World's First Shipping Container Bridge Over Tel Aviv's Trash Mountain

February 6th 2013

Shipping Container Bridge

A new bridge called ECOtainer made from recycled shipping containers will render “trash mountain” unrecognizable to residents of Tel Aviv. The Hiriya landfill just outside of Tel Aviv shut down in 1998 after becoming the repository for 25 million tons of waste. More mountain than landfill, Hiriya has since been transformed into one of the world’s most successful reclamation projects.

Already the methane emitted from Hiriya is harvested to power a nearby factory and the surrounding area is being converted into an urban park that is safe for a variety of outdoor recreational activities. Now Yosef Messer Architects have won the Econtainer Bridge Competition, which may result in the construction of a bridge made of recycled shipping containers linking Arial Sharon Park with the main thoroughfare leading to Tel Aviv. Read more ..


Pakistan on Edge

Gas Shortages Highlight Pakistan's Energy Crisis

February 5th 2013

Gas Station Lines

Long lines of cars waiting to fill their tanks have become a familiar sight in Pakistan's capital. A struggling economy means gas is in short supply, and prices are going up, fuel and electricity shortages are affecting the lives of ordinary citizens. At Islamabad gas stations, this is what it looks like on Wednesdays. People are stocking up, because on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, stations close and there is no gas.  

In recent years, when gasoline prices rose, millions of drivers converted their cars to run on Compressed Natural Gas, or CNG. But now that's in short supply. Law lecturer Syed Shabat Ali says the problem is getting worse. "This is affecting the lives of people very badly. For example, I come on the days when CNG is available and I get in the queue and then I have to wait two or three hours. I am sorry to say it is also disturbing the psyche of the people," he said. "People are losing confidence in our governments, because government is taking no interest towards a very serious problem that people are facing." Read more ..


The Automotive Edge

Prediction Tool Reduces Traffic Stalls

February 4th 2013

Traffic Jam

Less traffic congestions is what a recently concluded pilot project in Cologne aimed at. In the project, the City of Cologne and IBM collaborated in developing algorithms that reduce traffic congestion by means of traffic forecasts.

In order to generate short-time traffic forecasts, the system processed huge numbers of traffic data. According to IBM, with an accuracy of better than 90 percent, the results were very encouraging.

The City disposes of a traffic management centre with 20 traffic cameras at critical locations and about 150 measurement points. Hitherto however, no computer-based traffic analysis was available. The purpose of the pilot project was to find an answer to the question how traffic optimizing by means of traffic prediction could help to reduce the number of congestions. Traffic experts believe that precise short-time predictions and traffic situation analysis can detect imminent traffic densification in urban areas before they materialize and counteract by means of appropriate measures. Read more ..


Environment vs Energy

‘Virtual Chimney’ Fences Could Reduce Airport Pollution Impact

February 3rd 2013

Frankfurt Airport

Simple ‘blast’ fences called baffles could deliver improvements in air quality for people living near airports, new research has found. Placed behind a runway, the baffles could serve as a ‘virtual chimney’, funnelling emissions from aircraft engines upwards where they can disperse more effectively, thereby reducing the environmental impact on people living nearby.

Prototype baffles have been tested by a team of researchers from Manchester Metropolitan University, Cranfield University, the University of Southampton and the University of Cambridge, with funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

After preliminary wind tunnel testing of various baffle shapes carried out by Cranfield University, an array of three rows of baffles was tested using laser scanning (Lidar, which is the optical equivalent of Radar) and chemical sensor techniques at Cranfield Airport in Bedfordshire. This demonstrated that the aircraft exhaust plume could be made to leave the ground within the airport’s boundary fence, using prototype baffles of less than a man’s height and constructed out of low-cost agricultural windbreak netting on lightweight frames. Read more ..


Edge of Electric Industry

Google Makes a Push on Electric Utilities

February 2nd 2013

Google is launching an effort aimed at getting electric utilities and states to change how they charge consumers for electricity. The Internet giant is putting money behind the push, announcing Monday that it awarded a $2.65 million grant to grantmaking group Energy Foundation.

Google said policy reforms would incentivize the use of “smart grid" technology, encourage greater energy conservation and reduce power blackouts. “We’ve seen big changes in recent years to the way we watch TV, use phones, read and listen to music, yet how we use electricity hasn’t changed much in decades,” Michael Terrell, senior policy counsel of energy and sustainability with Google, wrote Monday on the Internet giant’s blog.

Google wants a heavier use of “smart” grid technology, a term that refers to devices and “smart” electric meters that communicate through Internet protocol — rather than proprietary — communication systems. Smart grid technology would enable consumers to see their energy use data in real time, most commonly through a website provided by the electric utility, or a home energy management device. Read more ..


The Automotive Edge

Tire Sensors Detects Vehicle Weight

February 1st 2013

Flat Tire

Automotive supplier Continental has announced to expand the scope of functions of its tire pressure sensors: Future sensor generations will be able to detect the total weight of the vehicle. With this move, the company intends to make a contribution to safety.

In today's passenger vehicles, drivers never really know if the weight of their payload lies within the safety limits or not. To close this gap, Continental is currently developing a generation of pressure sensors that are smart enough to determine the total weight of the vehicle.

For the automatic load detection system, the engineers take advantage of the physical properties of vehicle tires. The contact patch of the tire increases as a result of the weight bearing down on the tire. With the future generation of sensors, which will be fitted directly underneath the tread of the tire, the tire pressure monitoring system can accurately detect the size of this contact area. With the revolutions of the wheel, the associated pressure sensor registers the rolling characteristics of the tire on the road. Based on the existing tire pressure and precise data about characteristics of the tires fitted, the system is able to inform the driver after just a few hundred meters if a change in tire pressure would be appropriate for the current payload. Read more ..


The Race for Hydrogen

Daimler, Ford and Nissan Join Forces for Zero-Emission Technology

February 1st 2013

Hydrogen fueling

The hydrogen fuel cell technology gets going: Less than a week after BMW and Toyota announced to collaborate in the field of hydrogen fuel cells for electromobility, three competing carmakers followed suit and announced a similar agreement for their part: Daimler, Ford and Nissan plan to jointly speed the commercialization of fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) technology.

The goal of the collaboration is to jointly develop a common fuel cell electric vehicle system while reducing investment costs associated with the engineering of the technology. Each company will invest equally towards the project. The strategy to maximize design commonality, leverage volume and derive efficiencies through economies of scale will help to launch the world's first affordable, mass-market FCEVs as early as 2017, three years earlier than the competing BMW / Toyota group. Read more ..


The Race for Natural Gas

Senate Bill would Greenlight Natural Gas Exports to US Allies

January 31st 2013

LNG Tanker

A group of Senate Republicans and two centrist Democrats shook up political debates over U.S. natural gas exports Thursday with new legislation that would ensure federal approval of exports to NATO countries and Japan.

Sens. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and several colleagues floated the bill as the Energy Department (DOE) reviews 16 applications to export liquefied natural gas (LNG) to countries that don’t have free-trade deals with the U.S.

Federal law, according to DOE, generally requires approval of exports to nations that have such trade deals with the U.S., but other applications face much more scrutiny from regulators. The “Expedited LNG for American Allies Act” would put NATO allies and Japan, which is seeking to expand imports as most of its nuclear capacity remains offline, on equal footing with the formal free-trade partners. Read more ..


The Race for Biofuel

Biofuel-Blending Battle Rages On

January 31st 2013

switchgrass

The fight between the biofuels industry and oil-and-gas lobby group the American Petroleum Institute (API) flared again Thursday when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its 2013 targets for a biofuel-blending rule. EPA raised how much cellulosic biofuel — those made from non-edible feedstock — it expected refiners to blend this year as part of the renewable fuel standard.

EPA set the mark at 14 million gallons of cellulosic biofuel, up from about 8.65 million gallons last year. The new figure pleased the biofuels industry, but did not satisfy API. The two sides are tussling over a recent court decision that said EPA needs to set more realistic projections for cellulosic biofuel. Biofuels groups said the goal reflects new production coming online, while API maintained it was too lofty. Read more ..


Oil Addiction

White House Targets Oil-and-Gas Tax breaks

January 30th 2013

Oil Barrels

The White House took jabs at oil-and-gas subsidies Wednesday, calling for an end to the incentives as part of a deal to avoid automatic spending cuts from sequestration. “The idea that you need to subsidize an industry that has enjoyed record profits — that taxpayers have to subsidize it — just doesn’t make sense in a time when we have to make choices about how best to use our resources,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday.

Unless Congress acts to stop sequestration, federal spending will be slashed by about $110 billion on March 1, with half the total coming from the Pentagon. On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) made similar comments about the subsidies. The remarks indicate Democrats plan to take another stab at axing the subsidies, this time as part of an effort to dodge the automatic spending cuts, after legislative efforts failed last Congress.

“There are many low-hanging pieces of fruit out there that Republicans have said they agreed on previously. I’m not going to go into detail, but one of them, of course, is deal with oil companies,” Reid said Tuesday. These swipes at the nearly $4 billion in annual incentives awarded to the oil-and-gas industry are not new. Read more ..


The Edge of Nano-Technology

Advanced Adsorption Chiller uses Nanomaterial for Optimal Efficiency

January 29th 2013

US troops in Iraq

A new, energy-efficient air chilling system could keep troops on the front lines cool while using about half as much diesel as current systems. The system's decreased fuel consumption could also save lives by reducing attacks on American soldiers who deliver fuel to field operations.

The Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory will receive up to $2.8 million over three years to develop the system, the Department of Defense, Navy and DOE's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, also known as ARPA-E, announced Wednesday. PNNL's project was among five awarded a total of $8.5 million to improve the efficiency of battlefield heating and air conditioning systems by 20 to 50 percent. "PNNL is looking forward to adapting its ongoing research into advanced, energy-efficient cooling technologies and apply it toward important military needs," said PNNL Laboratory Fellow and project leader Pete McGrail. Read more ..


The Race for Coal

Mining Trade Group Confident About Congressional Support

January 28th 2013

Smokestacks

A major mining trade association said Monday that it expects its congressional allies to push for legislation shortening mine permitting periods and to block attempts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

National Mining Association (NMA) CEO Hal Quinn pinned much of the industry’s recent struggles on “unsustainably low natural gas prices,” “unseasonably” warm weather and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules that amounted to “bad public policy.” But the trade group said it feels comfortable with its congressional support.

NMA officials said their Republican and Democratic friends would continue calling for reviews of EPA rules on air emissions. Quinn said House members would continue oversight of EPA rules rolled out under the Clean Air Act, which include emissions standards for new coal-fired power plants.

House Republicans, especially those on the Energy and Commerce Committee, spent considerable time railing against though EPA rules last Congress. And Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), chairman of the Energy and Power subcommittee, has pledged to continue looking at how such regulations affect electricity delivery. Read more ..


The Race for Solar

Organic Solar Cells May Resolve Cost Barriers

January 27th 2013

Sunrise or Sunset

McCormick researchers have designed a geometrically-patterned light scattering layer that could make solar cells more efficient and less expensive. The sun’s energy is virtually limitless, but harnessing its electricity with today’s single-crystal silicon solar cells is extremely expensive — 10 times pricier than coal, according to some estimates. Organic solar cells — polymer solar cells that use organic materials to absorb light and convert it into electricity — could be a solution, but current designs suffer because polymers have less-than-optimal electrical properties.

Researchers at Northwestern University have now developed a new design for organic solar cells that could lead to more efficient, less expensive solar power. Instead of attempting to increase efficiency by altering the thickness of the solar cell’s polymer layer — a tactic that has preciously garnered mixed results — the researchers sought to design the geometric pattern of the scattering layer to maximize the amount of time light remained trapped within the cell. Read more ..


The Race for Natural Gas

Japanese Energy, Business Groups Urge US Gas Export Approvals

January 27th 2013

LNG Tanker

Japanese utilities and business groups are pressing U.S. regulators to approve natural gas exports at a time when Japan’s idled nuclear production has boosted its need for other energy sources.

New letters to the Energy Department (DOE) urge approval of an array of pending applications to export liquefied natural gas to nations that do not have free-trade deals with the U.S. – including Japan.

“We, as Japanese utilities, are in significant need of secure sources of energy supply,” states a Jan. 24 letter to DOE from Chubu Electric Power Co. and Osaka Gas Co. “Among new supply sources, we have increasing interest in U.S. LNG exports as economic and stable sources of supply with high liquidity and transparency.” Their letter urges “expedited” action on the LNG export applications. A separate letter from The Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan calls exports in the interest of both nations. Read more ..


The Race for Biofuel

Court Deals Blow to Biofuel Industry

January 26th 2013

Grown from Biofuel

A federal court delivered a blow to the biofuel industry Friday when it ruled the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must lower certain targets in a key biofuel-blending rule. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit sided with the American Petroleum Institute (API), saying the EPA cannot set forward-leaning blending projections for cellulosic biofuel when supplies aren't available to meet the requirements.

“[W]e agree with API that EPA’s 2012 projection of cellulosic biofuel production was in excess of the agency’s statutory authority. We accordingly vacate that aspect of the 2012 RFS (renewable fuel standard) rule and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion,” the court said in its decision. A biofuel trade group official familiar with the case said that the court decision creates uncertainty for investment in cellulosic biofuels, a type of “advanced” biofuel made from non-edible feedstock. Read more ..


The Automotive Edge

Keeping EV Wheels on the Road

January 23rd 2013

Broken Road

It weighs half as much as a sports car, and turns on a dime—so its no surprise that the electric car being developed at Ohio State University needs an exceptional traction and motion control system to keep it on the road.

With four wheels that turn independently, each with its own built-in electric motor and set of batteries, the experimental car is the only one of its kind outside of commercial carmakers’ laboratories. “It is considered one of the promising future vehicle architectures,” said Junmin Wang, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and Director of the Vehicle Systems and Control Laboratory at Ohio State. “It would make a good in-city car—efficient and maneuverable, with no emissions. Our task is to make a robust control system to keep it safe and reliable.” Read more ..


The Race for Hydro

Bipartisan Support Moves Hydropower Bill

January 22nd 2013

Glen Canyon Dam

The House Energy and Commerce Committee passed a bill Tuesday that would speed up the permitting process for a slate of hydropower projects. The bill, H.R. 267, would require that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission investigate capping the licensing timeline at two years for certain hydropower projects.

Democratic and Republican committee leaders praised the bill during a Wednesday markup. “The first five bills before us today show that we can work together on a shared priority,” Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said of the package of bills the committee considered, which included the hydropower measure. Ranking member Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) added that the bill “produces a balanced, bipartisan approach.”  Read more ..


The Race for Biofuel

Marginal Lands Are Prime Fuel Source for Alternative Energy

January 22nd 2013

oil seed field

Marginal lands ­– those unsuited for food crops – can serve as prime real estate for meeting the nation’s alternative energy production goals. In the current issue of Nature, a team of researchers led by Michigan State University shows that marginal lands represent a huge untapped resource to grow mixed species cellulosic biomass, plants grown specifically for fuel production, which could annually produce up to 5.5 billion gallons of ethanol in the Midwest alone.

"Understanding the environmental impact of widespread biofuel production is a major unanswered question both in the U.S. and worldwide," said Ilya Gelfand, lead author and MSU postdoctoral researcher. “We estimate that using marginal lands for growing cellulosic biomass crops could provide up to 215 gallons of ethanol per acre with substantial greenhouse gas mitigation.” Read more ..



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