The Race for Solar
|Paul Buckley||February 14th 2013|
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
|Julien Happich||February 13th 2013|
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 ..
|Lauren Goodrich and Marc Lanthemann||February 13th 2013|
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
|Robert Perkins||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
|Paul Buckley||February 11th 2013|
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
|Christoph Hammerschmidt||February 11th 2013|
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 ..
|Justin Sink||February 10th 2013|
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 ..
|Ben Geman||February 8th 2013|
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
|Zack Colman||February 8th 2013|
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
|Paul Buckley||February 7th 2013|
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
|Tafline Laylin||February 6th 2013|
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
|Sharon Behn||February 5th 2013|
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
|Christoph Hammerschmidt||February 4th 2013|
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
|Sam Orez||February 3rd 2013|
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
|Zack Colman||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
|Christoph Hammerschmidt||February 1st 2013|
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
|Christoph Hammerschmidt||February 1st 2013|
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
|Ben Geman||January 31st 2013|
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
|Zack Colman||January 31st 2013|
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 ..
|Zack Colman||January 30th 2013|
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
|Frances White||January 29th 2013|
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
|Zack Colman||January 28th 2013|
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
|Sarah Ostman||January 27th 2013|
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
|Ben Geman||January 27th 2013|
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
|Zack Colman||January 26th 2013|
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
|Pam Frost Gorder||January 23rd 2013|
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
|Zack Colman||January 22nd 2013|
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
|Layne Cameron, Phil Robertson||January 22nd 2013|
Michigan State University
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 ..
The Race for Biofuel
|Dan Levin||January 21st 2013|
from Imperial College London
Willow trees cultivated for green energy can yield up to five times more biofuel if they grow diagonally, compared with those that are allowed to grow naturally up towards the sky. This effect had been observed in the wild and in plantations around the UK, but scientists were previously unable to explain why some willows produced more biofuel than others.
Now British researchers have identified a genetic trait that causes this effect and is activated in some trees when they sense they are at an angle, such as where they are blown sideways in windy conditions.
The effect creates an excess of strengthening sugar molecules in the willows' stems, which attempt to straighten the plant upwards. These high-energy sugars are fermented into biofuels when the trees are harvested in a process that currently needs to be more efficient before it can rival the production of fossil fuels. Read more ..
The Race for Biofuel
|James Badham||January 21st 2013|
In 2005, President George W. Bush and American corn farmers saw corn ethanol as a promising fossil fuel substitute that would reduce both American dependence on foreign oil and greenhouse gas emissions. Accordingly, the 2005 energy bill mandated that 4 billion gallons of renewable fuel be added to the gasoline supply in 2006. That rose to 4.7 billion gallons in 2007 and 7.5 billion in 2012.
Since then, life cycle assessments (LCAs) have shown that corn ethanol has modest if any effect on reducing CO2 emissions and may actually increase them, while posing a threat to natural habitats and food supplies, as food stocks are turned to fuel and marginal lands are put under the plough to keep up with demand. In 2010, fuel ethanol consumed 40 percent of U.S. corn production, and 2012 prices are at record highs. Since the U.S. also accounts for 40 percent of the world's corn, U.S. ethanol production has affected corn prices around the planet. Read more ..
|Ben Geman||January 20th 2013|
The head of a federal offshore drilling advisory panel supports a “balanced” approached to continued oil development off Alaska's coast this year, breaking with President Obama’s former energy czar and environmentalists who say it cannot be done safely.
The comments by Tom Hunter, chairman of the Ocean Energy Safety Advisory Committee, follow Royal Dutch Shell’s troubled 2012 launch of preliminary Arctic development in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas.
“I am not uncomfortable if it proceeds in a very balanced way and with a significant amount of oversight by the regulatory organizations with the federal government, and a lot of engagement with the stakeholders in the local area there,” Hunter said when asked about the prospect of Shell returning to the region later in 2013. Hunter, the former director of Sandia National Laboratories, made the comments in an interview broadcast Sunday on Platts Energy Week TV. Read more ..
The Race for Natural Gas
|Ben Geman||January 19th 2013|
The Interior Department is delaying planned rules that would impose new requirements on the controversial oil-and-gas production method called hydraulic fracturing. Interior said Friday that it will float a new version of draft rules first issued last May and take new comments on the proposal that will govern “fracking” on public lands.
“In response to comments from stakeholders and the public, the [Bureau of Land Management] is making improvements to the draft proposal in order to maximize flexibility, facilitate coordination with state practices and ensure that operators on public lands implement best practices,” Interior spokesman Blake Androff said Friday. The decision to issue another draft, which is expected to surface in the first quarter of this year, marks a significant delay in the plan. Interior initially floated the draft rules last May, and had earlier intended to finalize them by the end of 2012, although that timeline had already slipped. Read more ..
|Ben Geman||January 18th 2013|
Officials with the Center for American Progress (CAP), an influential liberal think tank with deep White House ties, have come out against Arctic oil drilling as the Obama administration faces crucial decisions about the region.
Carol Browner, a senior CAP fellow and President Obama’s former energy czar, and CAP founder John Podesta explained their opposition to drilling off the northern coast of Alaska in a joint Bloomberg op-ed.
The op-ed by Podesta, who co-chaired Obama’s transition team after his 2008 election, and Browner follows Royal Dutch Shell's troubled preliminary development efforts in Arctic seas last year. “We were open to offshore oil and gas development in the Arctic provided oil companies and the government could impose adequate safeguards, ensure sufficient response capacity and develop a deeper understanding of how oil behaves in ice and freezing water. Now, following a series of mishaps and errors, as well as overwhelming weather conditions, it has become clear that there is no safe and responsible way to drill for oil and gas in the Arctic Ocean,” they write. Read more ..
|Steve Oppenheimer||January 18th 2013|
Cutting Edge contributor
Israel’s cabinet approved an ambitious plan to reduce the use of oil in transportation 30% by 2020 and 60% by 2025. The plan would ramp up the number of vehicles fueled by domestically produced natural gas and its byproducts, hybrid engine vehicles, electric vehicles and the extensive use of mass transit. Oil currently fuels for more than 90% of the world’s transportation on land, sea, and air. The replacement of oil by cost competitive alternative fuels would break the monopoly the OPEC Oil Cartel (dominated by Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Venezuela) has on the supply and price of oil.
Primarily reliant on imported oil and natural gas since its founding in 1948, Israel’s energy future was transformed in 2010 when the first of a number of the world’s largest offshore natural gas fields were discovered off Israel’s northern coast. Development of offshore natural gas reserves will produce domestic, less expensive and cleaner fuel for electricity generation and transportation. In 2010 Israel also unveiled a blueprint to become a leader in the development of alternative fuels for transportation. Read more ..
The Edge of Climate Change
|Nicole Casal Moore||January 17th 2013|
Black carbon, or soot, is the second largest human-caused contributor to global warming, according to a landmark study published today that involves a University of Michigan researcher.
Behind only carbon dioxide in terms of its influence on the climate, the impacts of black carbon have been greatly underestimated, the researchers say. Their study, published in the Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres, is the first quantitative and comprehensive analysis of this issue. Major sources of soot include diesel engines, wood and coal burning in small household burners and some industrial processes. “There are exciting opportunities to cool climate by reducing soot emissions but it is not straightforward.” Read more ..
The Race for Solar
|Julien Happich||January 17th 2013|
Heliatek GmbH announced a record breaking 12.0% cell efficiency for its organic solar cells, established in cooperation with the University of Ulm and TU Dresden. The record was measured by the accredited testing facility SGS which also validated the superior low light and high temperature performances of organic photovoltaics (OPV) compared to traditional solar technologies.
The 12.0% record cell on a standard size of 1.1 cm² combines two patented absorber materials, which convert light of different wavelengths. Using two different absorber materials creates a stronger absorption of photons and improves energetic utilization through a higher photovoltage.
Thanks to OPV's unique behaviour at high temperatures and low light conditions, this 12% efficiency is comparable to about 14% to 15% efficiency for traditional solar technologies like crystalline silicon and thin film PV. Whereas those technologies significantly lose cell efficiency with rising temperatures and decreasing solar irradiation, organic cells increase their efficiency in these conditions leading to a much higher energy harvesting in real life environments. Read more ..
|Zack Colman||January 16th 2013|
Outgoing Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson said working on the legislation that will deliver Clean Water Act fines from BP’s 2010 oil spill to Gulf Coast states was a high point of her four-year term. Jackson told the New Orleans Times-Picayune that working with President Obama on the Restore Act was a highlight of her tenure. That law ensures at least 80 percent of Clean Water Act fines from the Gulf of Mexico disaster would go to Gulf states for habitat, conservation and coastal restoration.
Jackson, a New Orleans native, said she wants to see that "the penalty money goes to do good" to restore the damaged Louisiana coast. She added that the response effort amounts to a "proud moment as a Louisianan to know that some of the most forward-looking work on restoring wetlands is coming from Louisiana." Read more ..
The Race for Alt Energy
|Julien Happich||January 16th 2013|
MIT engineers have created a new polymer film that can generate electricity by drawing on a ubiquitous source: water vapor. The new material changes its shape after absorbing tiny amounts of evaporated water, allowing it to repeatedly curl up and down. Harnessing this continuous motion could drive robotic limbs or generate enough electricity to power micro- and nanoelectronic devices, such as environmental sensors. "With a sensor powered by a battery, you have to replace it periodically. If you have this device, you can harvest energy from the environment so you don't have to replace it very often," says Mingming Ma, a postdoc at MIT's David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research and lead author of a paper describing the new material. Read more ..
The Race for Solar
|Daniel Parry||January 15th 2013|
U.S. Naval Research Laboratory scientists in the Electronics Technology and Science Division, in collaboration with the Imperial College London and MicroLink Devices, Inc., Niles, Ill., have proposed a novel triple-junction solar cell with the potential to break the 50 percent conversion efficiency barrier, which is the current goal in multi-junction photovoltaic development.
"This research has produced a novel, realistically achievable, lattice-matched, multi-junction solar cell design with the potential to break the 50 percent power conversion efficiency mark under concentrated illumination," said Robert Walters, Ph.D., NRL research physicist. "At present, the world record triple-junction solar cell efficiency is 44 percent under concentration and it is generally accepted that a major technology breakthrough will be required for the efficiency of these cells to increase much further."
In multi-junction (MJ) solar cells, each junction is 'tuned' to different wavelength bands in the solar spectrum to increase efficiency. High bandgap semiconductor material is used to absorb the short wavelength radiation with longer wavelength parts transmitted to subsequent semiconductors. In theory, an infinite-junction cell could obtain a maximum power conversion percentage of nearly 87 percent. The challenge is to develop a semiconductor material system that can attain a wide range of bandgaps and be grown with high crystalline quality. Read more ..
|Zack Colman||January 15th 2013|
The oil industry on Tuesday escalated its attacks on the federal biofuel mandate as it rolled out a national ad campaign aimed at promoting the nation’s refineries. The ad blitz from the American Petroleum Institute will be an “all hands on deck” effort across TV, print, radio and online, Cindy Schild, the lobby's senior manager, said
Tuesday in a call with reporters.
She said getting Congress to axe the biofuel rule is "one place to start" to strengthen the domestic refining industry. “EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] has been unable and sometimes unwilling to make it workable. That is why we need Congress to scrap” the renewable fuel standard, Schild said. She also stated that API plans “to be devoting a lot of resources” to getting the Keystone XL pipeline approved. Read more ..
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