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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


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


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 ..

The Race for Biofuel

Wind in the Willows Boosts Biofuel Production

January 21st 2013

Grown from Biofuel

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

Photovoltaics Beat Biofuels at Converting Sun's Energy to Miles Driven

January 21st 2013

Sunrise or Sunset

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 ..

Oil Addiction

Offshore Drilling Advisor Supports 'Balanced' Artic Development

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

Obama Officials Delay Fracking Rules

January 19th 2013

Hydrolic Fracking pollution

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 ..

Oil Addiction

Obama Allies Browner, Podesta Now Oppose Artic Drilling

January 18th 2013

Alaska oil drilling

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 ..

Oil Addicition

Israel Moves off Oil in Dramatic Fast Switch to Alt Fuel

January 18th 2013

Project Better Place

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

Black Carbon is Second Biggest Human Cause of Global Warming

January 17th 2013

Click to select Image

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

New World Record for Organic Solar Technology with 12% Cell Efficiency

January 17th 2013

Papal solar panels

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 ..

Oil Addiction

Delivering BP Spill Fines to Gulf States a Proud Moment

January 16th 2013

Gulf oil spill

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

Electricity from Water Vapor

January 16th 2013

Ocean scene

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

NRL Designs Multi-Junction Solar Cell to Break Efficiency Barrier

January 15th 2013

the sun

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 ..

Oil Addiction

Oil Industry Escalates Attacks on Biofuel Mandate

January 15th 2013

Sugar Cane

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 ..

The Race for Natural Gas

Murkowski to Japan on US Gas Exports

January 14th 2013

LNG Tanker

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the Senate’s top Republican lawmaker on energy policy, will shortly travel to Japan for meetings about nuclear power and exporting natural gas from her state. “She is going to meet with Japanese officials and take a look at what they have done since Fukushima on nuclear policy,” said Robert Dillon, Murkowski’s spokesman.

Almost every Japanese reactor is offline following the meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, which occurred after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that struck the island. Dillon said Murkowski will speak with Japanese officials about exporting Alaskan natural gas to the energy-thirsty island nation. Murkowski will also lay a wreath at the grave of an Alaskan teacher who was killed in the Japanese tsunami, Dillon said. Japan is the world’s largest importer of liquefied natural gas (LNG), and the nation’s need for fossil fuels has risen since the March 2011 catastrophe. Read more ..

The Race for Alt Energy

How to Treat Heat like Light

January 13th 2013

Rub al Khali Saudi Empty Quarter

An MIT researcher has developed a technique that provides a new way of manipulating heat, allowing it to be controlled much as light waves can be manipulated by lenses and mirrors.

The approach relies on engineered materials consisting of nanostructured semiconductor alloy crystals. Heat is a vibration of matter — technically, a vibration of the atomic lattice of a material — just as sound is. Such vibrations can also be thought of as a stream of phonons — a kind of "virtual particle" that is analogous to the photons that carry light. The new approach is similar to recently developed photonic crystals that can control the passage of light, and phononic crystals that can do the same for sound. Read more ..

Oil Addcition

Fracking Could Allow America to Overtake Saudi Arabia in Oil by 2020

January 13th 2013

Oil Barrels

An oil boom launched by “fracking” has led energy leaders to take a second look at harnessing the potential of oil shale, a fossil fuel that energy firms largely abandoned the hope of harnessing in the 1980s. No commercially viable method of producing oil shale exists, but American Petroleum Institute CEO Jack Gerard turned heads earlier this month when he predicted a game-changing technological breakthrough could allow the use of oil shale. Gerard’s remarks caught many by surprise as doubts abound on oil shale’s future.

“To date, what we’ve seen is 100 years of promises and taxpayer funds for projects that have all gone belly up,” said Ellynne Bannon, a spokeswoman with spending watchdog group Checks and Balances Project. Environmentalists abhor the prospect of trying to harness oil shale, which would involve extracting oil that is contained in rocks. Extraction methods so far use a considerable amount of fossil fuels and water, which is scarce in the West. Yet before fracking — which injects a high-pressure mixture of water, sand and chemicals into tight rock formations to capture oil hidden under the rocks —many had thought accessing the oil and gas buried deep underground was too expensive. Read more ..

The Race for BioFuel

Biofuel Crops Can Yield Lower Nitrogen Losses

January 12th 2013

oil seed field

Perennial biofuel crops such as miscanthus, whose high yields have led them to be considered an eventual alternative to corn in producing ethanol, are now shown to have another beneficial characteristic–the ability to reduce the escape of nitrogen in the environment. In a 4-year University of Illinois study that compared miscanthus, switchgrass, and mixed prairie species to typical corn-corn-soybean rotations, each of the perennial crops were highly efficient at reducing nitrogen losses, with miscanthus having the greatest yield.

"Our results clearly demonstrate that environmental nitrogen fluxes from row-crop agriculture can be greatly reduced after the establishment of perennial biofuel crops," said U of I postdoctoral research associate Candice Smith. "Because of the establishment variability, we were able to compare annual row crops with perennial crops. Although in the first two years, nitrate leaching remained high in the non-established miscanthus crop, once a dense, productive crop was established in the second year of growth, nitrate leaching in tile drainage quickly decreased." Read more ..

New Oil Rule ‘Directly Advances’ US Foreign Policy

January 12th 2013

Saudi Oil

The State Department is throwing its weight behind controversial Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) rules that will force oil, gas and mining companies to disclose payments to foreign governments. “The rule directly advances our foreign policy interests in increasing transparency and reducing corruption, particularly in the oil, gas and minerals sectors,” a State Department spokesman said. “Corruption and mismanagement of these resources can impede economic growth, reduce opportunities for U.S. trade and investment, divert critically-needed funding from social services and other government activities, and contribute to instability and conflict,” State Department spokesman John Finn said.

The rules finalized last August are required under the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial law, but they have drawn a legal challenge from oil industry and business groups that say the mandate will impose costly burdens. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has previously expressed support for the Dodd-Frank provision, Section 1504, and the SEC’s rules when they were in draft form. Read more ..

The Race for Nuclear

France Ponders a Nuclear Exit

January 11th 2013

Nuclear waste overseas

France has been held up, worldwide, as the forerunner in using nuclear fission to produce electricity. However, a third of the nation's nuclear reactors will need replacing in the next decade, and public opinion has shifted toward reducing reliance on nuclear power. In a special issue of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, published by SAGE four articles explore whether France has the means or desire to unplug from nuclear power.

Nuclear arms experts Patrice Bouveret, Bruno Barrillot, and Dominique Lalanne argue that phasing out Frances' civilian nuclear program would entail costs both to military funding streams, and to the nation's identity. In their provocative article, "Nuclear chromosomes: The national security implications of a French phase-out," they explain that weapons channels are distinct from the power industry. However, as civilian and military nuclear programs have been intertwined for decades, cutting financing for civilian nuclear research projects would increase the cost of maintaining the nuclear arsenal. The extent to which the military and civilian budgets are shared and expenses transferred between them is impossible to quantify – a deliberate move by defense staff to maintain secrecy. Read more ..

The Race for Natural Gas

Export Push Reframes Debate Over Fracking

January 11th 2013


When Pennsylvanians agreed to a massive increase in natural gas drilling in the state, they were told that the economic benefit would outweigh any potential risk to the environment. The drilling employs a controversial technology known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, that backers say will help the nation become energy independent and provide jobs and lower heating costs for Pennsylvanians.

But with gas prices collapsing thanks to an unforeseen glut, energy companies are pushing for permission to export the commodity to countries such as Japan and South Korea. Exports will lead to more drilling, more damage to roads and the environment, and higher, rather than lower, gas prices, say critics.

Pennsylvanians are “surprised, stunned, angry and upset” about the export push, said Delaware Riverkeeper Maya van Rossum. “And that’s whether or not they’re supportive of fracking.”

The Race for Natural Gas

Cyprus Helping with Israel-Lebanon Maritime Dispute

January 10th 2013

Gas ocean platform

Talks in Beirut today between Lebanese president Michel Suleiman and Cypriot president Demetris Christofias may be a turning point in the offshore border muddle that has vexed relations between the two countries for several years. The issues are complicated, however, and Suleiman offered only cautious words after the meeting: "We have given the issue of the gas and oil available in our water top priority and agreed to increase cooperation [on formulating] principles and sound means that would allow us to extract this resource."

The problem stems from two recent maritime border agreements negotiated by Cyprus, with Lebanon in 2007 and with Israel in 2010. The agreements give shape to the countries' exclusive economic zones -- offshore areas where they can claim sovereignty over any oil and natural gas reserves. Recent discoveries in waters off Israel and the southern coast of Cyprus will provide both nations with enough gas to fulfill domestic demand for decades, as well as a surplus for export. And Lebanon, plagued by a weak economy and energy shortages, is soon to permit drilling off its coast. Read more ..

The Race for Alt Energy

New Material Harvests Energy from Water Vapor

January 9th 2013

Polymer Film

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. "We are very excited about this new material, and we expect as we achieve higher efficiency in converting mechanical energy into electricity, this material will find even broader applications," says Robert Langer, the David H. Koch Institute Professor at MIT. Those potential applications include large-scale, water-vapor-powered generators, or smaller generators to power wearable electronics. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

The First Peel-and-Stick Thin-Film Solar Cells

January 9th 2013

Rub al Khali Saudi Empty Quarter

Stanford researchers have succeeded in developing what they claim to be the world's first peel-and-stick thin-film solar cells. Unlike standard thin-film solar cells, peel-and-stick thin-film solar cells do not require any direct fabrication on the final carrier substrate. This is a far more dramatic development than it may initially seem. All the challenges associated with putting solar cells on unconventional materials are avoided with the new process, vastly expanding the potential applications of solar technology.

Thin-film photovoltaic cells are traditionally fixed on rigid silicon and glass substrates, greatly limiting their uses, says Chi Hwan Lee, lead author of the paper and a PhD candidate in mechanical engineering. And while the development of thin-film solar cells promised to inject some flexibility into the technology, explains Xiaolin Zheng, a Stanford assistant professor of mechanical engineering and senior author of the paper, scientists found that use of alternative substrates was problematic in the extreme. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Green Groups Press Obama to Kill Keystone XL Pipeline

January 8th 2013

Keystone Pipeline

More than 70 green groups urged President Obama in a Monday letter to kill the Keystone XL pipeline to make good on promises to address climate change. Obama has publicly pledged to tackle climate change a handful of times since Hurricane Sandy struck the East Coast, though without detailing specific policy plans.

In their letter, the groups said Obama should speak out more often on climate change, impose emissions limits on existing coal-fired power plants and focus on creating clean-energy jobs. They added the president also should shut down the proposed pipeline that would bring Canadian oil sands to Gulf Coast refineries.

“Hurricane Sandy made it tragically clear that many communities are extremely vulnerable to climate change. We can and we must build back better — with investment in sustainable infrastructure, not the kind of carbon-intensive development that helped drive this problem in the first place,” the groups wrote in the letter. Read more ..

The Race for EVs

Determining Battery Range for Electro-Mobility of EVs

January 7th 2013

Toyota Prius PHEV

A survey of more than 5,000 motorists, carried out at TÜV SÜD service centres (that are used for periodic vehicle inspection) in co-operation with the German Technomar market research institute, revealed that 70 per cent of respondents were discouraged by the short range of electric vehicles.

However, more than 62 per cent would be prepared to buy an electric car. As far as the success of electro-mobility is concerned, battery range therefore plays a crucial role. As the range of electric cars are considerably lower than combustion engines, manufacturers need to be able to test against and work with a set of measurements that are as close as possible to real world use. In reality, an electric vehicle driving up to 1,000 kilometres on one 'tankful' is out of the question and will remain so for the foreseeable future. Read more ..

The Race for EVs

DOT Wants Nosier EVs

January 7th 2013

Better Place EV charging

The Department of Transportation is proposing new regulations that would require hybrid and electric cars to make more noise when their engines are running. The rules are designed to make it easier for nearby pedestrians to hear the traditional quiet automobiles when they are approaching. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the change would make it easier for hybrid and electric car drivers to share the road.

"Safety is our highest priority, and this proposal will help keep everyone using our nation's streets and roadways safe, whether they are motorists, bicyclists or pedestrians, and especially the blind and visually impaired," LaHood said in a statement released by the DOT. Under the requirement, cars would be required to be heard above typical street noises when they are traveling at speeds less than 18 miles per hour. Read more ..

The Coal Problem

Key Senators Call for Investigation of Coal Companies' Royalty Payments

January 6th 2013

Coal Train

The leaders of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee want to investigate claims that mining firms are dodging government royalty payments on coal excavated from federal and tribal lands.

Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and ranking member Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) cited Reuters reports that mining firms low-ball the value of coal when selling to traders and marketers.
Reuters indicated some of the mining firms own those intermediaries, which then sell the coal at higher rates abroad.
“This is so obvious it shouldn’t need to be said: Coal companies need to be paying taxpayers all of the money they are owed,” Wyden said in a Friday statement.

The senators sent a letter Thursday asking Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to look into the practice.
"Because royalties from federal coal are shared with the states in which that coal is mined, affected states may also be losing millions of dollars of revenue," the senators wrote. Read more ..

Film and Politics

'Promised Land': Hollywood's Intromission into the Politics of Natural Gas

January 6th 2013

Matt Damon in Promised land
Matt Damon in 'Promised Land'

The new Matt Damon film “Promised Land” is giving voice to critics of natural gas production, but the film faces opposition too as “fracking” goes Hollywood. The movie arrives in the middle of political and regulatory battles over fracking, the controversial oil-and-gas development method that's enabling a U.S. production boom. The Beltway has taken notice as green groups highlight the movie and conservatives attack it.

"Promised Land," which opened nationwide Friday to mixed reviews, boasts an all-star pedigree: Damon and John Krasinski (who plays Jim in the hit TV show "The Office") wrote it and star, while indie film pioneer Gus Van Sant directs. Damon plays an energy company representative dispatched to a struggling farm town to convince residents to allow development on their land, and get paid well for it. But he runs into opposition from an activist played by Krasinski, who sounds the alarm about water pollution from the technique called hydraulic fracturing. Read more ..

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