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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

Petroleum

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

Fracking

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.”
Read more ..


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 ..


The Race for Batteries

Researchers Seek Longer Battery Life For Electric Locomotive

January 4th 2013

Norfolk Souther Electric Locomotive 999

Norfolk Southern Railway No. 999 is the first all-electric, battery-powered locomotive in the United States. But when one of the thousand lead-acid batteries that power it dies, the locomotive shuts down. To combat this problem, a team of Penn State researchers is developing more cost-effective ways to prolong battery life.

The experimental locomotive's batteries, just like automotive batteries, are rechargeable until they eventually die. A leading cause of damage and death in lead-acid batteries is sulfation, a degradation of the battery caused by frequent charging and discharging that creates an accumulation of lead sulfate. In a recent study, the researchers looked for ways to improve regular battery management practices. The methods had to be nondestructive, simple and cheap -- using as few sensors, electronics and supporting hardware as possible while still remaining effective at identifying and decreasing sulfation. Read more ..


The Race for Wind

Issa Takes Aim at Revised Wind Credit

January 3rd 2013

Green Mtn wind farm

A recently renewed wind power credit could face more scrutiny next Congress, as House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said Wednesday that the credit is of “serious interest" to his committee. Issa criticized a "dramatic" alteration to the credit that he said amounted to an expansion of the program. “In 24 hours, the heavily subsidized wind industry has gone from the verge of collapse to a modern-day Gold Rush. H.R. 8 seems to create a perverse incentive to rush production of additional facilities even when there may not be adequate demand for wind, biomass, or geothermal energy,” Issa told The Hill in a statement.

The House and the Senate agreed Tuesday to extend a 2.2 cent per kilowatt-hour credit for wind power production through this year as part of the "fiscal cliff" deal. It also changed the incentive to let wind projects earn the credit if under construction — rather than in service — by the end of the year. Read more ..


Oil Addiction

Russia's 2012 Oil Output Hits Post-Soviet High

January 2nd 2013

Offshore Oil Rig

Russian oil production reached a post-Soviet record in 2012. Data from Russia's energy ministry in Moscow shows oil and gas production grew at least one percent last year to reach a high of 10.4 million barrels per day. Russia had established its previous post-Soviet record in 2011 when output stood at slightly more than 10 million barrels per day.

The current oil output rate outpaces that of Saudi Arabia and secures Russia's position as the world's biggest oil producer. Te oil and gas sector accounts for roughly half of all budget revenues in Russia. But the government is still trying to change that by diversifying the economy in the hopes of shedding Russia's dependence on the global price of oil. Russia, whose proceeds from oil and gas constitute around half of budget revenues, aims to keep its crude production at no less than 10 million bpd until 2020. Read more ..


The Race for Rail

Will Radiation Danger Spoil Israel’s Electrified Train?

January 2nd 2013

Israel's rail

Israel’s local and national rail services have often been prominently featured in the media ever since Jerusalem’s light rail service was completed in 2010, and another light rail line proposed for the coastal city of Tel Aviv. Its national rail service, which now runs from the northern coastal city of Nahariya to the Negev desert city of Dimona has now been given approval to continue its line further south to link up the commercial hub of Tel Aviv with the country’s southernmost city of Eilat. The new 330 km line, when completed, will “link up with the periphery in a way that has not been done up until now and create a very great interest on the part of Asia’s rising powers, China and India,” says Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

One important issue that is still to be decided on (and an important environmental one at that) is whether to continue to use petroleum based diesel fuel to power the train’s engines, or to convert them to run on electricity as was proposed by the management of Israel Railways and reported in Haaretz and other news media articles. Although using electricity would result in less air and noise pollution, an issue of great concern to the country’s  Ministry of Environmental Protection  is the amount of radiation caused by increased electrical current.  This increase could be much greater that that allowed by the ministry and by the various municipalities along which the rail line now runs, including the two major cities of Haifa and Tel Aviv. Read more ..


The Race for Alt Fuel

Wasted Natural Gas Into Truck Diesel

January 1st 2013

Volvo truck

The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded a group led by the University of Washington $4 million to develop bacteria that can turn the methane in natural gas into diesel fuel for transportation. "The product that we're shooting for will have the same fuel characteristics as diesel," said principal investigator Mary Lidstrom, a UW professor of chemical engineering and microbiology. "It can be used in trucks, boats, buses, cars, tractors – anything that diesel does now."

The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, or ARPA-E, selected the UW-led project in its second major funding round that awarded 66 grants to U.S. universities, businesses and national labs. The Energy Department launched the agency in 2009 to support high-risk, potentially transformative energy research projects. The UW engineers will work with scientists at the National Renewable Energy Lab and two industry partners. They will target the natural gas associated with oil fields, which is often flared off as waste, as well as so-called "stranded" natural gas reserves that are too small for a pipeline to be economically viable. Read more ..


The Race for Solar

Flexible Photovoltaic Cells Will Provide Energy from Windows and Roofs

January 1st 2013

Do it yourself Solar

MIT researchers have produced a new kind of photovoltaic cell based on sheets of flexible graphene coated with a layer of nanowires. The approach could lead to low-cost, transparent and flexible solar cells that could be deployed on windows, roofs or other surfaces.

The new approach is detailed in a report published in the journal Nano Letters, co-authored by MIT postdocs Hyesung Park and Sehoon Chang, associate professor of materials science and engineering Silvija Gradečak, and eight other MIT researchers.

While most of today’s solar cells are made of silicon, these remain expensive because the silicon is generally highly purified and then made into crystals that are sliced thin. Many researchers are exploring alternatives, such as nanostructured or hybrid solar cells; indium tin oxide (ITO) is used as a transparent electrode in these new solar cells.

“Currently, ITO is the material of choice for transparent electrodes,” Gradečak says, such as in the touch screens now used on smartphones. But the indium used in that compound is expensive, while graphene is made from ubiquitous carbon. Read more ..


The Race for Biofuel

Discovery Turns Waste Plant Material into a Fuel Better than Ethanol

Click to select Image

A fungus and E. coli bacteria have joined forces to turn tough, waste plant material into isobutanol, a biofuel that matches gasoline's properties better than ethanol.

University of Michigan research team members said the principle also could be used to produce other valuable chemicals such as plastics.

"We're hoping that biofuels made in such an efficient way can eventually replace current petroleum-based fuels," said Xiaoxia "Nina" Lin, assistant professor of chemical engineering and leader of the research.

Gallon for gallon, isobutanol gives off 82 percent of the heat energy gasoline provides when burned, compared to ethanol's 67 percent. Ethanol also has a tendency to absorb water, corroding pipelines and damaging engines, but isobutanol doesn't mix easily with water. While ethanol serves as a mixer in the gasoline infrastructure today, many researchers argue that isobutanol could be a replacement. Read more ..


The Race for Alt Fuel

Qatar Airways Praised for its Natural Gas/Biofuel Push to the Skies

December 31st 2012

Qatar Airlines

Qatar Airways ambitious new plan to erect a $19 billion Pearl project that will be the largest gas-to-liquids plant in the world, is receiving massive praise and optimism over its future success. The President of the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Roberto Kobeh González said at the recent climate event COP18 in Doha that the project could revolutionize air travel and alternative energy efforts.

“We really welcome this project as an example of the varying biofuel solutions that can be applied in different areas around the globe,” stressed Kobeh in Doha as he detailed the ICAO’s status updates for the aviation industry on energy. Qatar has the largest per capita carbon footprint in the world.

“The Qatar project is notable in that it is State-backed and employs resources natural to the surroundings. These do not depend on arable land vital to food consumption,” Kobeh added. Royal Dutch Shell said in November that the Qatar plant is to pump airline fuel made from natural gas from its gas-to-liquids plant near Qatar Airways’ Doha International Airport, which is to open in 2013 and has received much fanfare from airline industry executives. Read more ..


Oil Addiction

US Shale Oil Boom Fuels Huge Boon For Railroads--Oil Shipments Double In Two Years

December 31st 2012

Shale Oil cliff

According to the Association of American Railroads, shipments of oil by rail this year will top 540,000 carloads, which will be a 46% increase over last year’s count of about 370,000 carloads.  And the number of train cars carrying oil this year will be almost double the number of carloads in 2010.

The Associated Press has a story today about how the U.S. oil boom has created a huge boom for U.S. railroads to transport the oil from oil fields in North Dakota and Montana to refineries around the country, here’s an excerpt: "Energy companies behind the oil boom on the Northern Plains are increasingly turning to an industrial-age workhorse – the locomotive – to move their crude to refineries across the U.S., as plans for new pipelines stall and existing lines can’t keep up with demand. Union Pacific Railroad CEO Jack Koraleski said hauling oil out of places like North Dakota will be a long-term business for railroads because trains are faster than pipelines, reliable and offer a variety of destinations. Read more ..


The Race for Solar

Yemen Contemplates Alternative Energy Sources

December 30th 2012

Yemen USAID solar project
USAID solar project in Yemen

The Republic of Yemen - unlike its oil-rich neighbors on the Arabian Peninsula -- has been forced to explore alternative forms of energy to offset low crude oil production. But while desperate government officials in the capital, Sana’a scramble to revive an economy shattered by last year’s anti-government uprisings, renewable energy investments remain on the back burner.

In the face of the uprisings, the Yemeni government and international actors froze millions of dollars earmarked for alternative energy projects and in many cases redirected the funds to what they considered more urgent priorities. One such project, a 60 megawatt wind farm in Al Mokha city, had been stalled since Yemen’s political upheavals began, but is “now moving,” according to Wael Zakout, country manager of Yemen’s World Bank office. Read more ..


The Race for Magnetic Energy

A New Kind of Magnetism Discovered

December 30th 2012

Gamma Ray Burst

Following up on earlier theoretical predictions, MIT researchers have now demonstrated experimentally the existence of a fundamentally new kind of magnetic behavior, adding to the two previously known states of magnetism.

Ferromagnetism — the simple magnetism of a bar magnet or compass needle — has been known for centuries. In a second type of magnetism, antiferromagnetism, the magnetic fields of the ions within a metal or alloy cancel each other out. In both cases, the materials become magnetic only when cooled below a certain critical temperature. The prediction and discovery of antiferromagnetism — the basis for the read heads in today's computer hard disks — won Nobel Prizes in physics for Louis Neel in 1970 and for MIT professor emeritus Clifford Shull in 1994.

"We're showing that there is a third fundamental state for magnetism," says MIT professor of physics Young Lee. The experimental work showing the existence of this new state, called a quantum spin liquid (QSL), is reported this week in the journal Nature, with Lee as the senior author and Tianheng Han, who earned his PhD in physics at MIT earlier this year, as lead author. Read more ..


The Race for Wind

Wind Credit Proponents Prepare For 'Fiscal-Cliff' Agreement Without Extension

December 29th 2012

Wind Farm

An energy security group that it does not expect the one-year wind credit extension it has supported to make it into a “fiscal cliff” deal. The Truman National Security Project's Operation Free campaign is preparing to fight for a retroactive extension to the credit next Congress. Michael Wu, the group’s advocacy policy director, said the extension would likely be left out of a short-term agreement to avoid automatic spending cuts and tax increases set to take effect Jan. 1.

“Everything in a stopgap package would be geared toward keeping taxes from jumping on the middle class, which is why the AMT (alternative minimum tax) and payroll tax would likely be in but the PTC (production tax credit) wouldn't,” Wu said. The 2.2-cent per kilowatt-hour credit for wind power production expires Dec. 31. The wind industry says letting it end would eliminate 37,000 jobs, and that it would pull the rug out from an industry that is nearing self-sufficiency. Read more ..


Oil Addicition

Chevron CEO Declares that Nations Pursuing Fossil Fuels Over Emissions Reduction Is 'Not My Call'

December 28th 2012

Oil well

The chief executive of Chevron told The Associated Press that “it’s not my call” on whether leaders choose to expand the use of fossil fuels instead of working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“The greatest advancements in living standards in recorded history have taken place in the modern hydrocarbon era. I don’t think that’s coincidental. Our leaders have to make a decision. Do they want that to continue or do they have a better solution for us?” Chevron CEO John Watson said in comments published Thursday.

After Hurricane Sandy ravaged the East Coast, Democrats have sounded calls to work on climate change legislation. And President Obama — who largely had been mum on the topic during the campaign — also pledged to address climate change, though he has not detailed any plans to do so. Following Sandy, the idea of a carbon tax started to generate new attention, too, though Capitol Hill interest never appeared to be strong. Policy wonks and climate activists viewed it as a way to reduce emissions and raise revenues. Read more ..



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