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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 ..

Energy Policy

Energy Production is Up and Energy Consumption is Down

December 27th 2012

Natural Gas Terminal

A new report shows U.S. energy consumption dropping, even as the industry experiences a boost in production. U.S. energy consumption declined 3 percent between January and September compared with that period last year, according to data the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) released Wednesday.During the period evaluated, energy use from transportation and industry dropped 1.2 and 1.5 percent, respectively. Residential and commercial energy use declined 5.2 percent.

Energy production, however, rose 2 percent through the same time frame. Fossil fuel development increased 3.14 percent, while renewable energy production fell 2.8 percent. The statistics underscore two energy-related debates sure to get attention in the next Congress — energy efficiency and fossil-fuel drilling on federal lands. Green groups are hoping some of President Obama’s executive actions will curtail energy consumption further. Meanwhile, the oil-and-gas industry and its congressional allies aim to push Obama to open more federal lands to fossil fuel drilling, boosting domestic energy production. Read more ..

The Race for Hi-Speed Rail

China Opens World's Longest Hi-Speed Rail

December 26th 2012

Shinkansen bullet train

The world's longest high-speed rail line began operations in China Wednesday. The first train of the 2,298-kilometer Beijing-to-Guangzhou route departed from the capital at 9:00 a.m. local time (0100 GMT), with a second train departing an hour later from Guangzhou. Trains on the new route will travel at 300 kilometers an hour, which will reduce the travel time between Beijing and the southern economic hub from more than 20 hours to just eight. The Chinese government is planning to build a network of high-speed railways, with four east-west lines and four north-south lines in operation by 2020. Older trains still in service on a parallel rail line take 21 hours; Amtrak trains from New York to Miami, a shorter distance, still take nearly 30 hours.

Completion of the Beijing-Guangzhou route is the latest sign that China has resumed rapid construction on one of the world’s largest and most ambitious infrastructure projects, a network of four north-south routes and four east-west routes that span the country. Read more ..

The Defense Edge

Military Biofuels Program Continues in New Defense Bill

December 25th 2012

Stryker ICV

A House-Senate deal on defense legislation omits a GOP-backed plan to thwart military purchases of biofuels.

The Senate already had stripped restrictive language from its version of the defense authorization bill last month, making it differ from the House. House and Senate negotiators took cues from the Senate's version.

“There is no limiting language in there. It looks favorable at this point and I commend the administration for the hard line it took,” Michael McAdams, president of the Advanced Biofuels Association, told The Hill on Tuesday.

A House-Senate negotiating group unveiled the compromise bill Tuesday afternoon. House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said the bill is scheduled for a Thursday House vote, is expected to pass the Senate and will hit President Obama's desk Friday. Read more ..

The Race for Natural Gas

Quest to Find New Uses for Abundant Natural Gas

December 24th 2012

Gas pipe line

Little more than a decade ago, the United States imported much of its natural gas. Today, the nation is tapping into its own natural gas reserves and producing enough to support most of its current needs for heating and power generation, and is beginning to export natural gas to other countries.

The trend is expected to continue, as new methods are developed to extract natural gas from vast unrecovered reserves embedded in shale. Natural gas can be used to generate electricity, and it burns cleaner than coal.

“With petroleum reserves in decline, natural gas production is destined to increase to help meet worldwide energy demands,” said Matthew Neurock, a chemical engineering professor in the University of Virginia’s School of Engineering and Applied Science. “But petroleum – in addition to being used to make fuels – is also used to make ethylene, propylene and other building blocks used in the production of a wide range of other chemicals. We need to develop innovative processes that can readily make these chemical intermediates from natural gas.” Read more ..

The Race for Solar

The Paths of Photons are Random -- yet Coordinated

December 23rd 2012

Laser burst

Researchers at the Niels Bohr Institute have demonstrated that photons (light particles) emitted from light sources embedded in a complex and disordered structure are able to mutually coordinate their paths through the medium. This is a consequence of the photons' wave properties, which give rise to the interaction between different possible routes. The results are published in the scientific journal, Physical Review Letters.

The real world is complex and messy. The research field of photonics, which explores and exploits light, is no exception, and in, for example, biological systems the statistical disorder is unavoidable.

Drunken people and photons

"We work with nanophotonic structures in order to control the emission and propagation of photons. We have discovered in the meantime, that inevitable inaccuracies in the structures lead to random scattering. As a consequence, the transport of photons follow a random path – like a drunken man staggering through the city's labyrinthine streets after an evening in the pub," explains David García, postdoc in Quantum Photonics at the Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen. Read more ..

The Race for Biofuel

Increasing Galactan Sugars Could Boost Biofuel Production

December 22nd 2012

Sugar Cane

Galactan is a polymer of galactose, a six-carbon sugar that can be readily fermented by yeast into ethanol and is a target of interest for researchers in advanced biofuels produced from cellulosic biomass. Now an international collaboration led by scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)’s Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) has identified the first enzyme capable of substantially boosting the amount of galactan in plant cell walls.

Unlike ethanol, advanced biofuels synthesized from the sugars in plant cells walls could replace gasoline, diesel and jet fuels on a gallon-for-gallon basis and be dropped into today’s engines and infrastructures with no modifications required. Also, adanced biofuels have the potential to be carbon-neutral, meaning they could be burned without adding excess carbon to the atmosphere. Among the key challenges to making advanced biofuels cost competitive is finding ways to maximize the amount of plant cell wall sugars that can be fermented into fuels. Read more ..

The Race for Wind Energy

Two Texas Counties to See $220 Million in Wind Energy Investment

December 21st 2012

Green Mtn wind farm

The North American Development Bank (NADB) and Duke Energy Renewables signed two loans of $110 million for the construction of Los Vientos I and Los Vientos II wind farm projects in Willacy and Cameron Counties in Texas. The combined installed capacity of the wind farms will be 402 megawatts (MW).

“We are excited that Los Vientos brings positive environmental benefits as well as providing a boost to economic growth in south Texas,” said Duke Energy Renewables President Greg Wolf, according to a December 21 statement. “During construction, the area has benefitted from job creation as well as increased business for local companies and service providers. And for years to come, the windpower project will continue to stimulate economic development through lease payments to landowners, dependable tax revenue and contributions to the local community.” Read more ..

The Race for Solar

Ten Solar Market Predictions for 2013

December 21st 2012

Siemens Solar

“The photovoltaic industry is in the midst of wrenching change—buffeted by government incentive cuts and nose-diving prices that has hurt solar suppliers worldwide, rocked by trade disputes among its major players, and hamstrung by a sputtering global economy,” said Ash Sharma, director, solar research at IHS. “However, there are some bright spots ahead: Solar installations are on the rise, technology is becoming more efficient, and a weak EU market roiled by financial turmoil will be offset by an ascendant China and the United States.” Below are the top 10 predictions for 2013 from the IHS solar research team.

1. The global PV market will achieve double-digit installation growth in 2013, but market revenue will fall to $75 billion. Industry revenues—measured as system prices multiplied by total gigawatts installed—peaked at $94 billion in 2011, but fell sharply to $77 billion in 2012. Revenue is projected to decline once again in 2013 to $75 billion, on the back of lower volume growth and continued system price declines, given that PV component prices continue to fall. Read more ..

The Race for Biofuel

First-ever $40 Million Biofuel Plan in Saudi Arabia

December 20th 2012

breads frying in oil

Biofuel is coming to Saudi Arabia. After much success in neighbor Egypt in low income areas, Saudi Arabia hopes that a new joint venture between Jeddah-based Middle East Environment Protection (MEEP) and the India-based Biomax Fuels will help spur the renewable energy source for the Gulf Kingdom.

The announcement last week comes on the heels of a number of ambitious solar and wind energy prospects for the country, and with global oil expected to see drops in the coming decades as resources are depleted, Saudi wants to position itself as a leader in renewable energy. With Biomax entering the market, it could do so, and quickly.

The joint project Biomax will see a $40 million plant erected, reported thehindubusinessline.com and should begin erecting the facility next year, with a completion date expected by the end of 2013. The biofuel produced will recycle cooking oil, which will make it “one of the few plants in the world to use this non-food waste feedstock.” Read more ..

The Race for Shale

Facing the Geopolitics of Oil Shale

December 20th 2012

oil shale

According to the elite newspapers and journals of opinion, the future of foreign affairs mainly rests on ideas: the moral impetus for humanitarian intervention, the various theories governing exchange rates and debt rebalancing necessary to fix Europe, the rise of cosmopolitanism alongside the stubborn vibrancy of nationalism in East Asia and so on. In other words, the world of the future can be engineered and defined based on doctoral theses. And to a certain extent this may be true. As the 20th century showed us, ideologies -- whether communism, fascism or humanism -- matter and matter greatly.

But there is another truth: The reality of large, impersonal forces like geography and the environment that also help to determine the future of human events. Africa has historically been poor largely because of few good natural harbors and few navigable rivers from the interior to the coast. Russia is paranoid because its land mass is exposed to invasion with few natural barriers. Read more ..

The Race fo EVs

Mini Electric Car Rentals can reduce Air Pollution

December 20th 2012

Tiny electric car

The Tel Aviv municipality in Israel is considering a plan to rent out small electric vehicles on a short term basis to cut down on air pollution, clear the roads and free up parking. Building on the success of its Tel-o-Fun bike sharing program and a similar launch in Paris, the city will send out an international tender for an operator some time during 2013. Director General of the municipality Menahem Leibe announced the plan at a recent budget meeting in the city.

The car in question “won’t go too fast; it will be small and easy to get around in,” Leibe said, according to Haaretz. “It’s urban, it’s not meant for a trip to Jerusalem.”

Although no concrete plans have been made, the city is toying with the idea of offering either small two seater vehicles like Renault’s Twizy or electric scooters that can be rented on a short term basis. Read more ..

The Race for LEDs

LEDs Shrink Airport Lighting Bill by 90 Percent

December 19th 2012

Runway lights

In the commercial segment, functional outdoor lighting represents a big junk of the operating costs. However, for operational and safety reasons, light is indispensable and in most cases cannot be reduced. For this reasons, the management of the Munich Airport Cargo Centers chose the replace their existing conventional lighting solution through LED Floodlights. At the siding of the spatially extended building the company installed a total of 26 floodlights with 93 watts each. They replace the same number of halogen-metal vapour lamps of which each one consumed 2 x 400 watts. Thus, the power consumption could be reduced by almost 90%. Since LED spotlights do create only very low scattering losses, the new LED system achieves the same illumination level than the one it replaces. Extrapolated to the energy consumption of an entire year, the electricity bill for the LED lighting is 7400 euros lower than before - per year. Read more ..

The Race for Batteries

Energy Storage Market to Reach $6.1 Billion by 2018

December 18th 2012


NanoMarkets has published a new report entitled: 'Batteries and Supercapacitors for the Smart Grid-2013' which claims the grid-storage market will reach $6.1 billion by 2018 making energy storage one of the fastest growing opportunities in the smart grid industry.

The report says that the default option for grid batteries today is lead-acid, accounting for more than 55% of revenues from grid batteries currently. By 2018, the share will decline to around 30% as new grid battery technologies become commercialized. The lead-acid battery will itself get an upgrade; carbon electrodes, promising a 4x performance improvement. In addition, the ultrabattery, with combination lead/carbon electrodes will compete for grid-storage markets. In 2018, lead-carbon batteries/ultrabatteries will generate around $300 million in revenues. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

Solar-Cell Fibers Capabilities Woven Into Solar Fabrics

December 17th 2012

Solar Array

An international team of chemists, physicists and engineers, led by John Badding, a professor of chemistry at Penn State University, has demonstrated for the first time, a silicon-based optical fiber with solar-cell capabilities that is scalable to many meters in length.  The research opens the door to the possibility of weaving together solar-cell silicon wires to create flexible, curved or twisted solar fabrics.

The team's new findings build on earlier work addressing the challenge of merging optical fibers with electronic chips, silicon-based integrated circuits that serve as the building blocks for most semiconductor electronic devices such as solar cells, computers and cellphones. Rather than merge a flat chip with a round optical fiber, the team found a way to build a new kind of optical fiber, with its own integrated electronic component, thereby bypassing the need to integrate fiber-optics with chips. To do this, they used high-pressure chemistry techniques to deposit semiconducting materials directly, layer by layer, into tiny holes in optical fibers. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Ultra-fast Computer Memory Made Massively More Energy-Efficient

December 16th 2012

Columbia Supercomputer NASA Advanced Supercomputing Facility

By using electric voltage instead of a flowing electric current, researchers from UCLA's Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science have made major improvements to an ultra-fast, high-capacity class of computer memory known as magnetoresistive random access memory, or MRAM.

The UCLA team's improved memory, which they call MeRAM for magnetoelectric random access memory, has great potential to be used in future memory chips for almost all electronic applications, including smart-phones, tablets, computers and microprocessors, as well as for data storage, like the solid-state disks used in computers and large data centers.

MeRAM's key advantage over existing technologies is that it combines extraordinary low energy with very high density, high-speed reading and writing times, and non-volatility — the ability to retain data when no power is applied, similar to hard disk drives and flash memory sticks, but MeRAM is much faster. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

Alternative to Fullerenes Found for Organic Solar Cells

December 14th 2012

Research and Development Chemistry

Scientists at the University of Warwick have pinpointed an unappreciated property of fullerenes, namely the availability of additional electron accepting states, which could be replicated to create a new class of ‘fullerene mimics’.

The solar cell industry has been searching for an alternative to fullerenes for some time as they have many drawbacks as electronic acceptors, including a limited light adsorption and a high cost.  Going beyond fullerene derivatives would increase the possible blends that can be considered for organic solar cells.

The University of Warwick scientists, led by Professor Alessandro Troisi in the Department of Chemistry, have discovered that fullerene can accept electrons in a number of excited states, not just in its ground anionic state.  These extra states make the process of electron capture faster and improve the efficiency of the charge separation process. This particular property is not possessed by chance – it needs to be designed into a material and so any attempt to make a fullerene substitute needs to take this property into account. Read more ..

The Race for Natural Gas

Israel to Reap Huge Profits From Gas Discoveries--Underestimated Gains Worth Billions per Year

December 13th 2012

Gas well fire

Three important articles today highlight the huge gains Israel is expected to reap from natural gas discovered within the last few years.

The first, from Foreign Policy magazine, emphasizes the huge reserves of both gas and oil that Israel now possesses. Just a few years ago, Israel operated just one natural gas well in the north. Today, trillions of cubic feet of natural gas have been discovered off its coast, enough to power the Jewish state alone for the next 100 years. In addition, shale oil reserves have been discovered that make Israel the third largest reservoir of shale oil behind the United States and China.

Combined, Israel's oil and gas reserves would be about equal to Saudi Arabia's total energy reserves. Although the first drop of these presumed shale oil reserves has yet to be extracted, Canadian and Russian oil companies are falling over each other to offer their help in doing so.

Next, an industry expert quoted by Ha'aretz says the economic impact from Israel's recent discoveries has been hugely underestimated. Idan Azoulay, CEO of Epsilon Mutual Funds, says gas revenues will add an estimated NIS 12 billion to the Israeli economy in 2013 alone. Where Azoulay said his forecast differs from others is by taking into account gas production's indirect contribution to the economy through anticipated energy cost savings. Using gas to produce power cuts fuel costs by two-thirds compared with petroleum, he explained. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Paraguay Inks Oil Deal to Advance on Energy Independence

December 11th 2012

Paraguayan president Federico Franco and President Energy guys
Paraguayan President Federico Franco (l) and President Energy officials.

On December 5th, President Federico Franco of Paraguay began a two-day official visit to Miami, invited by local petrochemical companies that are planning to explore oil in the the Chaco region of the South American country.

In one of his interviews, Franco stated that Paraguay has the largest oil reserves in Latin America and is looking forward to receiving US investors to conduct further studies in the Chaco. One day before his departure, the president visited the city of Neuland (about 350 miles from capital city Asuncion) and with representatives of President Energy Company led the symbolic act of officially beginning the oil exploration in Chaco, in which President Energy is expected to invest $92 Million. Seismic exploration trucks have already undertaken tests and exploratory drilling is set to begin. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

Jordan's Feed-in-Tariff for Renewable Energy is an Arab World First

December 10th 2012

Do it yourself Solar

Jordan is the first country in the Arab world to offer its residents an opportunity to earn money through feed-in-tariffs (FITs). The Electricity Regulatory Commission (ERC) announced last week that citizens of one of the world’s most fuel-deprived nations can sell energy generated with solar panels for 120 fils per kilowatt/hour (kw/h) and wind power for  85 fils per kw/h, The Jordan Times reports. Albeit seemingly insignificant, the move is expected to mitigate the dual problems of excess energy consumption and unfulfilled demand.

Instituting FITs for energy generated using renewable sources is the last in a series of measures taken by Jordan to bridge the gap between its energy demand and supply. “With rising international oil prices, the government has been looking for ways to reduce electricity demand and costs,” ERC Chief Commissioner Mohammad Hamid stated. We found that the best way to achieve both is by encouraging Jordanians to go solar.” Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Synthetic Fuels Could Eliminate Entire U.S. Need For Crude Oil Fueling a 'New Economy'

December 10th 2012

Traffic Jam

The United States could eliminate the need for crude oil by using a combination of coal, natural gas and non-food crops to make synthetic fuel, a team of Princeton researchers has found. 

Besides economic and national security benefits, the plan has potential environmental advantages. Because plants absorb carbon dioxide to grow, the United States could cut vehicle greenhouse emissions by as much as 50 percent in the next several decades using non-food crops to create liquid fuels, the researchers said. 

Synthetic fuels would be an easy fit for the transportation system because they could be used directly in automobile engines and are almost identical to fuels refined from crude oil. That sets them apart from currently available biofuels, such as ethanol, which have to be mixed with gas or require special engines.

In a series of scholarly articles over the past year, a team led by Christodoulos Floudas, a professor of chemical and biological engineering at Princeton, evaluated scenarios in which the United States could power its vehicles with synthetic fuels rather than relying on oil. Floudas' team also analyzed the impact that synthetic fuel plants were likely to have on local areas and identified locations that would not overtax regional electric grids or water supplies. Read more ..

The Race for Smart Grid

Reducing Office Building Energy by 20 Percent Possible with New Controls

December 9th 2012

Minneapolis skyline

About 20 percent of the operational expenses in office buildings, schools and hospitals goes toward energy — HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) and electricity. Usually a default temperature is set for all year round, and the HVAC system and lights stay on even in unused rooms. Now an Israeli company Beemtech aims to keep managers aware of how the space is being used in order to control the temperature and lighting more efficiently, and reduce costs dramatically, says CEO Nati Freiberg.

“Overall, our number one goal is to provide high energy savings for commercial buildings — non-residential schools, hospitals, you name it –– by nearly half. In lighting alone we have six strategies,” Frieberg syas. Beemtech’s smart sensor system, which requires very little rewiring, monitors in real time what spaces are being used and by how many people. Is it too bright or too hot in the room? If the HVAC is turned off in half the building, how will this affect the other side? Read more ..

The Race for Batteries

Graphite plus Water may Equal Innovative Energy Storage Systems

December 8th 2012

graphene battery sheets

A combination of two ordinary materials – graphite and water – could produce energy storage systems that perform on par with lithium ion batteries, but recharge in a matter of seconds and have an almost indefinite lifespan.

Dr Dan Li, of the Monash University Department of Materials Engineering, and his research team have been working with a material called graphene, which could form the basis of the next generation of ultrafast energy storage systems.

“Once we can properly manipulate this material, your iPhone, for example, could charge in a few seconds, or possibly faster.” said Dr Li. Graphene is the result of breaking down graphite, a cheap, readily available material commonly used in pencils, into layers one atom thick. In this form, it has remarkable properties. Read more ..

The Race for Natural Gas

Gazprom Says South Stream Construction To Start, While EU Begs To Differ

December 7th 2012


Russia's Gazprom says construction will begin this week on the underwater section of its South Stream pipeline, which will carry natural gas beneath the Black Sea and into the European Union. But is this really the case?

Gazprom CEO Aleksei Miller announced last month that the final investment decision for the project had been reached. Miller is scheduled to attend a groundbreaking ceremony near the town of Anapa on Russia's Black Sea coast on December 7.

However, as Jonathan Stern, head of the Natural Gas Research Program at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies notes, Gazprom hasn't yet ordered pipe or organized the lay barge for the pipeline and "cannot start laying the offshore section until 2014 [at the] earliest." Moreover, EU officials say a final route has yet to be submitted to Brussels and likely won't have final approval for at least another year.

EU Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger declined an invitation to attend the groundbreaking, citing previous commitments. Marlena Holzner, the spokeswoman for the EU energy commissioner, says this means that a final investment decision on South Stream -- a phase after all designs and studies have been completed and official approvals are in hand -- isn't even in sight. Read more ..

After the BP Spill

Injection of Chemicals Didn't Prevent Oil From Rising to Sea Surface--Study Suggests

December 7th 2012

Gulf oil spill

The 2010 blowout of the Macondo well in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico resulted in the region's largest oil spill in U.S. history. As the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) incident unfolded, in an effort to prevent the oil from coming to the surface and reaching coastal and marsh ecosystems, chemical dispersants were injected at the wellhead. These powerful dispersants, typically used to break up oil slicks at the sea surface had never been used in such large quantities and over such a prolonged period of time in the deep ocean.

A new study is the first to examine the effects of the use of unprecedented quantities of synthetic dispersants on the distribution of an oil mass in the water column, based on a modeling approach. The team of researchers developed and tested models to show that the application of oil-dispersing chemicals had little effect on the oil surfacing in the Gulf of Mexico. Read more ..

The Race for Natural Gas

DNA Analysis of Microbes in a Fracking Site Yields Surprises

December 6th 2012

Fracking gas well

Researchers have made a genetic analysis of the microbes living deep inside a deposit of Marcellus Shale at a hydraulic fracturing—“fracking”—site, and uncovered some surprises. They expected to find many tough microbes suited to extreme environments, such as those that derive from archaea, a domain of single-celled species sometimes found in high-salt environments, volcanoes, or hot springs. Instead, they found very few genetic biomarkers for archaea, and many more for species that derive from bacteria.

They also found that the populations of microbes changed dramatically over a short period of time, as some species perished during the fracking operation and others became more abundant. One—an as-yet-unidentified bacterium—actually prospered, and eventually made up 90 percent of the microbial population in fluids taken from the fracked well. Read more ..

The Race for Wind

Climate Change Factors into Declining Wind Speeds in New England

December 6th 2012

Green Mtn wind farm

Oceanographers at the University of Rhode Island have analyzed long-term data from several anemometers in southern New England and found that average wind speeds have declined by about 15 percent at inland sites while speeds have remained steady at an offshore site.

Kelly Knorr, a graduate student at the URI Graduate School of Oceanography, and Professor John Merrill reported the results of their research today at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.

The researchers found that average wind speeds at T.F. Green Airport in Warwick, R.I., declined from about 9 knots to 7.7 knots from 1975 to 2011 and from about 8.2 knots to 7 knots at New Bedford Regional Airport in Massachusetts from 1973 to 2011. A 25-year record of wind speeds at a buoy at the mouth of Buzzards Bay, Mass., shows that wind speeds there remained steady at about 15 knots during the period. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

The Future of Iraq and Iraqi Oil

December 6th 2012

Saudi Oil

The United States has a crucial role to play in defusing Baghdad's tension with the Iraqi Kurds and developing the country's longer-term oil policy -- two intertwined issues that are central to keeping Iraq united.

On November 26, Iraqi officials agreed to use coordinating committees to calm tension in the north between federal troops and local Kurdish peshmerga forces. The Baghdad crisis meeting -- attended by senior federal and Kurdish officials along with a U.S. Army lieutenant general representing the embassy -- was held in response to a November 16 clash in northern Iraq in which at least one person died. Although the incident followed Baghdad's establishment of a new military command in adjacent provinces, Kurdish oil policy is seen as the crux of the dispute.

Conflict between Iraqi Arabs and Kurds is not new. During Saddam Hussein's rule, ending this constant threat to national unity was one of Washington's goals for the 2003 invasion, and those Iraqis resisting Saddam shared this aim, especially Kurds and Shiite Arabs. Only after Saddam's overthrow did full Kurdish participation in government emerge -- for example, current Iraqi president Jalal Talabani is a Kurd. Read more ..

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