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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 ..

The Race for Natural Gas

Israel's Natural Gas Preferences

December 5th 2012

Israeli oil find

The announcement that Woodside Petroleum is buying a 30 percent share, valued up to $2.5 billion, in Israel's Leviathan natural gas field reflects growing awareness of the importance of new findings in the Eastern Mediterranean. The offshore field, discovered in 2010, is Israel's largest find so far, and most of its reserves will likely be used for export.

Woodside's background is in gas fields discovered off the coast of northwestern Australia, as well as in liquefied natural gas (LNG) technology, which enables the resource to be shipped by tanker across the globe. Woodside's ownership stake will come from the existing shareholders -- Noble Energy of Texas and Israel's Delek Group and Ratio Oil Exploration. Noble has been immensely successful in leading exploration drilling off Israel and Cyprus, but it lacks LNG credentials. As part of the deal, Woodside also becomes a strategic partner in the drilling process. Read more ..

The Race for Clean Coal

Bright Way to Convert Greenhouse Gas to Biofuel

December 5th 2012

Smog and Pollution3

Israel’s solar energy pioneer Prof. Jacob Karni isn’t a threat to Australia’s coal-burning industry. His aim, with the financial backing of an Australian firm, is simply to make the coal-burning industry less polluting by using energy collected from the sun.

Karni’s NewCO2Fuels is first testing its technology in Israel, where the team is building a solar reactor based on Karni’s 25-year career in solar energy research at Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science.

“Brown coal is a good source of energy,” Karni says. “There are all kinds of coals, and much of the Australian brown coal is found on the surface, compared to the coal mines found deep in the ground. In Victoria, Australia, there is an enormous amount of brown coal on the surface, which is easy for mining companies to come in, scrape it from the surface and use it. These coal deposits are clean relative to many other coal mines, but still polluting the environment with carcinogenic or other toxic materials like sulfur oxide and ash.” Read more ..

After the BP Spill

BP Engulfed in Lawsuit Over 40-Day Texas Flare

December 5th 2012

BP Protest

By now images of the April 2010 Gulf oil spill are indelible: The rig engulfed in smoke, oil gushing into the ocean, beaches stained on the coast. These images defined the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history — and sealed BP PLC’s reputation as a corporate polluter.

But two weeks before the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, killing 11 workers and spewing millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, BP was spewing a different kind of pollution — in a major case that has received far less attention.

This case involved dirtying the air around its refinery in Texas City. Throughout most of April and May of 2010, the Texas refinery belched massive amounts of pollutants — toxic chemicals including benzene, toluene and hydrogen sulfide — from a towering flare designed to burn only during emergencies. The single “emissions event,” as BP reported it to the state, triggered by an equipment breakdown, lasted 959 hours and 30 minutes — or 40 days .“The release went so long,” said Bruce Clawson, of Texas City’s emergency response division, which tracks such incidents. “We’ve never had a release go that long before.” Read more ..

The Race for Batteries

Used Lead Batteries Exported to Mexico Raises Questions

December 5th 2012

Lead batteries dump

The North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) is seeking public comment on a report dealing with spent lead-acid battery exports and recycling within the three North American Free Trade Agreement member states. Authored by the CEC, a preliminary version of the study found that “important gaps” in Mexico’s regulatory framework as well as a lack of proper documentation of the trade paralleled a surge in U.S. exports of used lead-acid batteries to Mexico between 2004 and 2011.

In announcing the release of the draft report, the CEC said concerns exist that a big leap in U.S. exports of spent lead-acid battery to recyclers located south of the border, which were estimated to have shot up in volume from 449 to 526 percent during the seven-year period examined, represented “an effort to avoid the cost of stricter environmental and health protection laws prevalent in the United States.” Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Paraguay's Energy Independence Given Boost by Oil Prospects

December 5th 2012

oil pump

Paraguayan President Federico Franco is visiting Miami on December 5 where he will meet with oil company officials to discuss ongoing oil exploration in the arid Chaco region of the isolated South American country. Speaking to Spero News at a conference in Paraguay, Horacio Enciso, who writes for Economia Virtual – an online news site based in Asuncion – affirmed that the finding of significant petroleum deposits would be a game-changer for Paraguay. Currently, Paraguay imports oil that is refined at its government-controlled La Teja refinery.

La Teja is being converted in order to refine heavier crude now being supplied by Venezuela, a country with which Paraguay’s current government is increasingly at odds. Since Paraguay does not currently produce petroleum, a significant find in Chaco is hoped to lead to energy independence and lower rates for oil. According to a report by Paraguay’s official news agency, President Franco announced that by mid-2013 Paraguay will become an oil-producing country. Speaking at a forum last week in Asuncion, Franco told listeners, “Paraguay is a country that is full of opportunities,” adding “oil has been found in the Pirity basin that is of the best quality and in great quantity.” Read more ..

The Race for Biofuel

Biofuels Group Hits Back Against Criticism on High-Ethanol Fuel

December 4th 2012

E85 Pump

The chief lobbyist for a biofuels trade group defended a higher-blend ethanol fuel Monday as safe for car engines made in the model year 2001 or later. AAA last week raised concerns automakers would void warranties for consumers who fill up their tanks with E15, a fuel with a 15-percent ethanol concentration compared with the standard 10 percent.

But Renewable Fuels Association CEO Bob Dinneen said in a CNBC interview that E15 is “absolutely safe” to put in cars. “There is no evidence to suggest there are any problems with E15. E15 has been the most tested fuel in the history of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA),” Dinneen said in a dueling interview with AAA CEO Robert Darbelnet. Many auto companies contend that fuels with a higher ethanol content are more corrosive, which they say leads to engine damage. AAA stirred the debate on E15 last week when it released a survey that showed 95 percent of adults are unaware of the fuel blend. Read more ..

The Race for Batteries

Harvard Receives Funding to Develop a New Type of Battery, Advance Renewable Technologies

December 4th 2012


A team led by engineers and chemists at Harvard University will use a one-year, $600,000 innovation grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy (ARPA-E) program to develop a new type of storage battery.The grant may be subject to renewal beyond a year, depending on performance. The award is part of a $130-million funding effort by ARPA-E through its “OPEN 2012” program, designed to support innovative renewable energy technologies.

Called a flow battery, the technology offers the prospect of cost-effective, grid-scale electrical energy storage based on eco-friendly small organic molecules. Because practical implementation is a core driver for the program, the researchers are collaborating with Sustainable Innovations, LLC, a commercial electrochemical system developer. Read more ..

The Automotive Edge

Renault Trucks Plans To Recover Energy From Exhaust Gases

December 3rd 2012

Diesel Exhaust

As part of its “All For Fuel Eco” initiative, Renault Trucks conducts research into technologies with the potential of generating further fuel savings. In particular, research is underway into recovering energy from the exhaust based on the Rankine cycle and adapted to long distance vehicles, which could reduce consumption by several percentage points. Renault Trucks says it is working on incorporating a system of recovering the energy contained in exhaust gases, known as the Rankine cycle, into long haul vehicles. This is designed to produce electricity to supply electrical components and auxiliary equipment on the vehicle, so as to cut fuel consumption by reducing the load on the alternator.

The system based on the Rankine cycle makes it possible to convert the thermal energy into electrical energy. The enthalpy of the vehicle's exhaust gases is recovered and then converted into electricity by a generator incorporated into the turbine. "Almost 30% of a vehicle's full tank of fuel is dissipated in the form of heat in the exhaust gases. This is a total waste" explains Dimitri Lortet, engine development project manager. Read more ..

The Defense Edge

EPA Slaps BP but Punishes the Pentagon

December 2nd 2012

military convoy

The Environmental Protection Agency imposed a new penalty for wrongdoing against the BP oil company on Nov. 28, but it may fall heavily on the Defense Department, an unflaggingly loyal client that has kept buying fuel from BP since the company’s errors caused its well to disgorge nearly 5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. The agency’s order temporarily bars new contracting with the oil giant by all federal agencies, although it does not interrupt existing government contracts, including the many large ones it has with the military. It also leaves the door open for BP to prove that it has reformed itself enough to requalify for federal contracts at some point in the future.

But the Pentagon might find itself scrambling if the ban is prolonged, since BP has been the military’s principal single fuel supplier for years and collected billions of dollars for fuel used by U.S. forces in the Middle East and elsewhere, a practice that drew criticism from lawmakers on Capitol Hill and others. Read more ..

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