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Oil Addiction

Interior Dept Limits Oil Shale Development on Federal Lands

November 10th 2012

Continental Crust

The Interior Department on Friday issued a final plan to close 1.6 million acres of federal land in the West originally slated for oil shale development.

The proposed plan would fence off a majority of the initial blueprint laid out in the final days of the George W. Bush administration. It faces a 30-day protest period and a 60-day process to ensure it is consistent with local and state policies. After that, the department would render a decision for implementation.

The move is sure to rankle Republicans, who say President Obama’s grip on fossil fuel drilling in federal lands is too tight. Interior’s Bureau of Land Management cited environmental concerns for the proposed changes. Among other things, it excised lands with “wilderness characteristics” and areas that conflicted with sage grouse habitats. Read more ..

The Race for Natural Gas

Shale Gas Plans Move Ahead in Tunisia

November 10th 2012

Oil Shale plant

With Tunisians protesting Shell’s shale gas plans and Jordanians set to finalise a deal to build the region’s first oil shale plant by the end of the year, it seems that the region is buying into shale. In Tunisia, shale gas is being marketed as low carbon and more environmentally-friendly but the latest research by scientist shows that it is far from that. Examining emissions in the US after the country began burning less coal due to shale gas production, researchers at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, found that overall emissions had actually gone up. Why? Well, because millions of tonnes of unused coal are being exported to the UK, Europe and Asia.

“Research papers and newspaper column inches have focussed on the relative emissions from coal and gas, “explains Dr John Broderick, lead author on the report from the Tyndall Centre. “However, it is the total quantity of CO2 from the energy system that matters to the climate. Despite lower-carbon rhetoric, shale gas is still a carbon intensive energy source.” US CO2 emissions from domestic energy have declined by 8.6 percent since a peak in 2005, but researchers warn that more than half of the recent emissions reductions in the energy sector may be displaced overseas by the trade in coal.Professor Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre notes: “Earlier Tyndall analysis suggests that the role for gas in a low carbon transition is extremely limited, with shale gas potentially diverting substantial funds away from genuinely low and zero carbon alternatives.” So there you have it. Shale gas isn’t the answer to all our prayer – it’s more like a huge distraction from renewables and consequently needs to be ignored. Read more ..

The Race for Biofuel

More Bang for the Biofuel Buck

November 9th 2012

oil seed field

A fermentation technique once used to make cordite, the explosive propellant that replaced gunpowder in bullets and artillery shells, may find an important new use in the production of advanced biofuels. With the addition of a metal catalyst, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have shown that the production of acetone, butanol and ethanol from lignocellulosic biomass could be selectively upgraded to the high volume production of gasoline, diesel or jet fuel.

Using the bacterium Clostridium acetobutylicum, the Berkeley Lab researchers fermented the sugars found in biomass into the solvent acetone and the alcohols butanol and ethanol, collectively known as “ABE” products. They then catalyzed these low carbon number products with the transition metal palladium into higher-molecular-mass hydrocarbons that are possible precursors to the three major transportation fuel molecules. The specific type of fuel molecule produced – whether a precursor to gasoline, diesel or jet – was determined by the amount of time the ABE products resided with the palladium catalyst. Read more ..

The Race for Biofuel

Quick-cook Method Turns Algae into Bio-Crude Oil

November 9th 2012


It looks like Mother Nature was wasting her time with a multimillion-year process to produce crude oil. Michigan Engineering researchers can "pressure-cook" algae for as little as a minute and transform an unprecedented 65 percent of the green slime into biocrude. "We're trying to mimic the process in nature that forms crude oil with marine organisms," said Phil Savage, an Arthur F. Thurnau professor and a professor of chemical engineering at the University of Michigan.

Savage's ocean-going organism of choice is the green marine micro-alga of the genus Nannochloropsis. To make their one-minute biocrude, Savage and Julia Faeth, a doctoral student in Savage's lab, filled a steel pipe connector with 1.5 milliliters of wet algae, capped it and plunged it into 1,100-degree Fahrenheit sand. The small volume ensured that the algae was heated through, but with only a minute to warm up, the algae's temperature should have just grazed the 550-degree mark before the team pulled the reactor back out. Read more ..

Saudi Succession

Saudi Resignation Prompts Fresh Succession Debate

November 8th 2012

King Abdullah2

Assumptions about who will be the future ruler of Saudi Arabia -- the world's largest oil exporter and self-declared leader of the Islamic world -- need to be revised after the sudden resignation of one of the royal family's senior-most members. Today's surprise announcement that Interior Minister Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz has been relieved of his duties and replaced by his nephew, Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, introduces fresh elements of competition into the kingdom's ruling structure.

At 72 years old, Prince Ahmed is the youngest of the so-called "Sudairi Seven," the largest group of full brothers among the many sons of Ibn Saud, the modern kingdom's founder. In recent months, he had seemed to be emerging as a possible future king. The current monarch, King Abdullah, will turn 90 next year and is in failing health, while Crown Prince Salman (76) is widely reported to be in a poor mental state. When former crown prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz died in June, Ahmed replaced him at the Interior Ministry and organized last month's Hajj pilgrimage, an event that went off without mishap.

Prior to the latest news, Prince Muhammad bin Nayef had long served as assistant interior minister, charged with supervising the kingdom's counterterrorism efforts -- a role that he performed, according to many foreign officials, very competently. But he was not promoted to the vacant position of deputy interior minister during the summer, leading to speculation that he had been sidelined. Now, to the contrary, he has suddenly become the first of his generation to be awarded a senior ministerial post.


The Race for Solar

Siemens Exits Desertec and China Wants to Enter

November 7th 2012

Solar Panels

As part of its plan to shake off its unprofitable solar shackles, including Israel’s Solel initiative, German giant Siemens has exited the ambitious Desertec project. But that doesn’t seem to have deterred the strength of the initiative, which is designed to enable Europe to import one fifth of its power by 2050 from renewable energy plants scattered across Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia and other North African and Middle Eastern countries, as firms in China and other countries make moves to get involved.

China’s State Grid Corp (SGCC) expressed an interest in becoming involved in the $514 billion Desertec renewable energy project, according to a conglomerate spokesperson. This news comes just after Siemens’ announcement that it is severing its solar arm, which included both the Desertec and Solel initiatives.

Energy generated by solar and wind plants in North Africa will be evacuated to Europe via cables that will run under the Mediterranean Sea, so it’s uncertain how SGCC expects to benefit from a partnership except as a shareholder. But the firm’s interest does show a growing faith that it can succeed. Despite criticism of the project’s ambitious scope and costs, progress continues apace. Read more ..

The Automotive Edge

The Need for Speed is Just an Illusion

November 7th 2012

Click to select Image

Whether we admit it or not, when we drive we want to get from point A to point B as fast as possible. At least that’s the case for about 90 percent of us, says Eyal Pe’er, an Israeli psychologist who studies speeding –– why we do it, and what might make us slow down.

Now in the United States for his post-doctoral fellowship at Carnegie Mellon University, the Fulbright Scholar is working on ways to better educate people about the risks and consequences of speeding.

Pace-O-Meter, a device Pe’er invented as an add-on for a car’s digital speedometer, not only provides information about how many miles per hour drivers are traveling, but also shows how many minutes it will take them to complete a given journey at a certain speed. He says it’s different than the GPS feature to calculate estimated time of arrival, and it can help people get a better handle on how little time they actually save by speeding. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

US Petroleum Imports Headed Below 40 Percent

November 6th 2012

Iranian oil tanker

U.S. petroleum imports are heading below 40 percent in 2013 for the first time in more than two decades, and crude oil production is currently at its highest level since 1997, according to the federal Energy Information Administration (EIA). The agency’s monthly forecast shows continuing trends in growing U.S. production and declining imports.

U.S. crude production is expected to average 6.3 million barrels-per-day in 2012, which is almost 700,000 barrels-per-day above 2011 levels and the highest output since 1997, according to EIA, the Energy Department’s independent statistical forecasting arm. The oil boom in North Dakota and Texas had the biggest hand in boosting output, the agency said. U.S. production in 2013 is forecast to grow to 6.8 million barrels-per-day. Read more ..

The Edge of Climate Change

Fossil Fuels Could Raise Global Temperatures 10 Degrees by Century's End

November 6th 2012


The continued use of fossil fuels could push global temperatures 10.8 degrees Fahrenheit (6 degrees Celsius) higher by the end of the century, according a report released Monday.

While nearly 200 nations at the 2009 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change agreed to limit the average global temperature increase to 3.6 degree Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) by 2050, too few nations have taken measurable steps to hitting that mark, accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers said in its annual carbon report.

That makes "ambitions to limit warming to 2 [degrees Celsius] appear highly unrealistic,” the report said. “Even doubling our current rate of decarbonisation, would still lead to emissions consistent with 6 degrees of warming by the end of the century. To give ourselves a more than 50 percent chance of avoiding 2 degrees will require a six-fold improvement in our rate of decarbonisation,” Leo Johnson, a partner in PricewaterhouseCoopers’ sustainability and climate change practice, wrote in the report.

To meet that goal, the world would need to reduce its carbon intensity by 5.1 percent per year through 2050. From 2010 until 2011, carbon intensity fell 0.7 percent worldwide, the report said.

Fossil fuels are inhibiting that progress, the report said. While overall worldwide carbon intensity fell, energy-related emissions rose 3 percent. The United States, for its part, has seen its carbon dioxide emissions drop to a 17-year low. The report said U.S. energy-related emissions fell 1.9 percent in 2011, while its overall carbon intensity dropped 3.5 percent. Read more ..

The Race for Natural Gas

Fracking Facts and Fiction

November 6th 2012

Marcellus gas well

In communities across the U.S., people are hearing more and more about a controversial oil and gas extraction technique called hydraulic fracturing – aka, hydro-fracking. Controversies pivot on some basic questions: Can hydro-fracking contaminate domestic wells? Does it cause earthquakes? How can we know? What can be done about these things if they are true? A wide range of researchers will address these and related critical questions at the GSA Annual Meeting this week.

"When people talk about contamination from hydraulic fracturing, for instance, they can mean a lot of different things," says hydrogeologist Harvey Cohen of S.S. Papadopulos & Associates in Bethesda, Maryland. "When it's what's happening near their homes, they can mean trucks, drilling machinery, noise." These activities can potentially lead to surface water or groundwater contamination if there are, for example, accidental fuel spills. People also worry about fracking fluids leaking into the aquifers they tap for domestic or municipal water. Read more ..

The Race for Nuclear

South Korea Shuts Down Two Nuclear Reactors

November 5th 2012

Nuclear Reactors

Suspect replacement parts at South Korea's nuclear plants have prompted the government to order the immediate shutdown of two power-generating reactors. Reactors five and six at the Yeonggwang nuclear complex were ordered to go offline on November 5.

Government officials say, before they can re-start the reactors, technicians will need to replace thousands of fuses, cooling fans and other parts. Minister of Knowledge Economy Hong Suk-woo says the components that were installed came with forged quality certificates. The minister says these are non-core components and such parts do not pose a safety threat. He adds there is no connection between the possibly counterfeit parts and a series of malfunctions at South Korea's nuclear reactors this year. Read more ..

The Race for Nuclear

Germany's Nuclear Exit--Prudent or Panic?

November 4th 2012

Rad monitor Japan

Following the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station in 2011, the German government took the nation's eight oldest reactors offline immediately and passed legislation that will close the last nuclear power plant by 2022. This nuclear phase-out had overwhelming political support in Germany. Elsewhere, many saw it as "panic politics," and the online business magazine Forbes.com went as far as to ask, in a headline, whether the decision was "Insane -- or Just Plain Stupid."

But a special issue of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, published by SAGE, "The German Nuclear Exit," shows that the nuclear shutdown and an accompanying move toward renewable energy are already yielding measurable economic and environmental benefits, with one top expert calling the German phase-out a probable game-changer for the nuclear industry worldwide. Read more ..

The Race for Nuclear

Cheating on Energy Department Guard Force Tests Widespread

November 4th 2012

Nuclear waste overseas

A culture of cheating pervades the guard force at America’s premier processing and storage site for nuclear weapons-grade uranium, according to a new report this week by the Energy Department’s inspector general.

Contract officers and supervisors of the force at the Y-12 plant outside Knoxville, Tennessee, shared advance copies of test materials with patrolmen, said inspector general Gregory H. Friedman, rendering their responses unreliable. But he put the blame squarely on the Energy Department for mismanaging the facility’s operations.

The abuses he cited are not new. Eight years ago, Friedman blew the whistle on even worse cheating by the Y-12 guard force, disclosing that for years they obtained advance word of mock assaults meant to test their capabilities, and carefully redeployed their forces to produce impressive but faked results. Read more ..

America After Sandy

Sandy Created 'Severe Energy Supply Interruption'--Emergency Stocks Opened

November 3rd 2012

Hurricane Sandy Lashes Ocean City

The Energy Department (DOE) will tap fuel from a home heating oil reserve to address a “severe energy supply interruption” caused by superstorm Sandy, DOE said Friday. DOE will loan 2 million gallons of fuel from its Northeast Home Heating Reserve to first-responders in New York and New Jersey to aid recovery efforts. The fuel will be used in emergency equipment, backup generators, buildings, water pumps, trucks and other vehicles, DOE said.

“Today’s announcement is part of the broader federal effort to respond to those impacted by Hurricane Sandy,” Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in a statement. “This loan from the Northeast Home Heating Oil Reserve will help ensure state, local and federal responders in the impacted area have access to the diesel fuel they need to continue response and recovery efforts.” Read more ..

The Defense Edge

Navy Researchers Look to Rotating Detonation Engines to Power the Future

November 3rd 2012

Arliegh Burke ship

With its strong dependence on gas-turbine engines for propulsion, the U.S. Navy is always looking for ways to improve the fuel consumption of these engines. At the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), scientists are studying the complex physics of Rotating Detonation Engines (RDEs) which offer the potential for high dollar savings by way of reduced fuel consumption in gas-turbine engines, explains Dr. Kazhikathra Kailasanath, who heads NRL's Laboratories for Computational Physics and Fluid Dynamics.

Many Navy aircraft use gas-turbine engines for propulsion, with the Navy's gas-turbine engines being fundamentally similar to engines used in commercial airplanes. The Navy also depends on gas-turbine engines to provide propulsion and electricity for many of its ships. Even as future ships move toward the model of an "all electric" propulsion system, they will still need gas-turbine engines to produce electricity for the propulsion system and other critical systems. So building a gas-turbine engine that can handle the Navy's requirements for its warfighting ships and provide a fuel-efficient engine is a high priority for researchers. Read more ..

The Race for Batteries

Boosted Potentency for Silicon-Based Lithium Batteries

November 2nd 2012


Researchers at Rice University have refined silicon-based lithium-ion technology by literally crushing their previous work to make a high-capacity, long-lived and low-cost anode material with serious commercial potential for rechargeable lithium batteries.

The team led by Rice engineer Sibani Lisa Biswal and research scientist Madhuri Thakur reported in Nature's open access journal Scientific Reports on the creation of a silicon-based anode, the negative electrode of a battery, that easily achieves 600 charge-discharge cycles at 1,000 milliamp hours per gram (mAh/g). This is a significant improvement over the 350 mAh/g capacity of current graphite anodes. That puts it squarely in the realm of next-generation battery technology competing to lower the cost and extend the range of electric vehicles. Read more ..

The Race for Wind

Study by Oil-backed Group says Wind Industry doesn't need Tax Credit

November 2nd 2012

Wind Turbine Blade

Critics of tax credits for wind energy projects are intensifying their push to kill the incentive with a study that calls it “rent seeking” by an established industry that doesn’t need the subsidy. The conservative American Energy Alliance (AEA) unveiled the study Thursday as wind power companies — joined by allies including President Obama — are pushing Congress to renew credits that are scheduled to lapse at year’s end. AEA, which receives some of its funding from fossil fuel companies, is circulating the study on Capitol Hill ahead of a lame-duck battle over the fate of the multibillion-dollar incentive. The group is also promoting the study to editorial boards, governors and others.

AEA commissioned a study by Louisiana State University economist David Dismukes that argues the 20-year-old production tax credit (PTC) provides “training wheels” to an industry that doesn’t need them — especially at taxpayers’ expense. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

Scientists Build the First All-Carbon Solar Cell

November 1st 2012

Solar Array

Stanford University scientists have built the first solar cell made entirely of carbon, a promising alternative to the expensive materials used in photovoltaic devices today.

"Carbon has the potential to deliver high performance at a low cost," said study senior author Zhenan Bao, a professor of chemical engineering at Stanford. "To the best of our knowledge, this is the first demonstration of a working solar cell that has all of the components made of carbon. This study builds on previous work done in our lab."

Unlike rigid silicon solar panels that adorn many rooftops, Stanford's thin film prototype is made of carbon materials that can be coated from solution. "Perhaps in the future we can look at alternative markets where flexible carbon solar cells are coated on the surface of buildings, on windows or on cars to generate electricity," Bao said.

The coating technique also has the potential to reduce manufacturing costs, said Stanford graduate student Michael Vosgueritchian, co-lead author of the study with postdoctoral researcher Marc Ramuz. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Detroit Refinery Expansion Adds More Canadian Crude, Brings More Worries

October 31st 2012

Oil Barrels

In an economically distressed pocket of southwest Detroit known by its ZIP code — 48217 — the weekend of September 7-9 was one of the worst, pollution-wise, residents like Theresa Shaw could remember. “I started smelling it on Thursday,” said Shaw, who immediately suspected the Marathon Petroleum Co. refinery a half-mile from her house. “I kept the windows closed because I couldn’t breathe. On Friday, I thought, ‘What the heck are they doing?’ My eyes were just burning, my throat was hurting, my stomach was hurting. I was having migraine headaches. “The smell, it was like this burning tar, with that benzene and that sulfur. I wanted to scream.”

Shaw retreated to her sister’s house on the north side of town. Responding to citizen complaints, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality traced the powerful odor to Marathon, which had been cleaning several large vessels, and wrote up the company for a nuisance violation. Marathon says it is “committed to environmental responsibility” and acted quickly to correct the odor problem, a byproduct of plant maintenance. Read more ..

The Race for Hydrogen

A Molecular Glance on Solar Water Spliting: The Hunt for Electron Holes

October 31st 2012

Ocean scene

Hydrogen production by solar water splitting in photoelectrochemical cells (PEC) has long been considered the holy grail of sustainable energy research. Iron oxide is a promising electrode material. An international team of researchers led by Empa, the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology, have now gained in-depth insights into the electronic structure of an iron oxide electrode – while it was in operation. This opens up new possibilities for an affordable hydrogen production from solar energy.

Hematite, the mineral form of iron oxide (or trivially, rust), is a promising anode material for photoelectro-chemical cells (PEC) because of its affordability, availability, high stability and good spectral match to the solar spectrum. Although it has the potential of a 15 percent solar-to-hydrogen energy conversion efficiency, its actual efficiency is lower than that of other metal oxides. This is due to hematite’s electronic structure, which only allows for ultrashort electron-hole excited-state lifetimes. Read more ..

Energy from Waste

An Energy Future in Waste Plastics

October 31st 2012

John Bordyniuk and oil from plastic
John Bordyniuk of JBI and oil from plastics.

The next big thing in fuel could come from repurposed plastic. However, only seven percent of plastic waste in the United States is recycled each year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. A company in Niagara Falls, New York, is working to increase that percentage, with an eye toward reducing America’s dependence on foreign oil.

It's a machine known as the “plastic-eating monster.” Every hour, thousands of kilograms of shredded milk jugs, water bottles, and grocery bags tumble into its large combustion chamber. The waste plastic comes from landfills and dumps across the United States. John Bordyniuk, who runs his namesake company, JBI, Inc., invented the new process for converting plastic into a range of fuels. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

Siemens Exits Israel’s Solel Solar Initiative

October 30th 2012

Siemens Solar

Even as some solar projects are just taking flight in Israel, underlining a new wave of optimism about the technology’s ability to succeed in the country, other solar giants are taking their leave of Israel. International energy and infrastructure giant, Siemens, announced last Monday that it was closing down its Siemens-Solel plant in Beit Shemesh, Israel. In the process, 70 of the concentrated solar power (CSP) plant’s employees were laid off.

“Due to the changed framework conditions, lower growth and strong price pressure in the solar markets, the company’s expectations for its solar energy activities have not been met,” said Michael Suess, member of the managing board of Siemens AG and CEO of the energy sector.

“The global market for concentrated solar power has shrunk from 4 gigawatts to slightly more than 1 gigawatt today. In this environment, specialized companies will be able to maximize their strengths,” Suess added. Read more ..

Energy vs Environment

Speed Limits on Cargo Ships could Cut Pollutants by More than Half

October 29th 2012

Cargo Ship

Putting a speed limit on cargo ships as they sail near ports and coastlines could cut their emission of air pollutants by up to 70 percent, reducing the impact of marine shipping on Earth's climate and human health, scientists have found. Their evaluation of the impact of vessel speed reduction policies, such as those proposed by the California Air Resources board, appears in ACS' journal Environmental Science & Technology. David R. Cocker III and colleagues explain that marine shipping is the most efficient form of transporting goods, with more than 100,000 ships carrying 90 percent of the world's cargo. However, engines on these vessels burn low-grade oil that produce large amounts of air pollution. Because fuel consumption and smokestack emissions increase exponentially with speed, the authors explored how speed limits could reduce pollution. Read more ..

Energy vs Environment

US Shale Gas and Coal Exports Ruling New CO2 Emissions

October 29th 2012

Coal Train

US CO2 emissions from domestic energy have declined by 8.6% since a peak in 2005, the equivalent of 1.4% per year.  However, the researchers warn that more than half of the recent emissions reductions in the power sector may be displaced overseas by the trade in coal. Dr John Broderick, lead author on the report from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, comments: "Research papers and newspaper column inches have focussed on the relative emissions from coal and gas.

"However, it is the total quantity of CO2 from the energy system that matters to the climate. Despite lower-carbon rhetoric, shale gas is still a carbon intensive energy source. We must seriously consider whether a so-called "golden age" would be little more than a gilded cage, locking us into a high-carbon future."

Professor Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre notes: "Since 2008 when the shale gas supply became significant, there has been a large increase in US coal exports. This increases global emissions as the UK, Europe and Asia are burning the coal instead. Earlier Tyndall analysis suggests that the role for gas in a low carbon transition is extremely limited, with shale gas potentially diverting substantial funds away from genuinely low and zero carbon alternatives" Read more ..

The Race for Solar

Can Solar Cells Exceed 100 Percent Efficiency?

October 28th 2012

Solar Cells

Research shows newly developed solar powered cells may soon outperform conventional photovoltaic technology. Scientists from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have demonstrated the first solar cell with external quantum efficiency (EQE) exceeding 100 percent for photons with energies in the solar range. (The EQE is the percentage of photons that get converted into electrons within the device.)

While traditional semiconductors only produce one electron from each photon, nanometer-sized crystalline materials such as quantum dots avoid this restriction and are being developed as promising photovoltaic materials. An increase in the efficiency comes from quantum dots harvesting energy that would otherwise be lost as heat in conventional semiconductors. The amount of heat loss is reduced and the resulting energy is funneled into creating more electrical current. Read more ..

The Race for Biofuel

'Nanobowls' to Protect Catalysts needed for Better Biofuel Production

October 27th 2012

E85 Pump

It may sound like a post-season football game for very tiny players, but the "nanobowl" has nothing to do with sports and everything to do with improving the way biofuels are produced. That's the hope of a team of scientists from the Institute for Atom Efficient Chemical Transformations (IACT), an Energy Frontier Research Center led by Argonne National Laboratory (ANL), and including Northwestern University, the University of Wisconsin and Purdue University.

The team is using a layering technique developed for microchip manufacturing to build nanoscale (billionth of a meter) "bowls" that protect miniature metal catalysts from the harsh conditions of biofuel refining. Furthermore, the size, shape, and composition of the nanobowls can easily be tailored to enhance their functionality and specificity. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

Next-generation Anti-reflection Coatings Could Improve Solar Photovoltaic Cell Efficiency

October 27th 2012

Solar Panels

Photovoltaic cell efficiency may soon get a big boost, thanks to next-generation antireflection coatings crafted from nanomaterials capable of cutting down on the amount of light reflected away from a cell's surface.

Materials boasting a "tunable" refractive index have been developed within the past few years, and they show tremendous potential for photovoltaic applications. Professor E. Fred Schubert, of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's Department of Electrical, Computer, and Systems Engineering, is investigating ways to exploit this newly gained controllability and will present his findings at the upcoming AVS 59th International Symposium and Exhibition, held Oct. 28 - Nov. 2, in Tampa, Fla.

The refractive index is the property of a material that changes the speed of light, and is computed as the ratio of the speed of light in a vacuum to the speed of light through the material. Among the most fundamental properties of optical materials, the refractive index determines important optical characteristics such as Fresnel reflection, Bragg reflection, Snell refraction, diffraction, and the phase and group velocity of light.

Air and other gases have a refractive index very close to 1.0, but unfortunately aren't viable for thin-film optoelectronic applications. Among transparent dense materials suitable for use in thin-film optoelectronic applications, magnesium fluoride (MgF2) has the lowest refractive index (n=1.39); no dense materials with a lower refractive index are known to exist. Read more ..

Oil Addcition

Iraqi Oil Could Reshape Global Energy

October 27th 2012

Saudi Oil

The International Energy Agency has reconfirmed what Washington has long suspected: Iraq has the potential to reshape the global energy landscape in the years ahead, thanks to its huge untapped oil reserves.  But whether Baghdad can capitalize on this opportunity is far from clear. The stakes are high—both for the global economy and the country’s future.

Despite decades of turmoil and bloodshed, Iraq is already one of the world’s major oil suppliers. The roughly 3 million barrels a day it pumps make it the world’s third-largest exporter. Consider that Iran, hobbled by Western sanctions, is only producing half as much oil today as Iraq, whose wells are putting out more than twice what they did in 2003, the year of the Iraq War.

Yet by the 2030s, according to the IEA, Iraq may double its current output, leapfrogging energy-powerhouse Russia as the second-largest oil exporter in the world. This is hardly a far-fetched forecast. The country’s proven oil reserves are the fifth largest in the world, its proven gas reserves the thirteenth largest. Its actual rank is likely far higher. Read more ..

The Automotive Edge

Volvo Advances Autonomous Driving in Traffic Jams

October 26th 2012

Traffic Jam

After extensive tests within the 'SARTRE' projects, carmaker Volvo has taken another step towards autonomous driving by demonstrating a new traffic jam assistance system. The system, whereby the car automatically follows the vehicle in front in slow-moving queues up to 50 km/h, will be ready for series production in 2014.

The traffic jam assistance function is an evolution of the current Adaptive Cruise Control and Lane Keeping Aid technology, which was introduced in the all-new Volvo V40 earlier in 2012. The driver activates the traffic jam assistance function by pushing a button. When active, the engine, brakes and steering respond automatically. The Adaptive Cruise Control enables safe, comfortable driving by automatically maintaining a set gap to the vehicle in front, at the same time as the steering is also controlled. "The car follows the vehicle in front in the same lane. However, it is always the driver who is in charge. He or she can take back control of the car at any time," says Peter Mertens, Senior Vice President Research and Development of Volvo Car Corporation. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Homecoming For A Russian Oil Baron

October 25th 2012

Gennady Timchenko
Gennady Timchenko

Gennady Timchenko has long been the invisible man in Russia's ruling elite -- the Keyser Soze of the "collective Putin." He's a Finnish citizen. He lives in Switzerland. And he denies that he even knows President Vladimir Putin all that well. But Timchenko, who left Russia two decades ago, owns Gunvor, the world's fourth largest oil trading company. At its peak, Gunvor handled approximately a third of Russia's seaborne oil exports, making Timchenko a key player in the country's political-energy complex.
And despite his protestations to the contrary, Timchenko is widely rumored to have a KGB past and a long association with Putin. His name shows up on virtually every list of the top officials believed to be part of Putin's informal "politburo." And now, according to Russian media reports, he's coming home. And this has led to a lot of speculation about why, and why now. Explanations from Russian officials, to say the least, were unconvincing. Read more ..

The Race for Alt Fuel

Saudi Arabia Announces Plans For 100 Percent Switch To Renewables

October 24th 2012

Rub al Khali Saudi Empty Quarter

Following plans to transform Mecca into a solar city, an influential member of the Saudi Royal family has announced even more ambitious renewable energy plans for the country. Prince Turki Al Faisal Al Saud, founder of the King Faisal Foundation and one of the state’s top spokesmen, said he wants to the country to switch completely from fossil fuels to renewable energy. The prince admitted that the shift would not be complete in his lifetime (he is 67) but that it will happen.

“Oil is more precious for us underground than as a fuel source,” said Prince Turki Al Faisal Al Saud at conference. “If we can get to the point where we can replace fossil fuels and use oil to produce other products that are useful, that would be very good for the world. I wish that may be in my lifetime, but I don’t think it will be.” He said he wanted the country to invest in alternatives to fossil fuels such as renewables, nuclear and other low-carbon sources of energy. Vast oil reserves could then used to create useful materials such as plastics and polymers, he explained. Read more ..

The Race for Geo-Thermal

MENA Geothermal’s Largest System in the Middle East is Complete

October 24th 2012

MENA Geo-Theral

MENA Geothermal has completed the largest geothermal heating and cooling system in the Middle East and North Africa. Completed in August, 2012, the new and deeply clean energy system at the American University of Madaba (AUM) in Jordan has a total cooling load of 1680 kW and a heating load of 1350 kW, which is enough energy to power both the College of Science and the College of Business.

“It reduces CO2 emissions by 223,638 kg CO2/yr or 47 percent compared with conventional chiller/LPG boiler cooling and heating systems,” the company’s President and Founder Khaled Al Sabawi said the project was constructed using 100 percent local labor and Palestinian engineering and support staff. Construction of the AUM geothermal system began in July, 2010 and involved drilling 420 boreholes in a vertical configuration 100 meters into the ground.

But unlike drilling for shale oil, geothermal energy is considered to be one of the cleanest, most efficient and safest forms of renewable energy, Al Sabawi explains. “The only dangers of geothermal are the same potential dangers associated with any electrical appliance in general, but this is very minimal.” Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Canadian Firm Discovers Oil Field In North Afghanistan

October 24th 2012

Arab Oil Derick

A spokesman for Afghanistan's Mining Ministry, Jawad Omer, has announced that Canadian company Terraseis has located a large oil field in the northwestern part of the country. The site is in the Faryab Province near the border with Turkmenistan.

Omer said more exploration would be done to get an accurate assessment of the size of the oil field. The news comes after the China National Petroleum Corporation started commercial production at an oil field in the neighboring Sar-e Pol Province earlier this week. The news of the oil discovery in Faryab and the start of production in Sar-e Pol has Afghan officials talking about energy self-sufficiency for the country. Northwest Afghanistan is believed to hold vast deposits of oil and natural gas. The Chinese drilling in northern Afghanistan’s Amu Darya basin is part of a 25 year contract with the Afghan government to produce up to 2.25 million barrels of oil by 2014.  Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Stock Prices Take a Hit as Gasoline Prices Drop

October 23rd 2012

Gas prices

Disappointing corporate earnings and continuing worries about Spain's battered economy cut stock prices on key European and U.S. exchanges on October 23.

Crude oil prices also declined. France's CAC-40 and Germany's DAX were down more than two percent in late trading. At one point during mid-day trading in New York, the Dow and the S&P 500 were off 1.7 percent or more.

Analysts say the declines follow weaker than expected earnings from major companies like IBM, FedEx, and McDonald's. Chemical company DuPont said it will cut 1,500 jobs after profits declined sharply. Traders apparently saw the disappointing earning reports as a sign that the economy will slow down, cutting demand for energy. That perception is one reason that oil prices declined in key markets. Read more ..

Russia on Edge

Russia's State Capitalist Empire Aided by BP Sale

October 23rd 2012

Putin Gesticulates

Teymur Huseynov, pf the UK-based Exclusive Analysis firm, said that the “future of Russian oil is dependent on Greenfield projects and Western technology.” This was according to a report released by the political and economic forecasting firm on October 23.

Huseynov said, “At a meeting with President Putin, Rosneft Chairman Igor Sechin reported that Russia's state-run oil major was planning to buy out 100% of BP's Russian joint venture TNK-BP. As a result, BP will end up with $12.3 billion in cash and 19.75% of Rosneft stock, factoring in its already existing 1.25% of the company. Sechin also reported on current negotiations with TNK-BP's Russian shareholders (AAR), which is set to sell out of the company for about $28 billion.”

Huseynov continued, “Russia's new arctic fields are also now open for BP investments. There is consensus in the Kremlin that Russia needs to develop its offshore resources quickly in order to keep oil production levels from declining sharply. Despite the government’s efforts at economic diversification, the oil industry will continue to provide the majority of revenues for the Russian budget and be a critical factor in insuring the stability of the Putin system. We expect BP and Rosneft to sign a strategic agreement on the development of offshore acreage held by Rosneft in Russia." Read more ..

The Transportation Edge

How Highway Bridges Sing – or Groan – in the Rain to Reveal their Health

October 23rd 2012

Golden Gate

A team of BYU engineers has found that by listening to how a highway bridge sings in the rain they can determine serious flaws in the structure. Employing a method called impact-echo testing, professors Brian Mazzeo and Spencer Guthrie can diagnose the health of a bridge’s deck based on the acoustic footprint produced by a little bit of water. Specifically, the sound created when a droplet makes impact can reveal hidden dangers in the bridge. “There is a difference between water hitting intact structures and water hitting flawed structures,” Mazzeo said. “We can detect things you can’t see with a visual inspection; things happening within the bridge itself.”

The study presents a more efficient and cost-effective method to address the mounting safety concerns over bridge corrosion and aging across the U.S. and beyond. While impact-echo testing for bridges is nothing new to engineers, the BYU researchers are the first to use water droplets to produce acoustic responses. Current testing relies on solid objects such as hammers and chains. The idea is to detect delamination, or the separation of structural layers, in a concrete bridge deck. The most common method involves dragging a chain over a bridge and marking spots where dull, hollow sound is produced. However, this method can take hours to carry out for a single bridge and requires lane closures that come with additional complications. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Grassley Demands Job Creation Numbers for Obama's Electric Car Grants

October 22nd 2012

Obama Electric Car

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) dared the Obama administration on Thursday to prove that its $2 billion in grants for electric vehicles led to the employment of “thousands of American workers.” Grassley’s comment came after one grant recipient, A123 Systems, filed for bankruptcy this week. A123 Systems made batteries for electric cars, an industry President Obama has touted as a successful government investment during his reelection campaign.

“I’ve asked the administration for a detailed break-down of the job numbers that justify the statement that thousands of American workers are employed as a result of federal grants for electric vehicles,” Grassley said in a statement Thursday. “The public deserves an accurate, current accounting of the numbers that justify the claim of jobs directly related to federal spending.” Grassley said the administration has told his staff it doesn’t have the number of jobs created from the grants.

“The administration says it’s awarded $2 billion in grants to 29 companies involved in the electrification of vehicles, leading to the employment of ‘thousands of American workers,’ ” Grassley said. “This comes after the administration, through the Department of Energy, told my staff it doesn’t verify or update job creation statistics provided by grant and loan recipients.” Read more ..

The Race for High Speed Rail

Amtrak Wins Praise for 110 MPH Train

October 22nd 2012


General Electric (GE) Co.'s transportation department is praising Amtrak for testing running trains at 110 miles per hour this week, saying that the increased speeds were made possible by its technology.

Amtrak ran a test train on a section of its tracks between Joliet and Normal, Ill., with Transportation Ray LaHood, Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo and Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (D) among the passengers.

GE Transportation said the higher speeds on the Amtrak line, which will eventually run from Chicago to St. Louis, were made possible by its Incremental Train Control System (ITCS). "We are proud to help introduce the new 110 mph high-speed rail service in Illinois,’’ GE Transportation President Lorenzo Simonelli said in a statement. “GE has had a long and productive partnership with Amtrak, IDOT and FRA and we look forward to deploying this technology in other states to ensure safe, reliable, high-speed service. We are committed to providing the latest technology and products to high-speed rail programs worldwide as an essential part of sustainable infrastructure growth." Read more ..

Oil Addiction

BP Agrees To Sell TNK-BP Stake To Rosneft For $17.1 Billion

October 22nd 2012

Offshore Oil Rig

The British oil company BP has agreed to sell its 50 percent stake in TNK-BP to Russia's Rosneft for $17.1 billion plus 12.84 percent of the shares in Rosneft. BP will use $4.8 billion of the money to purchase an additional 5.66 percent stake in Rosneft from the Russian government, bringing BP's total shares in the Russian firm to 18.5 percent. Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was meeting with Rosneft head Igor Sechin when the deal was announced, said it was not only good news for the Russian energy sector but for "the entire [Russian] economy." Rosneft is also buying the other half of TNK-BP from the AAR consortium of Russian billionaires for $28 billion to become the world's largest publicly traded oil group.

Reuters reported: The first part of the Kremlin-backed agreement announced by Rosneft on Monday folds BP's half of TNK-BP, Russia's third-largest oil company, into Rosneft, in exchange for cash and Rosneft stock in an agreement worth about $27 billion including $12.3 billion of cash and the rest in stock. In stage two, AAR would get $28 billion in cash, but the two deals are independent of each other and the AAR deal is still subject to negotiations, Rosneft said.


After Fukushima

Cosmic Rays Could Assist in Healing Fukushima

October 21st 2012

LAN Lab team-Fukushima

Researchers from Los Alamos National Laboratory have devised a method to use cosmic rays to gather detailed information from inside the damaged cores of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactors, which were heavily damaged in March 2011 by a tsunami that followed a great earthquake.

In a paper in Physical Review Letters, researchers compared two methods for using cosmic-ray radiography to gather images of nuclear material within the core of a reactor similar to Fukushima Daiichi Reactor No. 1. The team found that Los Alamos’ scattering method for cosmic-ray radiography was far superior to the traditional transmission method for capturing high-resolution image data of potentially damaged nuclear material.

“Within weeks of the disastrous 2011 tsunami, Los Alamos’ Muon Radiography Team began investigating use of Los Alamos’ muon scattering method to determine whether it could be used to image the location of nuclear materials within the damaged reactors,” said Konstantin Borozdin of Los Alamos’ Subatomic Physics Group and lead author of the paper. “As people may recall from previous nuclear reactor accidents, being able to effectively locate damaged portions of a reactor core is a key to effective, efficient cleanup. Our paper shows that Los Alamos’ scattering method is a superior method for gaining high-quality images of core materials.” Read more ..

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