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The Race for Biofuel

Senate Passes Amendment Allowing Biofuel Refinary Construction

December 1st 2012

Grown from Biofuel

The Senate passed an amendment to the defense bill Thursday that would strike the prohibition on biofuel refinery construction. The amendment allows the Department of Defense to invest in refineries for “advanced” biofuels through a joint Agriculture, Energy and Navy Departments agreement.

Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) introduced amendment 3095, which passed on a 54-41 vote. She said the military’s reliance on oil subjects it to price shocks.

The federal government aids the development of advanced biofuels with $510 million of funding through the Defense Production Act. The act, which includes an industry match, aims to reduce the military’s dependence on foreign oil by strengthening the domestic fuel industry. Hagan said the Defense Production Act is essential for developing a domestic energy industry that could unchain the military from oil and make budgeting more predictable. Read more ..

Energy Politics

Green Groups Want Assurance Rice Will Dump Oil Sands Stocks

November 30th 2012

Environmentalists are pressing the White House to ensure that Susan Rice dumps shares in oil sands-related companies if she’s nominated for secretary of State. “The White House has gotten the message that people are very concerned about this,” said Jamie Henn, co-founder of the climate advocacy group 350.org.

Environmentalists are concerned over revelations that the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and her husband could own up to $600,000 worth of stock in TransCanada Corp., the company seeking to build the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline. The proposed pipeline to bring Canadian oil sands to Gulf Coast refineries, which environmentalists oppose, is currently under State Department review.

A 2011 financial disclosure form that Rice filed earlier this year lists the holdings in TransCanada, and valuable shares in energy companies that are developing oil sands such as Royal Dutch Shell and Suncor.

“We have conveyed very clearly that a conflict of interest, such as a candidate for this position, holding stock in TransCanada or other tar sands companies is not acceptable,” said Susan Casey-Lefkowitz of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

She said NRDC expects that the holdings would be dumped as part of compliance with ethics rules if Rice were to be tapped to replace Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who intends to step down early in President Obama's second term. “We fully expect that Ambassador Rice would get rid of holdings in those companies should she come into that position,” she said.

The Race for Solar

Synthetic Molecule Stores Solar Energy To Provide Sustainable Energy System

November 29th 2012

Rub al Khali Saudi Empty Quarter

A system which is based on a synthetic molecule that is changed by sunlight and is able to store solar energy in chemical bonds has been developed by researchers at Chalmers University of Technology and UC Berkeley. The molecule can be transported and stored for several years and then used to generate heat on demand. Many researchers believe that using the sun as the energy source offers the best opportunities for developing a sustainable energy system. One challenge in this area is to find efficient storage methods for saving the captured energy and transporting it to other locations.

Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden have made progress in developing an ‘all-in-one’ system for the capture, storage and use of solar energy. The method is known as the thermochemical process. It attracted a lot of interest during the 1980s, but researchers at the time were unable to resolve the issue. Two years ago, a group of American researchers demonstrated that the method is theoretically possible. Chalmers researchers Kasper Moth-Poulsen and Karl Börjesson, working with researchers from UC Berkeley in California, have now progressed from theory to practical devices. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

Solar Energy Funnel Offers New Way of Harnessing Photons

November 27th 2012

MIT engineers have proposed a new way of harnessing photons for electricity with a ‘solar energy funnel’ that has the potential for capturing a wider spectrum of solar energy.

The quest to harness a broader spectrum of sunlight’s energy to produce electricity has taken a new turn with the proposal of a ‘solar energy funnel’ that takes advantage of materials under elastic strain.

“We’re trying to use elastic strains to produce unprecedented properties,” said Ju Li, an MIT professor and corresponding author of a paper describing the new solar-funnel concept that was published this week in the journal Nature Photonics.

In this case, the ‘funnel’ is a metaphor: Electrons and their counterparts, holes — which are split off from atoms by the energy of photons — are driven to the center of the structure by electronic forces, not by gravity as in a household funnel. And yet, as it happens, the material actually does assume the shape of a funnel: It is a stretched sheet of vanishingly thin material, poked down at its center by a microscopic needle that indents the surface and produces a curved, funnel-like shape.

The pressure exerted by the needle imparts elastic strain, which increases toward the sheet’s center. The varying strain changes the atomic structure just enough to “tune” different sections to different wavelengths of light — including not just visible light, but also some of the invisible spectrum, which accounts for much of sunlight’s energy. Read more ..

The Race for BioMass

Saltwater Algae Viable for Biofuels Shown

November 27th 2012

algal aviation fuel biomass

The Algae Biomass Organization, the trade association for the U.S. algae industry today hailed the findings of a University of California at San Diego study that concludes, for the first time, that marine (saltwater) algae can be just as capable as freshwater algae in producing biofuels. The research is documented in a peer-reviewed paper published online in the current issue of the scientific journal Algal Research. "What this means is that you can use ocean water to grow the algae that will be used to produce biofuels. And once you can use ocean water, you are no longer limited by the constraints associated with fresh water. Ocean water is simply not a limited resource on this planet," said Stephen Mayfield, Ph.D., a professor of biology at UC San Diego, who headed the research project. Read more ..

The Race for Waste to Energy

China Creates Energy From Waste

November 26th 2012

Smokestack pollution

The Asian Development Bank says it has signed a loan agreement with a Chinese company for waste-to-energy projects to reduce the environmental impact of agricultural and municipal waste disposal. The ADB said in a statement Monday that four loans of up to $200 million will be provided to two units of China Everbright International Limited to install agricultural and municipal waste-to-energy capacity. The project aims to treat about 7,300 tons of waste a day, generating around 1,240 gigawatt-hours of electricity a year by 2016.  In addition, greenhouse gas emissions are expected to be slashed by about 638,000 tons per year by 2018. The program will also provide additional income for farmers, who sell agricultural waste.
Hong Kong-based renewable energy developer, China Everbright International has signed the loan agreement with the Asian Development Bank (ADB) for the agricultural and municipal waste to energy projects. According to the ADB the projects fit into China's ambitions of installing 8 GW of agricultural waste to energy capacity by 2015, and will reduce the environmental impact of agricultural and municipal waste disposal.

The Race for Energy Efficiency

Energy Efficiency Lobby Hunts For New Allies Among Republican Lawmakers

November 25th 2012


A top energy efficiency lobby is searching for new allies in the Republican Party after several friendly faces lost their reelection bids this year. Many centrist champions of energy efficiency legislation in the GOP were defeated in primaries or the general election, dealing a blow to the bipartisan clout of The Alliance to Save Energy. “I think there’s always a bit of consternation [about turnover],” said Rob Mosher, the group’s legislative director.

Among the Republican supporters of the group headed for the exits are Sen. Richard Lugar (Ind.) and Reps. Brian Bilbray (Calif.), Dan Lungren (Calif.), Charlie Bass (N.H.) and Nan Hayworth (N.Y.). Mosher identified several Republicans who sponsored energy efficiency bills this Congress who could take ownership over the issue. Reps. David McKinley (W. Va.), Mike Fitzpatrick (Pa.), Richard Hanna (N.Y.) and Chris Gibson (N.Y.) all have demonstrated interest in the topic, he said. Read more ..

The Race for Wind

Who’s Got the Wind Power in the Middle East?

November 24th 2012

Wind farm Caen

Wind power has taken a backseat to solar power across the Middle East and North Africa, but there are still some ambitious projects in wind power being undertaken across the region. Leading that charge is Egypt and Morocco, who have continued to push forward on alternative energy despite facing political turmoil in their respective countries. But don’t count out Iraq, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, who are all currently looking to develop wind energy.

Adapting a sophisticated climate model, researchers show that there is plenty of wind available to supply half to several times the world’s total energy needs within the next two decades. If the world is to shift to clean energy, electricity generated by the wind will play a major role, and there is more than enough wind for that, according to research from Stanford and the University of Delaware.

The Middle East North Africa region has been instrumental in the push for solar power, but wind projects are finally beginning to take form, or in development across what we call the MENA region. Two of the largest wind farms in the world are in the region, in Morocco and Egypt. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

Storing Solar Energy in Rust

November 23rd 2012

rusted sub

Scientists at Technion, Israel’s institute of technology recently found a new way to store solar energy. Their method utilizes a substance that some of us are all too familiar with, iron oxide—otherwise known as rust. This research, titled “Resonant light trapping in ultrathin films for water,” was published in the November 11, 2012 issue of Nature Materials and may help solve the problem of solar energy storage by enabling a more efficient and direct conversion between solar energy and hydrogen.

I grew up in a region that was once known as the rust belt. Iron foundries, heavy industry and heavy cars were plentiful in the upper Midwestern US. Winters were icy so governments used salt to help make the roads safer. Unfortunately this also made automobiles rustier. Comedian Dave Barry once joked that American cars were made out of compressed rust. Salt-encrusted lumps of grey slush clung to the bottoms of cars and performed the alchemy of converting iron and gleaming steel into crumbling heaps of orange-red rust. Read more ..

The Race for EVs

Troubled Battery Company got $1M from Energy Department the Day it Filed Chapter 11

November 22nd 2012

Toyota Prius PHEV

The Energy Department has supported A123 Systems, Inc., which produced batteries for electric vehicles, through thick and thin. The company received a $946,830 payment, part of a larger grant, on the day it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in mid-October. The company revealed the Oct. 16 payment in a letter this week to Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and John Thune (R-S.D.), who have questioned federal financing for the company. The company won approval for $249 million in grant funding in 2009 but didn’t draw the whole thing. Reuters has more here, including Energy Department response.

From their story: In the letter, dated November 14, A123 said the October payment was the most recent disbursement it had received from the government, with an additional $115.8 million still outstanding on the grant. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Oil Firm Ordered to Improve Safety Following Rig Explosion

November 21st 2012

offshore oil rig

The Interior Department reprimanded an oil firm for repeatedly violating safety rules following a Gulf of Mexico explosion that left one worker dead and another missing. Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) told Black Elk Energy that its offshore operations “must be improved immediately,” citing the firm’s previous safety violations in the Gulf of Mexico in its letter.

“Black Elk has repeatedly failed to operate in a manner that is consistent with federal regulations. BSEE has taken a number of enforcement actions, including issuing numerous Incidents of Non Compliance (INC’s), levying civil penalties and calling in the company’s senior leadership to review their performance and the ramifications of failing to improve,” BSEE Director James Watson said in a Wednesday statement. The company owns the oil production platform about 18 miles southeast of Grand Isle, La., that exploded Friday. Black Elk has called off its search for the missing worker. Read more ..

The Race for Nuclear

Administration Awards Grant to Speed Sales of Small Nuclear Reactors

November 20th 2012

Small Nuclear reactor

The Energy Department selected a grant recipient Tuesday for a class of small nuclear reactors that top U.S. energy officials say could revitalize the domestic industry.

Babcock & Wilcox landed part of a $452 million Energy grant that aims to speed commercialization of smaller, less capital-intensive nuclear reactors.

The Charlotte, N.C.-based company will match the federal funds. The Tennessee Valley Authority and Bechtel, San Francisco-based construction and engineering firm also will partner in the public-private licensing agreement.

“The Obama administration continues to believe that low-carbon nuclear energy has an important role to play in America’s energy future. Restarting the nation’s nuclear industry and advancing small modular reactor technologies will help create new jobs and export opportunities for American workers and businesses, and ensure we continue to take an all-of-the-above approach to American energy production,” Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in a Tuesday statement. Read more ..

The Race for Hydrogen

Hydrogen Fuel Cells for Cell Phones and Other Mobile Devices

November 19th 2012


Rohm together with Kyoto-based Aquafairy and Kyoto University, has co-developed compact, lightweight, high-power hydrogen fuel cells designed to power smartphones and other portable devices.

These fuel cells overcome the drawbacks of dry cells, lithium-ion cells, and direct methanol fuel cells, significantly reducing weight and increasing output power while providing a higher level of safety, making it possible to provide power in places where AC power is not available or cannot be used. By succeeded in solidifying calcium hydride in a sheet configuration using proprietary technologies, Rohm and Aquafairy have been able to generate approximately 4.5 liters of hydrogen from a sheet less than 3cc in volume (measuring 38x38x2mm), providing a power output of 5Whr.


Oil Addiction

Interior to Probe Deadly Gulf Oil Platform Fire

November 18th 2012

offshore oil rig

The Interior Department has begun probing the explosion and fire on a Gulf of Mexico oil production platform Friday that killed one worker, while another remains missing.

The U.S. Coast Guard suspended the search Saturday evening after more than 32 hours, the agency announced.  But Black Elk Energy, which owns the platform located about 17 miles southeast of Grand Isle, Louisiana, is continuing to look for the second missing worker, according to press accounts. Divers hired by the company found the body of one of the two missing platform crew members Saturday.

“Divers will continue to search for the second missing worker,” Black Elk Energy CEO John Hoffman wrote in an email to the Associated Press and other outlets. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the families.” Four workers who were severely burned remained hospitalized Saturday night, AP reports. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

DOJ Urged Investigation on West Coast Gas Price Manipulation

November 17th 2012


Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) said Thursday that she would ask the Department of Justice to probe this year’s gas price spikes. Cantwell’s announcement came after a new report was released Thursday raising questions about whether artificial shortages were occurring in May and October while West Coast gas prices skyrocketed above $4 per gallon. “We need a true cop-on-the-beat policing the vital oil market,” Cantwell said in a statement. “That’s why I plan on asking the Department of Justice to investigate on a refinery-by-refinery basis and get the answers consumers deserve.”

The McCullough Research report stated that oil production in California actually increased during the month of May, meaning prices shouldn't have increased because of a lack of supply and high demand. The report also said refinery fires were blamed for the price spikes, but "the lengthy delay between cause and effect makes these explanations suspect." “Washingtonians were hit hard this year by gas price spikes supposedly caused by supply disruptions,” Cantwell said. “This report indicates that the gas price spike may have been caused by more than just supply and demand.” Read more ..

The Race for Natural Gas

Qatar Airways Hopes Natural Gas Will Battle Climate Change, Lower Prices

November 16th 2012

Qatar Airlines

With massive natural gas reserves, it is a wonder that Qatar has not pushed natural gas for the aviation industry. Granted, no country, or airline, has made the move to gas, but Qatar and its flagship Qatar Airways hopes that by rolling out planes run on natural gas, it can help keep costs down for the customer and help combat climate change – a major reason many have reduced their flying in recent years.

The belief across the region, and the airline industry, is that through natural gas liquification the airline industry can begin to reduce its carbon footprint and cut back on greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), which has made flying one of the worst climate change enemies.

According to reports last month, Royal Dutch Shell is to pump airline fuel made from natural gas from its gas-to-liquids plant near Qatar Airways’ Doha International Airport, which is to open in 2013 and has received much fanfare from airline industry executives. Read more ..

After the Spill

BP and US Reach $4.5B Settlement for Gulf oil Spill

November 15th 2012

offshore oil rig

BP has reached a $4.5 billion settlement with the U.S. government to resolve criminal and securities claims over a 2010 well blowout that claimed 11 lives and spilled millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

The British oil giant will pay $4 billion in fines and other payments, the largest criminal penalty in U.S. history, to resolve claims with the Justice Department over the accident that badly harmed Gulf ecosystems and reshaped U.S. offshore drilling policy. The company has also agreed to pay $525 million to the Securities and Exchange Commission to resolve separate claims.

“All of us at BP deeply regret the tragic loss of life caused by the Deepwater Horizon accident as well as the impact of the spill on the Gulf coast region,” said BP CEO Bob Dudley in a statement. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and other Justice Department officials have scheduled a 2 p.m. press conference in New Orleans to discuss the settlement. Read more ..

The Race for Wind

Fiscal Woes Driving Demands to Cut Tax Credit for Wind Power

November 14th 2012

Wind machine on dairy farm

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) on Wednesday said the nation’s fiscal situation has become so dire that the government can no longer afford to maintain a wind power production credit that has been in place since in 1992.

“I think there is certainly the largest realization that we’ve ever had that it’s time for it to end,” Alexander said Wednesday at an energy policy breakfast hosted by The Hill and sponsored by the American Energy Alliance.

Alexander is a longtime opponent of the tax incentive, which credits wind power producers 2.2 cents per kilowatt-hour. The credit, which costs about $5 billon per year, is scheduled to expire Dec. 31. Democrats and Republicans from states with significant wind power industries are pushing for its extension during the lame-duck session.

While Alexander has historically been in the minority with his opposition to the credit, the Tennessee Republican said the impending “fiscal cliff” of deep automatic spending cuts and income tax increases set to take effect Jan. 1 has brought other lawmakers to his side. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

Spain Nixes Solar Power Project in Morocco

November 14th 2012

Solar Array

Morocco’s ambitious Desertec solar energy project received a setback after Spain failed to show for the official signing of the agreement that aims to transform North Africa’s energy market. The first Desertec project between the EU and Morocco is now under threat as Spain had been an instrumental partner in the project.

Officials from France, Italy, Luxemborg and Malta were in Berlin last week with Moroccan representatives to ink the deal that would begin the process of developing a 100MW PV power plant, 100MW wind power plant and 150MW CSP power plant to export electricity to Europe.

Spain is seen as a key participant in the Desertec project since a major transmission line connecting North Africa to Europe would need to go through Spain before reaching the rest of Europe. Now the signing is on hold and the Moroccan government is frustrated that it could dampen the overall make-up of the solar energy project. “This is just a hiccup and we fully expect to hear from Spain and see what the issue is that is holding them back from moving forward on this grand project that will deliver renewable energy for Africa and Europe,” said a top government official. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Oil Companies' Hefty Tax Breaks Endangered by Fiscal Cliff

November 13th 2012

Oil Barrels

The oil industry’s long record of success in defending its tax breaks faces new tests as lawmakers and the White House negotiate to avoid the “fiscal cliff.” House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) won’t rule out targeting oil-industry deductions in a broad deal to avoid the higher income tax rates and deep automatic spending cuts set to take effect in 2013. “The details will have to be negotiated. Not going to speculate on what a final package may look like,” Boehner spokesman Kevin Smith told The Hill. The Speaker is seeking a deal with the White House that would include new tax revenues without raising rates, a stance that has shifted the focus to the deductions and loopholes in the IRS code.

The American Petroleum Institute (API), the industry’s biggest lobbying group, is bracing for fresh attacks against incentives that oil companies say are nourishing the nation’s oil-and-gas production boom. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

IEA Report Supports Obama Energy Policies

November 12th 2012

Keystone Pipeline

President Obama's top campaign consultant said an energy report released Monday that projects the U.S. as the world’s biggest oil producer by 2020 shows the president's policies are working.

The International Energy Agency's voluminous report on worldwide energy markets noted that the “Energy renaissance in the United States is redrawing the global energy map.”

David Axelrod, Obama’s former senior adviser, cited the report in a tweet that praised the president’s energy stance. “All-of-the-above strategy moves America closer to energy independence,” Axelrod tweeted Monday. Republicans have pilloried Obama on energy policy. They say the president has restricted oil-and-gas development on federal lands while favoring green energy subsidies for technology that Republicans contend is uncompetitive and a waste of taxpayer dollars. Read more ..

The Environment on Edge

EU Halts Carbon Emissions Fees for Airlines

November 12th 2012

Frankfurt Airport

The European Union is halting rules that would force airlines, including U.S. carriers, to pay for their carbon emissions, a move that arrives as U.S. lawmakers seek to shield domestic airlines from the requirements.

EU climate chief Connie Hedegaard said the rules are on hold for a year to allow the United Nations' International Civil Aviation Organization time to reach a global agreement on aviation emissions, according to Reuters. “To create a positive atmosphere, we have agreed to stop the clock,” she said of the exemption for airlines outside the EU.

On Capitol Hill, the House is slated to vote Tuesday in agreement with the Senate’s version of a bill that shields U.S. airlines from paying greenhouse gas emissions costs imposed by European officials.
Airlines for America, an industry trade group, said it’s “cautiously optimistic” about the EU action but still wants Congress to press ahead with the legislation. Read more ..

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 ..

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