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The Race for Smart Grid

Thermoelectric Material Expected to Convert 15% to 20% of Waste Heat to Useful Electricity

September 25th 2012

Thermoelectric Energy

Northwestern University scientists claim they have developed a thermoelectric material with a figure of merit of 2.2, making it a world's best at converting waste heat to electricity.

The inefficiency of current thermoelectric materials has limited their commercial use. Now, with a very environmentally stable material that is expected to convert 15 to 20 percent of waste heat to useful electricity, thermoelectrics could see more widespread adoption by industry. Possible areas of application include the automobile industry (much of gasoline's potential energy goes out a vehicle's tailpipe), heavy manufacturing industries (such as glass and brick making, refineries, coal- and gas-fired power plants) and places were large combustion engines operate continuously (such as in large ships and tankers). Waste heat temperatures in these areas can range from 400 to 600 degrees Celsius (750 to 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit), the sweet spot for thermoelectrics use. Read more ..

Energy Policy

Senate Energy Efficiency Bill is Toned Down to Suit House Republicans

September 25th 2012

Better Place EV charging

Backers of a Senate energy efficiency bill passed early Saturday said that removing authorizations and new standards were necessary to gain traction in the Republican-controlled House. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) got their energy efficiency legislation (S. 1000) through as an amendment to a previously passed House bill, but had to shed much of its weight in the process.

“Our amendment, while not everything we wanted, takes some reasonable and commonsense steps to ensure the federal government is coordinating with industrial manufacturers in developing and deploying industrial efficiency technologies, and places additional energy efficiency requirements on the federal government that will ultimately save money for the U.S. taxpayer,” Portman said in a statement Monday. The amendment was tacked onto H.R. 4850, which would update energy efficiency standards for products ranging from walk-in freezers to covered water heaters. The Senate passed the bill by unanimous consent, which could set it up for either a House floor vote or a conference committee. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

US to Link Iranian Oil Company, and the Revolutionary Guard

September 24th 2012

Iranian oil tanker

Bloomberg looks at a forthcoming Treasury Department report that’s expected to present evidence that Iran's state-owned oil company is an “an agent or affiliate” of the country's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The military unit has been sanctioned for weapons proliferation, terrorism and human-rights abuses, but Treasury “didn’t find sufficient proof to sanction the National Iranian Tanker Co., or NITC, the main carrier for Iranian crude, for ties to the Revolutionary Guard,” Bloomberg reports. The Associated Press reports that “gloomy” economic news dragged down oil prices Monday. AP also reports that the Environmental Protection Agency has named a new top official for its Region 6, which includes Texas, Louisiana and several other states.
Bloomberg reports on efforts by Alaskan officials to export natural gas to Asian markets. Read more ..

The Race for Nuclear

Study Identifies 23 Nuclear Power Plants in Tsunami Risk Areas

September 22nd 2012

Fukushima nuke plant

The tsunami in Japan in March 2011 unleashed a series of negligence related with the resulting nuclear disaster. A scientific study headed by Spanish researchers has for the first time identified those atomic power plants that are more prone to suffering the effects of a tsunami. In total, 23 plants are in dangerous areas, including Fukushima I, with 74 reactors located in the east and southeast of Asia.

Tsunamis are synonymous with the destruction of cities and homes and since the Japanese coast was devastated in March 2011 we now know that they cause nuclear disaster, endanger the safety of the population and pollute the environment. As such phenomena are still difficult to predict, a team of scientists have assessed "potentially dangerous" areas that are home to completed nuclear plants or those under construction.

In the study published in the 'Natural Hazards' journal, the researchers drew a map of the world's geographic zones that are more at risk of large tsunamis. Based on this data, 23 nuclear power plants with 74 reactors have been identified in high risk areas. One of them includes Fukushima I. Out of them, 13 plants with 29 reactors are active; another four, that now have 20 reactors, are being expanded to house nine more; and there are seven new plants under construction with 16 reactors. Read more ..

The Race for Hydrogen

Solid Fuel Type Hydrogen Fuel Cells Deliver High Efficiency With Increased Safety

September 21st 2012

Hydrogen fueling

ROHM has collaborated with Kyoto-based Aquafairy Corp., and Kyoto University to develop compact, lightweight, high-power hydrogen fuel cells designed to power smartphones and other portable devices.

The fuel cells claim to overcome the drawbacks of dry cells, lithium-ion cells, and direct methanol fuel cells, by 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. Fuel cells can be made smaller, lighter, and more efficient than conventional storage and rechargeable cells, to drive expansion into new markets and applications. Methanol fuel cells have several disadvantages that prevent widespread acceptance. Unlike hydrogen fuel cells, it is difficult to increase power output with methanl fuel cells. Hydrogen fuel cells require the use of cylinders, making them harder to handle and hinder efforts towards greater miniaturization. Read more ..

South Africa on Edge

South African Restaurants Hurt by Climbing Electricity Prices

September 20th 2012

transformer farm

South Africa’s historically low electricity prices have increased dramatically over the last four years, and are expected to continue to do so over the next five. For those in the restaurant business, it means lower profit margins, rising prices and layoffs. The lifeblood of a restaurant is in the kitchen. Inside that backroom, stoves are constantly burning, ovens baking and dishwashers cleaning. In terms of electricity, the meter is always spinning upward and costs are growing quickly.

The price of electricity in Johannesburg has risen by an average of 27 percent each of the last four years.  This year, Eskom - South Africa’s electric utility - raised prices by 16 percent. Similar increases are expected annually over the next five years. "We have made it clear that we will be applying for the above inflation increases because our maintenance costs are going up by more than inflation.  But also we have to be in position to finance the very large new build program that we are in the middle of at the moment," said Hilary Joffe, the spokeswoman for Eskom. Eskom is building new power stations to try to meet rising demand as more and more poor South Africans get on the grid in the post-apartheid era. Read more ..

Energy Politics

Congress Focuses on Energy and Job Losses

September 19th 2012

Wind turbines in cloudy sky

Fresh layoffs in the coal and wind industries are fueling congressional battles over energy policy ahead of the elections. Republicans are seizing on job losses at coal mining giant Alpha Natural Resources as they seek support for legislation to kill, soften or delay various federal rules that affect the coal industry.

The House will vote later this week on the bill, which would upend federal greenhouse gas regulations and other White House policies that Republicans allege are harming the coal industry. The House Rules Committee is slated to meet Wednesday afternoon to vet amendments that could receive floor votes when the bill comes up. A final floor vote on the bill is expected Friday. While Republicans are focusing on coal, Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) says layoffs announced by wind energy equipment maker Siemens shows why lawmakers must extend tax credits for wind projects. Read more ..

The Race for Fusion

Sandia Takes Next Step in Fusion Attempt

September 17th 2012


Magnetically imploded tubes called liners, intended to help produce controlled nuclear fusion at scientific "break-even" energies or better within the next few years, have functioned successfully in preliminary tests. To exceed scientific break-even is the most hotly sought-after goal of fusion research, in which the energy released by a fusion reaction is greater than the energy put into it — an achievement that would have extraordinary energy and defense implications. That the liners survived their electromagnetic drubbing is a key step in stimulating further Sandia testing of a concept called MagLIF (Magnetized Liner Inertial Fusion), which will use magnetic fields and laser pre-heating in the quest for energetic fusion. In the dry-run experiments just completed, cylindrical beryllium liners remained reasonably intact as they were imploded by huge magnetic field of Sandia's Z machine, the world's most powerful pulsed-power accelerator. Had they overly distorted, they would have proved themselves incapable of shoveling together nuclear fuel — deuterium and possibly tritium — to the point of fusing them. Sandia researchers expect to add deuterium fuel in experiments scheduled for 2013.

"The experimental results — the degree to which the imploding liner maintained its cylindrical integrity throughout its implosion — were consistent with results from earlier Sandia computer simulations," said lead researcher Ryan McBride."These predicted MagLIF will exceed scientific break-even." Read more ..

The Race for Biogas

Israel’s 4 Megawatt Bio-Gas Plant to Clean up After 14,000 Cows

September 16th 2012


Once it becomes fully operational in the next few months, the recently inaugurated Be’er Tuviya bio-gas plant will scoop up the waste of 14,000 cows and in total roughly 15 percent of all chicken and dairy farms in the country. All that manure will then be used to generate electricity for thousands of homes.

Owned by Eco Energy, the $2.6 million Be’er Tuviya plant is not the first in Israel that will convert the energy of farm animals to biogas, but it is the largest. Inaugurated last Monday, with local and national officials there to celebrate the event, the 4MW facility is expected to provide enough energy to power up to 6,000 homes – giving both the strained national grid. The Be’er Tuviya Regional Council claims that biogas facilities also help to spare the environment by diverting livestock and poultry effluent from waterways and plugging odors, which attract flies. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Nigerians Demand Oil Spill Clean-up

September 14th 2012

Oil Spill Nigeria

A year after the U.N. Environment Program reported Ogoniland, Nigeria, should be the site of the biggest oil spill clean-up in history, activists say it is still not clear who will pay for it or when it will happen.  While the oil company and the government argue about money, people say they are getting sick and dying.

Oil was first discovered in Nigeria in the 1950s in Ogoniland, a part of the Niger Delta.  In the 1990s, after nearly 40 years of oil spills destroying people’s livelihoods and health, the people forced oil-giant Shell out of Ogoniland.  But today, oil still flows into the land from pipes that criss-cross the region.

At a community center in Oleh, a town in neighboring Delta State, Lizzy Ologe, a primary school teacher, says oil pollution is still literally killing people. "Our water is polluted.  Our health is in hazard form.  In fact, we have high mortality rates, especially our little children.  We no longer live to old age," said Ologe. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Modeling a Collapse of Saudi Oil Production

September 13th 2012

Strait of Homurz1

Iranian threats to block oil shipping in the Strait of Hormuz, if acted upon, could disrupt the global energy supply and cause oil prices to spike. However, as this report suggests, this scenario is relatively short term. It leaves the oil-producing infrastructure intact, and prices would stabilize if military action, led by the United States, and a coordinated international response successfully restore security to the sea-lanes.

However, policymakers need to consider a more dangerous scenario: the collapse of Saudi Arabia’s oil production caused by a massive social upheaval like those that have toppled regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya.

In 2006, 2008, and 2010, we conducted simulations to assess the strategic and economic impact of a major disruption of energy supply caused by Iranian military action in the Strait of Hormuz or by coordinated terrorist attacks on key nodes in the global energy infrastructure. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

The "b" in bSolar is the Secret ot it's Success

September 12th 2012

Solar Panels

New Israeli energy company gets power from sides A and B of solar panels. Another ‘b,’ the element boron, maximizes efficiency.

The B-side songs on old vinyl records were never expected to be quite as popular as the chart-toppers on side A. But a new Israeli solar energy company hopes to score a hit with the untapped potential from the B-side of a bifacial solar panel.

“B” is also for boron, the chemical element that makes bSolar panels 20 percent more efficient than standard one-sided solar panels on the market. Founded in 2007 and with a $10 million investment, $3 million of which comes from Genesis Partners, bSolar bought a flailing 30-megawatt solar panel production plant in Germany where it is now manufacturing its bifacial solar cells.

Though this is not a new idea, bSolar has a secret weapon to give it an edge: The company was co-founded by the original inventors of bifacial solar cells 35 years ago in Russia, says bSolar’s CEO Yossi Kofman. The idea was to create a two-faced energy source for satellites, but until recently the cost of production was prohibitive. Read more ..

The Race for Smart Grid

Smart Home Energy Management Device Shipments to Exceed 30 Million Units in 2016

September 12th 2012

Smart Home

According to a report from IMS Research, in 2011, an estimated 3.3 million 'smart' energy management devices – not including smart meters themselves - were shipped for the residential market. This year, the market is set to grow to more than six million units.

By 2016, annual shipments are projected to be more than 30 million units, as the smart metering infrastructure develops, relevant legislation comes into force, a range of retail channels develop and managed services become more widely offered. In the past three years, almost 60 million smart meters have been deployed – with almost 20 million including a ‘HAN gateway’ (home area network - typically ZigBee) to enable connectivity between the backhaul AMI (typically powerline or RF mesh) and in-home devices, such as in-home displays (IHDs).

Between 2012 and 2016, IMS Research forecasts that 300 million additional smart meters will be shipped, with a third of these including an integrated RF ‘HAN gateway’. Lisa Arrowsmith, principal analyst with IMS Research explains, “A key argument for the inclusion of a HAN gateway in smart meters – aside from enabling connection to an IHD – is to enable more sophisticated pricing tariffs, such as dynamic pricing, to smooth demand peaks and avoid firing up the most costly power plants. This offers the potential for ‘smart’ devices, such as thermostats, appliances, and electric vehicle chargers, which can be automated to run at times when electricity is cheapest.” Read more ..

The Race for Wind

Enough Wind to Power Up Global Energy Demand

September 10th 2012

Wind Farm

There is enough energy available in winds to meet all of the world's demand. Atmospheric turbines that convert steadier and faster high-altitude winds into energy could generate even more power than ground- and ocean-based units. New research from Carnegie's Ken Caldeira examines the limits of the amount of power that could be harvested from winds, as well as the effects high-altitude wind power could have on the climate as a whole. Their work is published in Nature Climate Change.

Led by Kate Marvel of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, who began this research at Carnegie, the team used models to quantify the amount of power that could be generated from both surface and atmospheric winds. Surface winds were defined as those that can be accessed by turbines supported by towers on land or rising out of the sea. High-altitude winds were defined as those that can be accessed by technology merging turbines and kites. The study looked only at the geophysical limitations of these techniques, not technical or economic factors. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

Silicon Chip Adds Solar Power to Microchips

September 9th 2012

solar cell in color

A tale of two wafers: Both begin as 99.9999999 percent pure silicon, one of the basic ingredients in desert sand. A furnace melts the silicon and controls the cooling and growing of a mono-crystalline cylindrical ingot which is then sliced into standard 100 to 300mm (4 to 7.5 inch) wafers. Infinitesimal quantities of doping materials are added to change the wafer into a semiconductor with the correct properties to become either a microchip or a photovoltaic solar cell. From this point these two types of wafers go their separate ways and give little indication of their common roots. But now a company named Sol Chip of Haifa Israel intends to combine these two silicon-based technologies to make solar-powered microchips.

In 1981 I connected a photovoltaic solar cell to a pocket calculator. I stood on a chair, held it up to the classroom’s florescent light and it worked! My friend Fernando laughed at me and I didn’t get a patent. Within two years nearly every pocket calculator was powered by photovoltaics and ambient light. Thirty-one years later microchips are in RFID tags for livestock, medical devices, utility monitoring equipment, cars, satellites, remote sensing buoys, price tags, toys, security alarms… It seems that microchips are everywhere! Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Justice Cites Clean Air Violations at Texas Citgo Refinery

September 8th 2012

Citco Refinery

Days before Citgo Petroleum Corp. faces its long-awaited sentencing for criminal Clean Air Act violations at its refinery in Corpus Christi, Texas, a Justice Department court filing alleges that a “wide range” of environmental and worker safety violations continue to plague the plant.

Citgo was convicted in June 2007 of two criminal counts stemming from 10 years of toxic emissions from two massive, uncovered storage tanks. Such convictions are rare: The Center for Public Integrity reported last year that Clean Air Act cases have been prosecuted at a far lower rate than Clean Water Act or solid waste cases.

In its filing this week, the Justice Department asks a federal judge to fine Citgo $2,090,000, the maximum allowed under the statute, and put the company on five years’ probation — also the maximum — for illegal emissions of benzene and other hazardous chemicals from the tanks between 1994 and 2004. The department says the refinery made almost $1.16 billion in profits during that period. Read more ..

The Race for Natural Gas

Israel's Natural Gas--Immense Potential and Immense Challenges

September 7th 2012

In October 2011, following the discovery of large quantities of natural gas off Israel's Mediterranean coast, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu appointed an interministerial committee to formulate policies for development of the new resources.

Last week, the so-called Zemach Committee -- after chair Shaul Zemach, director-general of the Ministry of Energy and Water -- offered its recommendations. The panel's mandate was to offer suggestions on ensuring Israel's energy security, facilitating competition in its emerging domestic natural gas market, leveraging the environmental benefits of natural gas compared with other fuels, and maximizing the economic and political benefits.

Natural gas was first found in Israel's waters in 1999, when the Noa field was discovered off the coast of Ashdod. It was judged too small for commercial development, but in 2000, the Mari-B field was found nearby and has been supplying gas to Israeli power plants since 2004. In addition, Egypt began exporting gas to Israel in 2008, though it canceled that contract earlier this year after the pipeline was repeatedly sabotaged in Sinai. Read more ..

Energy vs Environment

Australian Shipping Emissions Cause Quarter of all Nitrogen Oxide Emissions in Region

September 6th 2012

Sydney Opera House

Ship engine exhaust emissions make up more than a quarter of nitrogen oxide emissions generated in the Australian region according to a recently-published study by CSIRO and the Australian Maritime College in Launceston. Nitrogen oxide is a non-greenhouse gas, unlike similarly named nitrous oxide.

The remainder comes from road and air transport, energy generation, and industrial processes. Global studies indicate that shipping emissions of nitrogen oxide and sulphur contribute to the formation of photochemical smog and particles near land and in ports.

The authors, Dr Ian Galbally from CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, and the Australian Maritime College’s Dr Laurie Goldsworthy estimate that approximately 30 per cent of anthropogenic nitrogen oxide emissions and 20 per cent of oxides of sulphur emissions generated in the Australian region may come from shipping. Read more ..

The Race for LEDs

LEDs Winning Light Race to Save Energy

September 5th 2012

LED bulb

Today's light-emitting diode light bulbs have a slight environmental edge over compact fluorescent lamps. And that gap is expected to grow significantly as technology and manufacturing methods improve in the next five years, according to a new report from the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and UK-based N14 Energy Limited.

"The light-emitting diode lamp is a rapidly evolving technology that, while already energy efficient, will become even more so in just a few short years," said Marc Ledbetter, who manages PNNL's solid-state lighting testing, analysis and deployment efforts. "Our comprehensive analysis indicates technological advancements in the near future will help people who use these lamps to keep shrinking their environmental footprints."

The report examines total environmental impact, including the energy and natural resources needed to manufacture, transport, operate and dispose of light bulbs. Fifteen different impacts were considered when evaluating environmental footprints, including the potential to increase global warming, use land formerly available to wildlife, generate waste and pollute water, soil and air. The report examines the complete life cycles of three kinds of light bulbs: light-emitting diodes, also called LEDs, compact fluorescents, or CFLs, and traditional incandescent light bulbs. Read more ..

The Race for Wind

Blade-less Wind Turbines Save Birds and Energy

September 4th 2012

Windy Weather

While solar advancements continue apace, wind energy technology has remained fairly stagnant over the years, making it in most cases less viable than fossil fuels or nuclear energy. It’s expensive, harmful to birds and bats, deeply inefficient and comes with a host of annoyances such as noise and vibration.

Responding to what they perceive as a massive gap in innovation, Saphon Energy from Tunisia has designed blade-less turbines that mimic the shape and function of sails. Because they don’t rotate, Saphonian turbines are harmless to wildlife, and completely eliminate aerodynamic and mechanical losses associated with conventional turbines. And they cost nearly half as much to produce. Tunis-based Saphon Energy has been working on their revolutionary new wind-energy generating prototype for the last two years. In their design inspired by sails, the firm has addressed many of the problems associated with standard spinning turbines, including efficiency, storage and high costs. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Offshore Permitting Still Broken Despite Shell’s Go-ahead

September 3rd 2012

Oil Barrels 400px

House Republicans aren’t ready to lavish praise on the Obama administration despite approval of the launch of Shell’s long-planned Arctic oil exploration off Alaska’s northern coast. The Interior Department said Thursday that it’s allowing Shell to proceed with initial drilling in the Chukchi Sea, but isn’t letting the company drill into oil-bearing zones – yet.

“Interior’s announcement is a positive step, but it should not take six years to obtain a simple exploration permit and the Obama administration still has yet to issue the final green light for energy production in the Arctic,” said Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Republicans are touting legislation that would speed up another aspect of Arctic drilling projects: Environmental Protection Agency air pollution permits. Shell faced numerous setbacks before winning EPA permits for emissions from its drilling ship. Read more ..

The Race for Hydro

Israeli Water Power that Doesn't Give a Dam

September 2nd 2012


The Jerusalem-based company that invented the Wind Tulip unveils a device to create hydroelectricity inside municipal water pipes. You don’t have to build dams to get hydroelectricity from water flowing through municipal pipes, says Dr. Daniel Farb, the Los Angeles immigrant who previously shook up the Israeli clean-tech power scene with his Leviathan Energy company’s award-winning Wind Tulip.

The ecologically conscious physician recently unveiled his latest brainchild, a turbine that turns excess pressure inside existing underground water pipes into energy for the electric grid. The Negev-based Leviathan team is still fine-tuning the invention at its new testing site rented from Kibbutz Re’im. The Negev kibbutz’s Isralaser industry is fabricating many of the parts for the turbine, dubbed “Benkatina” in tribute to Second Temple High Priest Ben Katin, who made a machine to lower and raise the ancient Temple’s laver to and from the water table. Read more ..

After the BP Spill

Hurricane Isaac Necessitates Update on BP Oil Spill Cleanup

August 31st 2012

Deepwater Horizon spill response

Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) wants two federal agencies to explain how they will address lingering oil contamination from the 2010 explosion of the BP Deepwater Horizon drilling rig. Markey told the heads of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in letters sent Friday that Hurricane Isaac makes the Gulf of Mexico cleanup effort imperative.

He said as much as 1 million barrels worth of oil from the BP incident could be tied up in sediments and water that Isaac pushed ashore. “As the storm passed any oil carried by the winds and storm surge could be pushed deeper into the marshlands and potentially back onto land, re-igniting the potential for this oil to impact the plants and animals that thrive in the swamps and marshes,” Markey wrote EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco. Read more ..

The Race for Methane

Biology Search Reveals Sources of Ocean Methane

August 31st 2012

Ocean scene

Up to 4 percent of the methane on Earth comes from the ocean's oxygen-rich waters, but scientists have been unable to identify the source of this potent greenhouse gas. Now researchers report that they have found the culprit: a bit of "weird chemistry" practiced by the most abundant microbes on the planet. The researchers who made the discovery did not set out to explain ocean geochemistry. They were searching for new antibiotics. Their research, funded by the National Institutes of Health, explores an unusual class of potential antibiotic agents, called phosphonates, already in use in agriculture and medicine.

Many microbes produce phosphonates to thwart their competitors. Phosphonates mimic molecules the microbes use, but tend to be more resistant to enzymatic breakdown. The secret of their success is the durability of their carbon-phosphorus bond. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

Arab-Israeli Solar Company Wins Big

August 30th 2012

the sun

Yafa Energy could be a bridge over which Arab-Israeli technology finds its way to industries in the Arab world seeking renewable energy solutions. Eureka! Yafa Energy has become the first Arab-Israeli company to win a prestigious European Union EUREKA (Exceptional, Unconventional Research Enabling Knowledge Acceleration) grant. Awarded through Israel’s Prime Minister’s office, Yafa was named as the best technological initiative from an Israeli minority community.

Created as an intergovernmental initiative in 1985, EUREKA aims to enhance industrial competitiveness by supporting businesses, research centers and universities that carry out pan-European projects to develop innovative products, processes and services.

Yafa Energy was founded by Salih Manasra, a mechanical engineer from the auto industry who decided to devote a new chapter of his life to doing something good for society and the planet. The two-year-old company was previously recognized by the World Bank for developing an essential solar thermal technology to heat steam for industrial processes that currently consume an enormous amount of polluting and unprocessed fuel. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

Developing More Efficient Dye-Sensitized Solar Panels

August 29th 2012

Do it yourself Solar

Solar panels, like those commonly perched atop house roofs or in sun-drenched fields, quietly harvesting the sun’s radiant energy, are one of the standard-bearers of the green energy movement. But could they be better – more efficient, durable and affordable? That’s what engineers from Drexel University and The University of Pennsylvania are trying to find out, with the aid of a little nanotechnology and a lot of mathematical modeling.

A three-year grant from the National Science Foundation has set the team on a track to explore ways to make new photoelectric cells more efficient, durable and affordable. The group is examining “dye-sensitized” solar panels, which capture radiation via photosensitive dye and convert it into electricity. Their goal: streamline the electron transfer process inside the solar panels to make them more efficient at converting the radiation into electricity. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Arctic Oil Rush Poses Environmental Risks And Challenges

August 29th 2012

Antarctic Ice flow

As the Arctic ice sheet melts away to a record low level this summer, oil companies are rushing in through newly opened shipping routes to stake claims and explore previously inaccessible areas for new drilling possibilities. A subsidiary of Russia's state-controlled energy giant Gazprom this month set up that country's first fixed platform in the Arctic. Located in the southwestern Barents Sea, it aims to drill year-round and ship crude back to the northern city of Murmansk in tanker ships.

That has brought out Greenpeace protest boats in the past week with activists who have chained themselves to the workers' transport ships and to the oil platform to call attention to the risks of drilling for oil in icy waters. Among them was Greenpeace Executive Director Kumi Naidoo, who told Reuters the protests call attention to the fact it is not possible to clean up an Arctic oil spill. Read more ..

The Coal Problem

Cooled Coal Emissions Would Clean Air And Lower Health And Climate-Change Costs

August 28th 2012

Smog and Pollution3

Refrigerating coal-plant emissions would reduce levels of dangerous chemicals that pour into the air -- including carbon dioxide by more than 90 percent -- at a cost of 25 percent efficiency, according to a simple math-driven formula designed by a team of University of Oregon physicists. The computations for such a system, prepared on an electronic spreadsheet, appeared in Physical Review E, a journal of the American Physical Society. In a separate, unpublished and preliminary economic analysis, the scientists argue that the "energy penalty" would raise electricity costs by about a quarter but also reap huge societal benefits through subsequent reductions of health-care and climate-change costs associated with burning coal. An energy penalty is the reduction of electricity available for sale to consumers if plants used the same amounts of coal to maintain electrical output while using a cryogenic cleanup. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

Microwave Ovens May Help Produce Lower Cost Solar Energy Technology

August 28th 2012

solar power plant

The same type of microwave oven technology that most people use to heat up leftover food has found an important application in the solar energy industry, providing a new way to make thin-film photovoltaic products with less energy, expense and environmental concerns. Engineers at Oregon State University have for the first time developed a way to use microwave heating in the synthesis of copper zinc tin sulfide, a promising solar cell compound that is less costly and toxic than some solar energy alternatives. “All of the elements used in this new compound are benign and inexpensive, and should have good solar cell performance,” said Greg Herman, an associate professor in the School of Chemical, Biological and Environmental Engineering at OSU.

“Several companies are already moving in this direction as prices continue to rise for some alternative compounds that contain more expensive elements like indium,” he said. “With some improvements in its solar efficiency this new compound should become very commercially attractive.” These thin-film photovoltaic technologies offer a low cost, high volume approach to manufacturing solar cells. A new approach is to create them as an ink composed of nanoparticles, which could be rolled or sprayed – by approaches such as old-fashioned inkjet printing – to create solar cells. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

Solar Panel App Angles Your Investment to Catch the Best of the Sun

August 26th 2012

Solar Panel Position

This new app from the UK helps solar panel installers the world over choose the best location on your property for installing solar panels.

Investing in solar panels for your home or company isn’t just about taking a leap of faith, and being green. It’s a solid business investment that can give you good returns as the panels feed back to the grid, depending on where you live and the set feed-in tariffs. And if you are living or running a business off your supply, the energy savings by going solar will be significant. But if you are installing solar panels on roofs or are a keen do-it-it-yourselfer how do you know the best location to get the most from the shifting sun? While your panels are stationary, the sun is not. It not only rises and falls but shifts position throughout the year. A new app, the Solar Panels Suitability Checker can tell you where is the best place to put your panels. And it may not even be on the roof! Read more ..

The Coal Problem

Indian Government Calls for End to Deadlock Over Coal Scandal

August 25th 2012

Coal Train

India's government is hitting back at corruption allegations and urging opposition lawmakers to end protests that have shut down parliament for a fourth day. Opposition members have been calling for Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's resignation since the release of a national auditor's report claiming the government sold coal fields to private companies without transparency and competitive bidding between 2004 and 2009.  The national auditor also alleged companies saw a potential profit gain of up to $34 billion, money that could have gone to the government.

On Friday, India's finance minister, P. Chidambaram, rejected the auditor's report as "totally flawed" and questioned the presumptive loss, saying only one of 57 coal blocks had actually been mined. Chidambaram told reporters in New Delhi, "if coal is not mined, if coal remains buried in mother earth, where is the loss?"

Chidambaram also said the ruling Congress Party members, including Prime Minister Singh, are willing to go before parliament and debate the findings of the auditor's report.  The finance minister accused the Bharatiya Janata party and other opposition parties of not allowing parliament to function. The auditor's report on coal mining is the latest scandal to hit India, where Prime Minister Singh has been widely accused of not being serious about controlling graft. In 2010, auditors said the government lost up to $40 billion because mobile phone licenses were sold at cut-rate prices to the benefit of a few companies.  A former telecom minister and more than a dozen other defendants are accused in the corruption scandal.  

The Edge of Space

Penny-Sized Rocket Thruster May Soon Power The Smallest Satellites In Space

August 24th 2012

IBEX in high Earth orbit

A penny-sized rocket thruster may soon power the smallest satellites in space. The device, designed by Paulo Lozano, an associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT, bears little resemblance to today’s bulky satellite engines, which are laden with valves, pipes and heavy propellant tanks. Instead, Lozano’s design is a flat, compact square — much like a computer chip — covered with 500 microscopic tips that, when stimulated with voltage, emit tiny beams of ions. Together, the array of spiky tips creates a small puff of charged particles that can help propel a shoebox-sized satellite forward. “They’re so small that you can put several [thrusters] on a vehicle,” Lozano says. He adds that a small satellite outfitted with several microthrusters could “not only move to change its orbit, but do other interesting things — like turn and roll.” Lozano and his group in MIT’s Space Propulsion Laboratory and Microsystems Technology Laboratory presented their new thruster array at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics’ recent Joint Propulsion Conference.

Cleaning up CubeSat clutter
Today, more than two dozen small satellites, called CubeSats, orbit Earth. Each is slightly bigger than a Rubik’s cube, and weighs less than three pounds. Their diminutive size classifies them as “nanosatellites,” in contrast with traditional Earth-monitoring behemoths. These petite satellites are cheap to assemble, and can be launched into space relatively easily: Since they weigh very little, a rocket can carry several CubeSats as secondary payload without needing extra fuel. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Fuel Scarcity Leaves Nigerian Capital Reeling

August 23rd 2012

Gas Station line

A week after Nigerian oil unions stopped delivering fuel to the capital, Abuja is reeling. Union leaders in the oil industry said the move is intended to strike at the government where it hurts the most - in the capital where they live. Union leaders are upset over the withholding of subsidy payments to importers because of suspected fraud. Average Nigerians said the elite in Abuja have plenty of fuel, while taxis and bus riders are left stranded.

On most days, this is one of Abuja’s busiest thoroughfares and taxi drivers crowd around this mall entrance, ready to take shoppers to their homes. Today, a week after the unions stopped fuel deliveries to private gas stations in Abuja, the traffic is sparse, and only a few drivers mill around, appearing listless with nothing to do.  Read more ..

The Race for Fuel Cells

ORNL Researchers Probe Invisible Vacancies in Fuel Cell Materials

August 23rd 2012

Solid Oxide Fuel Cell
Solid oxide fuel cell

Knowing the position of missing oxygen atoms could be the key to cheaper solid oxide fuel cells with longer lifetimes. New microscopy research from the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory is enabling scientists to map these vacancies at an atomic scale.

Although fuel cells hold promise as an efficient energy conversion technology, they have yet to reach mainstream markets because of their high price tag and limited lifespans. Overcoming these barriers requires a fundamental understanding of fuel cells, which produce electricity through a chemical reaction between oxygen and a fuel. As conducting oxygen ions move through the fuel cell, they travel through vacancies where oxygen atoms used to be. The distribution, arrangement and geometry of such oxygen vacancies in fuel cell materials are thought to affect the efficiency of the overall device.

"A big part of making a better fuel cell is to understand what the oxygen vacancies do inside the material: how fast they move, how they order, how they interact with interfaces and defects," said ORNL's Albina Borisevich. "The question is how to study them. It's one thing to see an atom of one type on the background of atoms of a different type. But in this case, you want to see if there are a few atoms missing. Seeing a void is much more difficult." Read more ..

The Race for Microbial Fuel

Teaching a Microbe to Make Fuel

August 22nd 2012

Test Tubes

A humble soil bacterium called Ralstonia eutropha has a natural tendency, whenever it is stressed, to stop growing and put all its energy into making complex carbon compounds. Now scientists at MIT have taught this microbe a new trick: They've tinkered with its genes to persuade it to make fuel — specifically, a kind of alcohol called isobutanol that can be directly substituted for, or blended with, gasoline.

Christopher Brigham, a research scientist in MIT's biology department who has been working to develop this bioengineered bacterium, is currently trying to get the organism to use a stream of carbon dioxide as its source of carbon, so that it could be used to make fuel out of emissions. Brigham explains that in its natural state, when the microbe's source of essential nutrients (such as nitrate or phosphate) is restricted, "it will go into carbon-storage mode," essentially storing away food for later use when it senses that resources are limited. Read more ..

The Race for Batteries

Self-Charging Power Cell Converts and Stores Energy in a Single Unit

August 22nd 2012

self charging power cell

Researchers have developed a self-charging power cell that directly converts mechanical energy to chemical energy, storing the power until it is released as electrical current. By eliminating the need to convert mechanical energy to electrical energy for charging a battery, the new hybrid generator-storage cell utilizes mechanical energy more efficiently than systems using separate generators and batteries.

At the heart of the self-charging power cell is a piezoelectric membrane that drives lithium ions from one side of the cell to the other when the membrane is deformed by mechanical stress. The lithium ions driven through the polarized membrane by the piezoelectric potential are directly stored as chemical energy using an electrochemical process. By harnessing a compressive force, such as a shoe heel hitting the pavement from a person walking, the power cell generates enough current to power a small calculator. A hybrid power cell the size of a conventional coin battery can power small electronic devices – and could have military applications for soldiers who might one day recharge battery-powered equipment as they walked. Read more ..

The Race for Nuclear

New Substance Absorbs Uranium from Seawater to Fuel Nuclear Power Plants

August 22nd 2012

nuke tower

When you take a dip in the ocean, nuclear fuel is probably the farthest thing from your mind. Uranium floats in Earth's oceans in trace amounts of just 3 parts per billion, but it adds up. Combined, our oceans hold up to 4.5 billion tons of uranium - enough to potentially fuel the world's nuclear power plants for 6,500 years.

Countries such as Japan have examined the ocean as a uranium source since the 1960s, but previous approaches have been too expensive to extract the quantities needed for nuclear fuel. Now researchers at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and Oak Ridge National Laboratory are tweaking one of those concepts with the goal of making it more efficient and cost-competitive. The research is being done for the Department of Energy's Office of Nuclear Energy.

Japan developed an adsorbent that attaches the uranium-loving chemical group amidoxime to a plastic polymer. ORNL examined the binding process between the plastic and chemical groups and used that knowledge to enhance the uranium-grabbing characteristic of the amidoxime groups on the adsorbent material's surface. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

Tigi Solar Honeycombs Keep You Warm in Cold Climates

August 21st 2012

Solar Honeycombs

Israel is the land of milk and honey –– and solar water heaters. Practically every roof in Israel is fitted with a solar thermal collector to warm water for endless hot showers and hot water for the kitchen sink.

Taking the idea of solar thermal hot water heaters to the next level is Tigi Solar, a new Israeli company that was inspired by the busy bee. The inside of Tigi’s solar energy collector looks like a honeycomb. This unique shape helps collect more sun power more efficiently than regular solar collectors –– so efficiently that boiling hot water made from the sun can even be piped in to heat homes. Tigi’s Honeycomb Collector is based on a “transparent insulation mechanism” developed by founder Shimon Klier, an Israeli industrialist. This approach increases the efficiency of the collector with minimal heat loss. Read more ..

The Race for BioFuel

Genetically Engineered Algae For Biofuel Pose Potential Risks That Should Be Studied

August 21st 2012


Algae are high on the genetic engineering agenda as a potential source for biofuel, and they should be subjected to independent studies of any environmental risks that could be linked to cultivating algae for this purpose, two prominent researchers say.

The researchers argue that ecology experts should be among scientists given independent authority and adequate funding to explore any potential unintended consequences of this technological pursuit. A critical baseline concern is whether genetically engineered algae would be able to survive in the wild, said Allison Snow, professor of evolution, ecology and organismal biology at Ohio State University and lead author of the paper. “If they’re grown in big, open ponds, which is mainly what were talking about, could the newer types of microalgae get out into nature and mingle? We need to know if they can survive and whether they can hybridize or evolve to become more prolific when they get out of a controlled environment,” Snow said. Read more ..

The Race for AgriFuel

Fuel Industry: Keep High-Ethanol Blends Off the Market

August 20th 2012

Grown from Biofuel

The head of a top fuel industry group wants Congress to take action that he says would protect consumers by keeping a more corrosive blend of gasoline off the market.

American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM) President Charles Drevna told The Hill on Monday that a U.S. Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia decision last week will put consumers at risk. The court upheld Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules that let gas stations offer fuel with a higher ethanol content.

Auto companies say the higher-blend ethanol fuel is more destructive to engines and is not covered by many consumers' battery warranties. In ruling that the EPA could let retailers offer E15 fuel — a mix of 15 percent ethanol to 85 percent gasoline — if they take proper measures to inform drivers of the risks to their cars, Drevna says the court failed to acknowledge that the blend is not suitable for most vehicles on the road.

“Decisions have to be made now. EPA was totally off base certifying a fuel that is incompatible with engines today,” Drevna said. “We don’t believe that putting a 4-square inch sticker on a gasoline pump that will warn consumers about misfueling is going to be effective. Misfueling is going to be inevitable.” Read more ..

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