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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

Hydro-Turbine

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.  
Read more ..

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

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 ..


Oil Addiction

Researchers Find Material for Cleaner-Running Diesel Vehicles

August 20th 2012

exhaust pipe

Dr. Kyeongjiae "K.J." Cho, professor of materials science and engineering and physics at UT Dallas, says platinum is too scarce and expensive to be a long-term answer to diesel's pollution problems.

Engineers at a company co-founded by a University of Texas at Dallas professor have identified a material that can reduce the pollution produced by vehicles that run on diesel fuel.

The material, from a family of minerals called oxides, could replace platinum, a rare and expensive metal that is currently used in diesel engines to try to control the amount of pollution released into the air.

In a study published in the August 17 issue of Science, Dr. Kyeongjae "K.J." Cho, professor of materials science and engineering and physics at UT Dallas, and others, found that when a manmade version of the oxide mullite replaces platinum, pollution is up to 45 percent lower than with platinum catalysts.

“Many pollution control and renewable-energy applications require precious metals that are limited – there isn’t enough platinum to supply the millions and millions of automobiles driven in the world,” said Cho, a senior author of the study and co-founder of the company Nanostellar. “Mullite is not only easier to produce than platinum, but also better at reducing pollution in diesel engines.” Read more ..


The Race for AgriFuel

Court Approves Higher Ethanol Content In Fuel

August 18th 2012

E85 Pump

A court decision Friday that upheld a measure letting U.S. automobiles use gasoline with a higher ethanol content has rankled the oil industry its Republican allies even as the biofuels industry claimed a crucial victory. The U.S. Appeals Court of the District of Columbia ruled gas retailers could offer E15 fuel — a 15 percent ethanol-to-traditional-fuel blend — for cars made in the 2001 model year or later if they follow a set of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guidelines. That means two-thirds of the vehicles on the road today can now use E15, said the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), a biofuels industry group.

“Adding an E15 option along side E10 and higher ethanol blends allows consumers to make the fuel decisions that work best for them and their vehicle,” RFA CEO Bob Dinneen said Friday in a statement. “Ethanol has a thirty year track record of safe and effective use in the market place and that record will continue.” EPA first issued the guidelines in March 2009, as the auto and refining industries were unsure whether engines could handle the potentially more corrosive fuel. Meeting those guidelines earns fuel makers and sellers a partial waiver to use the fuel. Read more ..


The Race for Smart Grids

Researchers Print Wireless Power Antennas for Less Than A Penny

August 16th 2012

RFID antenna

Researchers in Korea have developed a low cost technique to print antennas that can be used to deliver power wirelessly.

The rectenna design couples with an AC field to provide a DC output to power devices such as sensors. The design, by researchers at the Printed Electronics Engineering programme of Sunchon National University and the Paru Printed Electronics Research Institute in Sunchon, can even harvest the energy radiated by mobile phones to power devices. This could allow sensor networks such as RFID tags, price tags, smart logos, signage, and sensors could be fully interconnected and driven by DC power of less than 0.3 W.

“What is great about this technique is that we can also print the digital information onto the rectenna, meaning that everything you need for wireless communication is in one place,” said Gyoujin Cho, co-author of the study. “Our advantage over current technology is lower cost, since we can produce a roll-to-roll printing process with high throughput in an environmentally friendly manner. Furthermore, we can integrate many extra functions without huge extra cost in the printing process.” Read more ..


Oil Addiction

Offshore Drilling: Access, Risk, Hurting American Companies

August 15th 2012

Alaska oil drilling

Oil companies are not only eager to drill off America’s coasts—they are enthusiastic about creating jobs and bringing more oil to the world (and the American) market, which, in turn, will help lower gas prices. Indeed, for evidence of oil companies’ appetite for economic growth, one need look no further than the Department of the Interior’s recent $1.7 billion lease sale in the central Gulf of Mexico.

But while this sale was a positive development for American energy production, the Obama Administration is doing everything in its power to prevent companies that obtain offshore leases from actually drilling and producing oil—a fact evidenced by a new lawsuit recently filed in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims by an independent U.S. oil and gas company.

By March 2010, ATP Oil & Gas Corporation had obtained oil leases and necessary permits to drill in the Gulf of Mexico. In fact, after installing state-of-the art drilling and processing equipment, ATP was poised to double its oil production. Read more ..


The Race for Solar

Solar Powered Desert Oasis to Fight World Hunger

August 14th 2012

Rub al Khali Saudi Empty Quarter

The best of Israel’s agri-tech and clean-tech innovation is combined in a new oasis system that could help feed millions of desert-dwellers. Growing the most crop per drop of water is an Israeli specialty. With little rain and a hot desert sun as unforgiving as the Sahara, Israel’s high-tech researchers and farmers have combined their expertise to grow a cornucopia of salt-tolerant crops in dry desert conditions. People from hungry countries far and wide come to learn from Israel’s expertise. Now, a new research project by two desert research institutes has strung several Israeli agriculture and clean-tech specialties together to help alleviate world hunger and push back the desert through an artificial desert oasis using low-cost desalination technology that runs on solar power. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

Stormy Sun Could Damage World’s Power Grids

August 13th 2012
Solar eruption with coronal mass ejection (credit: NASA)
 

Stormy weather on the sun could soon wreak havoc on Earth, knocking the world’s power grids off line while damaging communication equipment, satellites, spacecraft and GPS systems, possibly leaving us unable to communicate or transact normal business.

Mike Hapgood, a scientist who specializes in space weather at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in England, told Reuters governments around the world are taking threats posed by these solar storms so seriously that they’re putting them on their national risk registers, which are normally used for disaster planning, along with events like tsunamis and volcanic eruption. “These things may be very rare but when they happen, the consequences can be catastrophic,” Hapgood said.

The sun, just like Earth, has its own weather systems. And, just like on Earth, the sun can have bouts of really stormy conditions from time to time. Read more ..


Broken Borders

Coal Battles on the US/Mexico Border

August 13th 2012

Coal

Mexican and U.S. opponents of a planned new open surface coal mine on the Texas-Tamaulipas border rallied August 10 on an international bridge between Eagle Pass, Texas, and Piedras Negras, Coahuila. Engaging in a “friendship hug” at the international line dividing their two countries, the border residents vowed to press ahead with a long-running battle against Dos Republicas Coal Partnership.

Planned for a site in Texas about seven miles from Eagle Pass, Dos Republicas proposes to open a 6,300-acre coal mine that would extract as many as 2.8 million tons of bituminous coal every year. A Dos Republicas coal mine is already in operation on the Piedras Negras side of the border.

At the August 10 action, Piedras Negras activist Victor Manuel Perez charged that the Mexican mine was approved in an illegal manner by the city council during a December 2009 meeting held at 5 a.m. in the morning, a very unusual time for a local government meeting in Mexico.

From the planned Texas mine, Dos Republicas plans to ship by rail the coal, deemed too low quality for U.S. use, to two large Mexican Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) power plants in Coahuila that are blamed by environmentalists and U.S. officials for air pollution problems in Texas’ Big Bend National Park.

In a 2011 study, the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC), the environmental side commission established under the North American Free Trade Agreement, reported that one of the CFE’s coal-fired Coahuila plants, the Jose L. Portillo facility, ranked among the top North American emitters of air pollutants, emitting 55,871 tons of nitrogen oxides. Read more ..


Oil Addiction

Malawi, Tanzania Lock Horns Over Lake

August 11th 2012

Lake Malawi

Malawi and Tanzania are expected to hold a high level meeting August 20 on their standoff over oil and gas exploration in and ownership of Lake Malawi. The body of water - also known as Lake Nyasa in Tanzania - is the third-largest fresh water resource in Africa.

The dispute escalated last year when Malawi’s late president Bingu wa Mutharika granted British company Surestream Petroleum rights to explore the lake for oil and gas. Surestream is currently conducting an environmental impact assessment.

The move infuriated Tanzania - which claims 50 percent of the lake. The government in Arusha is demanding a halt to all exploration activities until the question of ownership is resolved. Malawi sources its ownership of the entire lake to an 1890 treaty between former colonial powers Britain and Germany and says it was later reaffirmed by the Organization of African Unity as Malawi was gaining its independence in the early 1960s.  Read more ..


The Race for AgriFuel

US Must Cut Biofuels Warns UN Chief

August 10th 2012

Grown from Biofuel

A senior United Nations official is calling on the United States to suspend biofuels production to combat the effects of the country-wide drought, potentially giving momentum to those on Capitol Hill fighting for the same result.

The drought has inflicted enough damage on U.S. corn supplies to threaten international food supplies, U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization Director General José Graziano da Silva wrote in the Financial Times). "An immediate, temporary suspension of that mandate would give some respite to the market and allow more of the crop to be channeled towards food and feed uses," he wrote in the column published late Thursday.

The U.N. official's column arrives as the U.S. government slashes estimates of corn production this year. The Agriculture Department, in a forecast Friday, predicted that national production will be 10.8 billion bushels in 2012, a 13 percent drop from 2011 and the lowest output since 2006, according to news reports. Read more ..



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