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The Coal Problem

State Settlement Boosts Monitoring at Massive Coal Ash Dump

August 2nd 2012

Coal ash

Owners of one of the nation’s largest impoundments of the often-toxic byproducts of burning coal must do more to protect residents from groundwater contamination and stop accepting waste by 2016, under an agreement with Pennsylvania regulators. The pact focuses on FirstEnergy Corp.’s impoundment, known as Little Blue Run, in southwestern Pennsylvania on the West Virginia border.

Pennsylvania’s complaint and settlement, finalized Friday, came 59 days after environmental groups filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue, alleging that dangerous substances were seeping from the impoundment into the water supply. The groups filing the notice — the Environmental Integrity Project and Public Justice — praised the state Department of Environmental Protection’s action. But they say the settlement came after the agency for years denied the existence of contamination. Indeed, state officials made such claims when the Center for Public Integrity highlighted problems at the site in 2010. Read more ..


The Race for Batteries

Can Flat Car Batteries be Eliminated?

August 1st 2012

Traffic Jam

A flat battery can turn an unsuspecting car driver into an unintentional pedestrian. The fact that vehicle batteries go flat all of a sudden is a well-known problem, but one that can also be avoided in future. Scientists from the RUB working group for Energy Systems Technology and Power Mechatronics headed by Professor Dr. Constantinos Sourkounis and Philip Dost have now developed an effective early warning system together with the Isabellenhütte Heusler GmbH & Co. KG.

The new battery management system for lead-acid accumulators is intended to prevent drivers from a total breakdown. The car driver is informed via the on-board computer that a change of battery or a new vehicle battery is imminent. Compared to previous battery management systems, no subsequent reprogramming is required in the garage. "During the first journey the system automatically measures and recognizes at the same time the current battery parameters", said Professor Sourkounis. Information is provided about the age, the charge and functionality of the vehicle battery. This intelligent control is urgently required as modern cars require more and more energy. Apart from the combustion motor and headlights, dozens of small electrical motors and sensors need electric power. Read more ..


The Race for Smart Grid

One Private US Company Powers 60 Million

July 31st 2012

rural electric lines

Every day, as dusk falls over the United States, millions of street lights blink on in towns and cities across the country. These quiet moments require a vast, unseen balancing act, because electricity demand and supply must be matched every second. Perhaps no one carries more responsibility for getting this balance right than PJM Interconnection, a private company which manages the flow of electricity to 60 million customers in 13 mid-Atlantic U.S. states.

As one of the oldest businesses of its kind, PJM often advises neighboring regions or developing nations on how to manage complex energy-transmission systems. Its success is of special note in a week when a series of power black-outs have brought much of India to a standstill. PJM's control center, in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, is like a traffic officer for the region's electric power grid. Every day, it ensures that more than 1,600 power plants share more than 100,000 kilometers of transmission lines fairly, efficiently and reliably.

To do this, PJM runs an electricity marketplace where power plants declare the lowest price for which they would generate power the next day. Based on these prices and ever-changing demand and transmission line sizes, PJM tells each power plant exactly when to turn on or off. “We’re looking in at one of the two PJM control rooms,” says Mike Bryson, PJM’s director of operations. "They’re both staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If one of the rooms is disabled, the other can operate independently.” Read more ..


The Race for Solar

Breakthrough Leads to Record Efficiency for Next-Generation Solar Cells

July 29th 2012

Solar panels

Researchers from the University of Toronto (U of T) and King Abdullah University of Science & Technology (KAUST) have made a breakthrough in the development of colloidal quantum dot (CQD) films, leading to the most efficient CQD solar cell ever. The researchers, led by U of T Engineering Professor Ted Sargent, created a solar cell out of inexpensive materials that was certified at a world-record 7.0 percent efficiency.

"Previously, quantum dot solar cells have been limited by the large internal surface areas of the nanoparticles in the film, which made extracting electricity difficult," said Dr. Susanna Thon, "Our breakthrough was to use a combination of organic and inorganic chemistry to completely cover all of the exposed surfaces."

Quantum dots are semiconductors only a few nanometres in size and can be used to harvest electricity from the entire solar spectrum – including both visible and invisible wavelengths. Unlike current slow and expensive semiconductor growth techniques, CQD films can be created quickly and at low cost, similar to paint or ink. This research paves the way for solar cells that can be fabricated on flexible substrates in the same way newspapers are rapidly printed in mass quantities. Read more ..


The Race for Natural Gas

Parts of Pennsylvania Law Overturned to Fracker Disappointment

July 29th 2012

Fracking gas well

Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court overturned parts of the state’s controversial Act 13 on Thursday, returning zoning authority over natural gas drilling to the municipalities and townships that had contested the five-month-old law. It was reported last month that local governments had banded together to challenge Act 13, a state law that overrides municipal zoning jurisdiction. Under the law, companies that use a drilling technique called hydraulic fracturing – commonly known as fracking – to tap gas deposits in shale would have been free to drill even in areas where local officials had voted against wells.

The court declared the act’s zoning sections “unconstitutional, null and void,” throwing out parts of the law that allowed the state to supersede local zoning authority and waive well-spacing requirements. Dan Pelligrini, the court’s president judge, wrote on behalf of the majority that Act 13 “violates substantive due process because it does not protect the interests of neighboring property owners from harm, alters the character of neighborhoods and makes irrational classifications.” Governor Tom Corbett, who supported and signed the law in February, announced Friday that his office would appeal the ruling to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Read more ..


Oil Addiction

US Approves Portion of Keystone Pipeline

July 28th 2012

Keystone pipe

The larger, controversial segment of the pipeline that would transport oil sands remains under review by the Obama administration. TransCanada Corp., the developer of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, said Friday it has won the final major permit needed for the southern portion of the project that will bring U.S. oil from Oklahoma to Texas refiners.

The roughly 500-mile portion, now dubbed the Gulf Coast Project, has the backing of the White House, which has touted the segment in its efforts to deflect GOP attacks over President Obama's energy policies. But the larger portion of Keystone, which would transport Canadian oil sands from Alberta, remains the center of a political battle as the Obama administration's review of a cross-border permit continues.

TransCanada said Friday it has received a permit from the Forth Worth, Texas, district of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the last of the “key” permits needed for the $2.3 billion Gulf Coast Project, the company said. The company hopes to begin construction in coming weeks for the pipeline that segment that starts in Cushing, Okla., and wants to have the pipeline running by mid-to-late 2013.

“The Gulf Coast Project will contribute millions in property taxes to counties in Oklahoma and Texas, money that can be used to build roads, schools and hospitals," said CEO Russ Girling in a statement. The company is pressing for federal cross-border permit that would enable the larger, roughly 1,200 mile portion from Alberta to Nebraska, part of the larger effort to bring oil sands to Gulf Coast markets.

Republicans, industry groups and a number of unions are pressing hard for the Keystone project, which faces bitter opposition from environmentalists and some Democrats due to greenhouse gas emissions and forest damage from oil sands and other concerns. Girling on Friday sought to use the permits for the southern portion to make the case for the overall Alberta-to-Texas project. Read more ..


Oil Addiction

Inside Traders Reaped Millions on China Firm's Oil Deal

July 28th 2012

One Million Dollars

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has frozen the assets of traders who allegedly made over $13 million in “illegal profits” from this week’s announcement that CNOOC Ltd., a big Chinese oil company, is buying Canadian oil producer Nexen Inc. The SEC won a court order Friday targeting the traders who, operating through accounts in Hong Kong and Singapore, allegedly used confidential information ahead of the deal’s announcement to stockpile shares of Nexen stock, which soared in value when the acquisition plan went public July 23.

In a complaint filed Friday in New York, the SEC alleges Hong Kong-based Well Advantage Ltd., and other unknown traders using accounts in Singapore, engaged in “highly suspicious and highly profitable” trading in Nexen stock that rose by about 52 percent in value after the proposed $15 billion acquisition was announced.

The SEC complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York alleges that “each Defendant purchased Nexen stock while in the possession of material, nonpublic information concerning CNOOC's proposed acquisition of Nexen.” Read more ..


The Race for EVs

Ecarconnectors Rolls Out Electric Vehicle Fast Charging and European Connectors

July 27th 2012

Honda EV prototype

Ecarconnectors, the UK’s specialist supplier of electric vehicle charging products and connectors, announces the introduction of a range of 63 amp fast charging plugs and sockets and the latest ‘Type 2’ connectors to suit Europe’s electric vehicles.

Alan Cook, Managing Director of Ecarconnectors, commented: “We are seeing growing interest in the Electric Vehicle market and the associated end user and infrastructure products. As a specialist supplier we can provide advice, technical support and market leading products to personal and commercial electric vehicle users and manufactures and street charging equipment providers.”

The new 63 amp rated plug and socket are designed for 3-phase power supplies required for fast charging installations. Protected to IP54 both plug and socket are rated at 63A for 240 and 415VAC. The socket has a spring loaded cover for additional environmental protection, while the plug has a secured dust cover for when not in use and comes supplied as standard with a 5m or 3m 3-phase cable.
Read more ..


Oil Addiction

Play 'Hardball' on China Oil

July 27th 2012

EarthMovers

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) says the United States should block CNOOC Ltd., a big state-owned Chinese oil company, from buying the Canadian oil company Nexen Inc. until China provides U.S. businesses better access to its markets.

The senior Democrat will make his case in a letter Friday to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, whose department heads the federal panel that vets foreign purchases of U.S. assets, according to accounts in Reuters and The Wall Street Journal.

Nexen has U.S. holdings, so Schumer argues the deal provides a chance to win better access to Chinese markets for American companies. His letter to Geithner says that the secretary should “withhold approval of this transaction until China's government has made tangible, enforceable commitments to ensure U.S. companies reciprocal treatment.”

“I believe approval of the Cnooc-Nexen transaction should be a test of these reciprocal commitments, and that concrete progress must be made by both sides simultaneously,” the letter states. Schumer is a frequent critic of China’s trade policies. He tells the Journal that it’s time to play “hardball.”

Treasury heads the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, the interagency panel that reviews foreign purchases of U.S. businesses if the transactions could affect national security. Nexen owns substantial acreage in the Gulf of Mexico and has some production there. If the CNOOC deal goes through, it would mark the first time that a Chinese company would be the operator of Gulf of Mexico leases, rather than a minority owner, according to Bloomberg. CNOOC’s proposed $15 billion acquisition of Nexen is attracting political attention in the United States due to the Gulf holdings and because Nexen is a significant player in Canada’s oil sands. Read more ..


Energy vs Environment

Fines Issued, Upgrades Ordered at Wisconsin Coal-fired Power Plants

July 27th 2012

Alma coal-fired plant Wisconsin
Dairyland Power Coop’s Alma plant (credit: USGS)

In the latest settlement targeting toxic emissions from power plants, the Environmental Protection Agency and Justice Department have issued a $950,000 fine and ordered millions in pollution control technology at three coal-fired power plants in Wisconsin. Plant operator Dairyland Power Cooperative will pay the civil penalty, invest $150 million in pollution control technology, and spend $5 million on environmental mitigation projects, the EPA said in a Clean Air Act pact announced June 29.

“This settlement will improve air quality in Wisconsin and downwind areas by significantly reducing releases of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and other harmful pollutants,” Ignacia S. Moreno, assistant attorney general for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice, said in a statement.

The upgrades, federal officials said, will reduce annual sulfur dioxide emissions by 23,000 tons and nitrogen oxide emissions by 6,000 tons from 2008 levels. Read more ..


The Race for Methanol

Broad Methanol Test Underway

July 26th 2012

Brazilian Methanol-Ethanol

With gas-pump prices soaring along with the demand for energy independence, energy experts in the United States are eagerly awaiting the results of an Israeli pilot using M15, a fuel made of 15 percent methanol and 85% gasoline. Methanol is made from natural gas, a substance that both countries have in abundance.

M15 is produced by Dor Chemicals of Haifa, which is running the six-month trial along with gas station chain Ten Petroleum with the support and supervision of Israel’s ministries of energy and water resources, transportation and environmental protection.

“We would like to prove that no changes are necessary to cars or to gas-station equipment in order to use this blend,” Ten CEO Danny Ben-Ner tells ISRAEL21c. M15 is already popular in China, but test results on its possible effects to car engines and gas pumps have not been made public. Read more ..


Oil Addiction

China Buys Canadian Energy

July 26th 2012

China Oil

China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) this week offered to buy Canada’s Nexen, Inc., for $15 billion. Nexen’s board is recommending the bid to shareholders. If completed, this would be the single largest acquisition that Chinese companies have made in the outward investment splurge that started in 2005. It raises a series of issues for American policymakers to consider.

The most basic point is that the two sides freely agreeing to make this deal is a good thing; it is how market economies should work. Beyond that, it underscores that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has the means to diversify its access to key resources. China cannot simply be cut off from accessing international oil or the technology associated with it. In addition, China’s high valuation of Canadian energy is at odds with the recent American decision to inhibit the development of the U.S.–Canada energy relationship by stalling the Keystone XL pipeline.

Deal Fits China’s Investment Pattern
The CNOOC–Nexen transaction wins attention due to its size, but its other features fit Chinese outward investment tendencies perfectly. First, it is an energy deal, and The Heritage Foundation’s China Global Investment Tracker—the only fully public dataset on Chinese global investment—confirms that energy has drawn over half of Chinese investment since spending began to rebound from the financial crisis in mid-2009. Read more ..


The Race For Energy

New Method to Encourage Virtual Power Plants For Efficient Renewable Energy Production

July 25th 2012

Click to select Image

Researchers from the University of Southampton have devised a novel method for forming virtual power plants to provide renewable energy production in the UK.

In the last decade, small and distributed energy resources (DERs), like wind farms and solar panels, have begun to appear in greater numbers in the electricity supply network (Grid).

To ensure that energy demand is met without interruptions, the Grid requires power suppliers to provide an estimate of their production and the confidence in meeting that estimate. Depending on the confidence placed on the estimates, the Grid is able to choose the appropriate number of conventional generators needed to produce and supply energy whenever it is needed - the more accurate the provided estimates, and the higher the confidence placed in those estimates, the better for the Grid scheduling activities. Read more ..


Oil Addiction

Senate Republicans Plan New Energy Push

July 24th 2012

Alaska oil drilling

GOP senators will roll out legislation Thursday that would require expanded onshore oil-and-gas leasing, allow drilling off Virginia’s coast, and approve the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline, aides said.

“It’s American energy and jobs related to that energy,” said Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), who is sponsoring the plan with Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) and other members. “It’s American energy, which is part of our energy security and our national security.”

The bill is highly unlikely to clear the Democrat-controlled Senate, but will provide a platform for GOP messaging on energy as Republicans continue to hammer the White House on the topic. The plan’s arrival follows passage of various House measures that would require the Interior Department to auction far more federal lands and waters to oil companies than the Obama administration supports. Read more ..


Oil Addiction

Prenatal Exposure to Diesel Exhaust May Increase Obesity Risk

July 24th 2012

Oil Refinery

Pregnant mice exposed to high levels of air pollution gave birth to offspring with a significantly higher rate of obesity and insulin resistance in adulthood than those that were not exposed to air pollution. This effect seemed especially prevalent in male mice, which were heavier regardless of diet. These findings, published online in the FASEB Journal, suggests a link between diesel exhaust exposure in utero and bulging waistlines in adulthood.

“It is becoming clearer that our environment profoundly affects our health in ways that are little understood,” said Jessica L. Bolton, Ph.D., a researcher involved in the work from the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience at Duke University in Durham, NC. “We believe these data have important implications for health disparities as a consequence of socioeconomic conditions, in which low income neighborhoods tend to be disproportionately exposed to high levels of pollution, which we hope will inform policy and regulation decisions.” Read more ..


After Fukushima

Blame for Fukushima Disaster

July 23rd 2012

Fukushima nuke plant

An investigative panel has concluded the last of a series of high-profile reviews of last year’s accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. The report criticizes actions by the plant’s operator, the government and industry regulators.

The 12 members of a panel appointed by the Japanese Cabinet interviewed 770 people in the past year. They include government officials, Tokyo Electric Power Company employees and some of the 160,000 residents forced to evacuate their homes. Panel chairperson, Yotaro Hatamura, says the Fukushima accident illustrates the results of Japan’s reliance on what he calls the myth of nuclear safety.

In a reference to last year’s tsunami, initially described by the plant’s operator as an “unforeseen threat,” Hatamura urges authorities to remain humble towards any potential risk and to prepare for the worst.

The report says Japan’s main regulatory body, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, was too confident in the nuclear plant's ability to withstand a severe accident. It says this sort of attitude prevented the agency from adopting a pro-active stance on safety issues. Read more ..


The Race for Smart Grid

Compressed Air System May Fill in Gaps in Electric Grid

July 23rd 2012

Puffer Fish
Inspiration from a pufferfish

Arothron was established in 2011 as an enterprise focused on underwater compressed air energy storage (UWCAES). Arothron is named after a type of pufferfish which can inflate its body into a spherical shape. This Israel-based company’s mascot helps us understand how underwater compressed air storage works. Underwater compressed air energy storage has several advantages. The first is that it can be used wherever there is a deep body of water. Some large Mideastern cities meet this criteria. The second is that because deep water is under high pressure, the containers needn’t be made of high strength steel or rock. Ordinary concrete or even plastic bladders can be used as an underwater compressed air storage tank.

But first, let me explain how electrical storage can make our grid more efficient. Read more ..


The Race for Smart Grid

Floating Power Plants for Lebanon

July 22nd 2012

Power barge

Like Egypt, Israel, and the Palestinian territories, Lebanon has been slammed with energy shortages this summer. In some parts of the country, outside of Beirut, people are often without power for twelve hours a day.

These cuts have inflamed the local populace, sometimes resulting in tire-burning protests that further degrade the environment. But help may be on the way as Lebanon has signed a $360 million agreement to purchase energy from electricity-generating Turkish barges over a three year period.

Demand far exceeds production

The contract with Turkish firm Karkey Karadeniz Elektrik Uretim was finally sealed after two years of political bickering. The first barges are expected to arrive within four months and they will generate 270 megawatts of electricity, according to Energy Minister Gebran Bassil. Read more ..


The Race for EVs

Tesla Predicts that Half of Cars Will Be Electric in 15 Years

July 22nd 2012

Tesla roadster

In the midst of the Tesla Model S rollout at the company's California manufacturing plant recently, Tesla CEO Elon Musk made a startling prediction: "In 20 years more than half of new cars manufactured will be fully electric," he said, according to a Reuters article. "I actually feel quite safe in that bet. That's a bet I will put money on."

That's a strong statement, but Musk apparently didn't think it was strong enough, so he quickly amended it. "It's probably going to be in the 12- to 15-year time frame," he added.

For those who closely follow the electric car business, that's a stunning prognostication, to put it kindly. Today, fully electric cars are few and their sales are poor. By 2020, Lux Research Inc. projects that "less than a percent" of new vehicles will be fully electric. Pike Research is slightly more charitable, saying they believe it could hit 1 percent. "If you look 10 years past 2020, is it going to gain another 49 percent?" asks Dave Hurst, senior analyst for Pike Research. "It's unlikely." Read more ..


The Coal Problem

Toxins from Mountaintop Coal Mining Sites

July 22nd 2012

coal mine

The U.S. Geological Survey has found high levels of toxic compounds in soil and water around mountaintop-removal mining sites in central Appalachia, a potentially groundbreaking finding with human health consequences.

After a year of testing air, water and soil, researchers concluded that people in mountaintop mining communities in southern West Virginia live in an environment with significant chemical discrepancies from the rest of the state. This could suggest that documented health problems in the region are linked, at least in part, to the mining operations.

Bill Orem, USGS research geochemist and project chief, said mining areas display “unusually high” pH and conductivity levels in the water, abnormal air particulate loading, and irregular levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in soil and streams. Several PAH compounds are probable or possible human carcinogens. Read more ..


The Race for Solar

Highly Transparent Solar Cells in Windows

July 21st 2012

SolarOr BIPV window panels

UCLA researchers have developed a new transparent solar cell that is an advance toward giving windows in homes and other buildings the ability to generate electricity while still allowing people to see outside.

The UCLA team describes a new kind of polymer solar cell (PSC) that produces energy by absorbing mainly infrared light, not visible light, making the cells nearly 70 percent to the human eye. They made the device from a photoactive plastic that converts infrared light into electrical current.

These results open the potential for visibly transparent polymer solar cells as add-on components of portable electronics, smart windows and building-integrated photovoltaics and in other applications.There has been intense world-wide interest in so-called polymer solar cells. The PSCs are made from plastic-like materials and are lightweight and flexible and they can be produced in high volume at low cost. Read more ..


The Race for Wind

Meteo-Logic Gives Predictive Power to Wind Farm Weather Stations

July 20th 2012

Wind Farm

Meteo-Logic, a software provider of custom-made accurate weather forecasting, launched yesterday a new service specifically designed to provide the wind farm energy industry with highly accurate localized weather forecasts.

Meteo-Logic offers detailed weather parameters and tools required for making weather-sensitive decisions for specific locations at specified times. This is done while dramatically reducing the direct and indirect expenses of wind farms, maximizing profits and reducing financial uncertainty.

Meteo-Logic’s technology is used in wind farms to obtain accurate short-term forecasting of wind power and provide accurate data regarding power production. This is done to meet the service-level agreement (SLA) with the relevant utility and avoid penalties arising from discrepancies between committed and actual delivery. Read more ..


The Race for Smart Grid

Electrical Grid Is Not Well Protected

July 20th 2012

transformer farm

A government watchdog is calling for tighter — and more coordinated — cyber security efforts by federal agencies to protect the U.S. electricity grid, a potentially vulnerable target for U.S. enemies.

The volume of malicious software and online attacks targeting overall U.S. computer networks has tripled in the last two years, raising the possibility of an eventual threat to the flow of electric power to homes, businesses, and the Internet itself, according to a Government Accountability Office report released Tuesday.

“Terrorists, hackers, and other non-government groups all have the desire and are trying to gain the ability to get into our electricity infrastructure,” Gregory Wilhusen, the director for information security issues at GAO, said in an interview. “The impact of widespread outages could have national security implications. And, in residential areas, it not only affects homes and customers. It also has major effects on commerce.” Read more ..


Oil Addiction

The Other Threat to Oil Supplies

July 19th 2012

Saudi Oil

Violence in eastern Saudi Arabia and continuing tension in Bahrain are reminders that Gulf oil exports face other threats besides potential Iranian closure of the Strait of Hormuz.

Over the past ten days, armed clashes have erupted between security forces and protestors along Saudi Arabia's Persian Gulf coast, the home of its minority Shiite population as well as huge oil fields and associated export infrastructure. The trouble began after the arrest of Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr, who had publicly welcomed the recent death of Crown Prince Nayef. During Nayef's tenure as interior minister, local Shiites had blamed him for their oppression.

Two Shiites died in protests following Nimr's arrest, which took place just a few miles from Ras Tanura, the world's largest oil export terminal, and Abqaiq, the world's largest oil processing facility. The oil facilities themselves have yet to be targeted by Shiites but are considered very vulnerable. In further incidents, a Shiite gunman was killed during a July 13 attack on a police station, and four Saudi policemen were wounded in a separate attack when their patrol came under fire. The next evening, Molotov cocktails were thrown into the parking lot of a local courthouse. A group of thirty-seven Shiite clerics has issued a joint statement urging local youths to "steer away from violence," so tensions could ease in the coming days. Read more ..


Oil Addiction

Severe Fuel Shortages Hit South Sudan's Capital

July 19th 2012

South Sudanese Oil Facility
South Sudanese petroleum facility. Production has been shut down
since January 2012. (credit: H. McNeish/VOA)

Another widespread fuel shortage has hit South Sudan’s capital, Juba. Fuel suppliers blame the shortage on the scarcity of foreign money. They say the lack of dollars is making it hard to import fuel from neighboring countries.

Dozens and dozens of motorists have been waiting in line, their cars stretching around a city block at the petrol stations. Many others don't even bother. Car owners and motorcycle riders—locally known as “boda-boda”—are scrambling for their share of the little fuel that is left at Konyo Konyo Market. This scene has become routine for the last three days as motorists often wait for hours to get a few liters of fuel. Fuel shortages have become more frequent in South Sudan, as the decline in the South Sudanese pounds makes foreign currency almost non-existent. But Boro Joseph Nagip, a deputy manager with Hass Petroleum, says this shortage is not only caused by a scarcity of foreign dollars. “There is a shortage of petrol in East Africa so they don’t allow a particular quantity of fuel to get out, particularly in Uganda and Kenya now, because of that.” Read more ..


The Race for Smart Grid

Europe Recommends Making Its Grids Less Vulnerable

July 19th 2012

electric power lines

The European Network and Information Security Agency (ENISA) has published a report that makes ten recommendations to the public sector involved in the definition and implementation of smart grids. Smart grids offer benefits to the society at large but their dependency on computer networks and applications, as well as on the Internet, increases exposure to malicious cyber attacks. Vulnerabilities of communication networks and information systems could indeed be exploited for financial or political motivation to shut off power to large areas or directing cyber-attacks against power generation plants.

However, the communication infrastructures are not the only source of vulnerabilities, the report indicated. Software and hardware used for building the smart grid infrastructure are at risk of being tampered with even before they are linked together. Rogue code, including the so-called logic bombs which cause sudden malfunctions, can be inserted into software while it is being developed. As for hardware, remotely operated “kill switches” and hidden “backdoors” can be written into the computer chips used by the smart grid and allowing outside actors to manipulate the systems. Read more ..


The Race for Solar

China’s Trina Solar Wants to Spend $200 Million in Jordan

July 18th 2012

Solar panels

The disruption to Jordan’s natural gas supply from Egypt has finally awoken a sleeping giant: renewable energy. Long focused on oil shale and nuclear energy instead of renewable sources, the Kingdom has recently entered negotiations with no fewer than 20 international wind and solar-energy suppliers.

These are mostly small or medium-sized firms that will provide up to 80MW each. Among them, China’s Trina Solar has expressed willingness to invest $200 million on a photovoltaic plant.

Details of the Trina solar agreement have yet to be announced. For example, it is unclear where the Chinese energy giant would install the PV plant,  or how much energy it would generate.

Nonetheless, the announcement that Jordan’s Ministry of Environment has entered negotiations with a variety of clean energy suppliers demonstrates that the Kingdom is finally taking alternative energy seriously. Despite having a near ceaseless supply of solar-energy, Jordan has prioritized the development of oil-shale and nuclear energy plants to supplement Egypt’s gas supply despite enormous public opposition to nuclear. Read more ..


The Race for Biofuel

Using Yeast for Economic Production of Bioethanol

July 17th 2012

Corn stalk

Finding renewable and economic sources of energy are one of the most important concerns for the continuation of the human species. New research, published in BioMed Central's open access journal Biotechnology for Biofuels, has produced a novel strain of yeast with improved xylose tolerance and metabolism, and consequently improved ethanol production.

Bioethanol is considered one of cleanest renewable replacements for fossil fuel. However using glucose from crops, such as sugar cane or starch crops, uses up resources which could otherwise be used to produce food. Xylose is the second most abundant sugar in plants (after glucose) and is plentiful in agricultural and wood waste. However the yeast which are most efficient at producing ethanol cannot ferment pentose sugars, such as xylose, and yeast which can ferment xylose are not very good at producing ethanol. Read more ..


Oil Addiction

Turkish-Kurdish Oil Deals Upset Baghdad

July 16th 2012

Arab Oil Derick

Growing tensions between Baghdad and the semiautonomous Iraqi Kurdish government over control of the country's energy reserves is threatening to pull neighboring Turkey into the deepening dispute. This past weekend, Iraq warned Ankara that such trade with the region could damage its relations with the central government in Baghdad.

Iraq's semiautonomous Kurdish regional government has started to send dozens of tankers of crude oil to neighboring Turkey. The shipments will be refined and sent back to the Kurdish enclave. Turkey said last week that it had begun importing five to 10 road tankers of crude a day from the northern region of Iraq and the volume could rise to 100-200 tankers per day.

This has angered the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki who called on Ankara to immediately end the arrangement. But Sinan Ulgen, head of the Istanbul-based international relations research center Edam, thinks Baghdad will be disappointed Read more ..


The Race for Geo-Thermal

A Future for Geo-thermal Energy in the Land of the Shaking Earth

July 15th 2012

Fuego volcano Guatemala

Historically, most of Central America’s energy sector began as state-controlled entities that provided a diverse portfolio of domestically sourced energy. However, during the 1980s and 1990s the region began to adopt neoliberal reforms, leading to the privatization of the energy sector and a series of IMF-directed economic transitions, both Structural Adjustment Programs and “shock therapy.” These neoliberal reforms regrettably fostered a flawed privatization process that resulted in a nocuous regional oil-dependency and ineffective energy grid.

The inefficiency of Central America’s energy sector has had far-reaching consequences beyond dependency, including rolling blackouts, rationed electricity, and price spikes at the pump—all of which have social, economic, and political ramifications. During the global energy crisis of 2005, Central American leaders jointly affirmed a state of “maximum alert” in regards to their energy supply. This signified a need for change, and the governments of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua have since vowed to increase the amount of renewable energy in their nations’ energy portfolios. Read more ..


The Race for Fuel Cells

Platinum is Wrong Stuff for Fuel Cells

July 14th 2012

Fuel cell car

Fuel cells are inefficient because the catalyst most commonly used to convert chemical energy to electricity is made of the wrong material, a researcher at Case Western Reserve University argues. Rather than continue the futile effort to tweak that material - platinum - to make it work better, Chemistry Professor Alfred Anderson urges his colleagues to start anew.

"Using platinum is like putting a resistor in the system," he said. Anderson freely acknowledges he doesn't know what the right material is, but he's confident that researchers' energy would be better spent seeking it out than persisting with platinum.

"If we can find a catalyst that will do this [more efficiently]," he said, "it would reach closer to the limiting potential and get more energy out of the fuel cell." Even in the best of circumstances, Anderson explains, the chemical reaction that produces energy in a fuel cell like those being tested by some car companies ends up wasting a quarter of the energy that could be transformed into electricity. This point is well-recognized in the scientific community, but to date efforts to address the problem have proved fruitless. Read more ..


The Race for EVs

Keeping Electric Vehicle Batteries Cool

July 14th 2012

Electric car Israel

Heat can damage the batteries of electric vehicles – even just driving fast on the freeway in summer temperatures can overheat the battery. An innovative new coolant conducts heat away from the battery three times more effectively than water, keeping the battery temperature within an acceptable range even in extreme driving situations.

Batteries provide the “fuel” that drives electric cars – in effect, the vehicles’ lifeblood. If batteries are to have a long service life, overheating must be avoided. A battery’s “comfort zone” lies between 20°C and 35°C. But even a Sunday drive in the midday heat of summer can push a battery’s temperature well beyond that range. The damage caused can be serious: operating a battery at a temperature of 45°C instead of 35°C halves its service life. And batteries are expensive – a new one can cost as much as half the price of the entire vehicle. Read more ..


Oil Addiction

Nigeria Oil Spill Threatens Health, Environment

July 14th 2012

Oil truck spill

Late Thursday in Zamfara State, Nigeria, a fuel tanker overturned in a road accident and poured its entire contents into a nearby river, potentially impacting the drinking water of millions of people in Zamfara and neighboring Sokoto state.  Officials say they currently don't have the expertise or the equipment to clean up the oil and prevent another health disaster.  Nigeria's Zamfara state is also known for being the site of the worst lead poisoning outbreak in modern history, which is an ongoing crisis.

When Mouktar Lugga, the environment commissioner for Zamfara State, arrived on the scene of the fuel spill Friday morning, he saw about ten men standing nearby.  They were artisanal gold miners, a mainstay of the local economy.  But with 33,000 liters of industrial fuel in the river they couldn't go to work.

Lugga says the tanker accident the previous night left oil slicks the size of two football fields on the river.  He says Zamfara has neither the equipment nor the knowledge to clean up the spill and he is hoping the federal government will send technical experts to devise a clean-up plan.  Read more ..


Oil Addiction

Murkowski, Begich Press White House on Arctic Strategy

July 13th 2012

Alaska oil drilling

Alaska’s bipartisan Senate delegation says the White House doesn’t quite have the vision thing down yet when it comes to planning for development in the Arctic. Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R) and Mark Begich (D), in a cordial letter to the White House this week, applaud several administration actions but say an “overall national U.S. strategy” for the region is needed.

“The United States is the only Arctic nation which lacks such a formal strategy which ties together all the individual agency policies and visions,” states the July 11 letter to President Obama, made public Thursday.

“Developing an American Arctic strategy is especially timely now, with the hope for offshore oil and gas exploration in Alaska's Arctic this summer, the number of cargo ships transiting the Bering Strait are increasing to new record highs and America's indigenous peoples are justifiably concerned with the impacts of these developments and changing conditions on their subsistence ways of life,” the letter states. Read more ..


The Race for Biofuel

Univerve’s Algae to Biofuel Your Car

July 12th 2012

Algae Running Car

GreenFuel, a US algae-to-biofuel business founded by Israeli more than 10 years ago, most likely failed because it was a bit ahead of the zeitgeist. Hoping to reach the market when the product and timing is right, the young Israeli company Univerve plans to turn algae — the green slimy microorganisms you skim from ponds and pools — into the perfect third-generation biofuel.

Ohad Zuckerman, CEO of the 10-person company based in Tel Aviv, thinks he and his team have the right stuff to make it happen. With a 20-year background in seed breeding, Zuckerman is leading his team in developing a new biofuel from a fatty super-strain of algae that grows robustly in a broad range of temperatures.

As Berzin and the Israeli company Seambiotics know, algae is a good source of biofuel that does not compete with crops for food as does biofuel made from potatoes, sugarcane or corn. Second-generation biofuels are better, because they are made from materials that are typically not edible, such as wood, castor plants or jatropha. However, these feedstocks still require arable land and fresh water, meaning that they could never be cultivated in a high enough supply to meet the world’s demands. Algae have a higher yield per acre over time without taking up precious farmland. Read more ..


The Nuclear Edge

Japan Wants Israel Clean Tech Experts to Rebuild Fukushima

July 12th 2012

Fukushima nuke plant

The Japanese company in charge of rehabilitation recently sent a delegation to Israel looking for experts and entrepreneurs, especially in the fields of water management and recycling. According to the company’s liaison in Israel, Lior Daeri, Israeli groups that participate will receive tax breaks worth NIS 50 million (roughly $12.8 million dollars).

Israel’s green business sectors have developed strong connections throughout Asia. China and Israel are currently collaborating on solar energy projects. India and Israel are working together in agricultural innovation and restoration efforts, especially with regards to India’s waterways.

Back in May, twelve young leaders completed a year-long Israel-Asia Leaders Fellowship Program, organized by the Israel-Asia Center in Jerusalem. Many of the fellows, from countries such as Singapore, China, and India, spent the year working part-time at an international networking platform and studying at Israeli universities, pursuing graduate degrees in environmental and agricultural-fields. Read more ..


The Race for Alt Fuel

White Rot Fungus Boosts Ethanol Production from Corn Stalks, Cobs and Leaves

July 11th 2012

Corn field

Scientists are reporting new evidence that a white rot fungus shows promise in the search for a way to use waste corn stalks, cobs and leaves – rather than corn itself – to produce ethanol to extend supplies of gasoline. Their study on using the fungus to break down the tough cellulose and related material in this so-called "corn stover" to free up sugars for ethanol fermentation appears in the ACS' journal Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research.

Yebo Li and colleagues explain that corn ethanol supplies are facing a crunch because corn is critical for animal feed and food. They note that the need for new sources of ethanol has shifted attention to using stover, which is the most abundant agricultural residue in the U.S., estimated at 170-256 million tons per year. The challenge is to find a way to break down tough cellulose material in cobs, stalks and leaves – so that sugars inside can be fermented to ethanol. Read more ..


The Race for Wind

Romney: Wind Energy Credit Stance Not Set

July 10th 2012

Oahu Wind

A surrogate for GOP White House hopeful Mitt Romney said Wednesday that the presumptive nominee wants to end the production tax credit for wind energy projects, but is still deciding how the popular incentive should be phased out.

Romney’s stance could be critical for the wind energy industry, which is lobbying hard to maintain the incentive that industry officials call vital to funding new power projects.

Linda Stuntz, an energy lobbyist who represented Romney at a Wednesday debate, said that as a general principle, Romney “thinks these kinds of technology-specific incentives are a bad idea.”

“He thinks that this is an illustration of one that has probably outlived its usefulness, but as to how it should be precisely would down — whether it should be a one-year [phase-out], whether it should be a longer period — he hasn’t come completely to ground on that,” Stuntz said of the wind tax credit, speaking at the debate in Washington, D.C., hosted by The Business Roundtable. Read more ..


The Race for Smart Grid

Drexel Engineers Develop New Technology for Grid-Level Electrical Energy Storage

July 9th 2012

electric power lines

In the aftermath of the recent United Nations Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development, the focus of many industrialized nations is beginning to shift toward planning for a sustainable future. One of the foremost challenges for sustainability is efficient use of renewable energy resources, a goal that hinges on the ability to store this energy when it is produced and disburse it when it is needed.

A team of researchers from Drexel University’s College of Engineering has taken up this challenge and have developed a new method for quickly and efficiently storing large amounts of electrical energy.

Electrical energy storage is the obstacle preventing more widespread use of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power. Due to the unpredictable nature of wind and solar energy, the ability to store this energy when it is produced is essential for turning these resources into reliable sources of energy. The current U.S. energy grid system is used predominantly for distributing energy and allows little flexibility for storage of excess or a rapid dispersal on short notice. Read more ..


After the BP Spill

How Winds Kept BP Oil Away from Florida Shores?

July 8th 2012

Deepwater Horizon spill response

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill in spring 2010 is the largest oil spill in the history of the United States, with more than 200 million gallons of crude oil released at about 1,500 m. depth off the Mississippi Delta in the Gulf of Mexico. At the time of the accident, the proximity of the intense Loop Current, flowing from the Yucatan Channel to the Florida Straits, raised major concerns that the oil at the surface of the ocean would be headed toward the South Florida and East Atlantic coastal areas. However, the dominant transport of oil and oil products was toward the Northern Gulf coastline, and no oil was observed to reach the Atlantic Ocean.

In a new study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, University of Miami (UM) scientists Matthieu Le Hénaff, Villy Kourafalou, Claire Paris, Judith Helgers, and Ashwanth Srinivasan, in collaboration with Zachary Aman from the Colorado School of Mines, and Patrick Hogan from the Naval Research Laboratory, use numerical simulations performed at the High Performance Computing core of UM's Center for Computational Science (CCS) to explain an important aspect of the observed oil transport. Read more ..



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