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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 ..


The Race for Trash to Energy

Energy from Trash to Become Realty

August 10th 2012

Garbage plow

There are nearly 8 million people crammed into Israel and most of them like a little A/C in the summer. But only 74, 520 families separate their organic and inorganic waste. What does that have to do with anything, you ask?

Well, it turns out that the Ministry of Environment has recently committed just over USD17 million to help biogas innovators turn organic waste into energy within the next three years. Which means that if more families make the effort to donate their organic waste, then the country can produce more energy to power their homes and appliances.

The Jerusalem Post reports that Israel has already invested about $250,000 to catalyze a nation-wide recycling initiative, which includes creating awareness of the importance of recycling, building recycling facilities, and providing incentives for all stakeholders to turn trash into treasures.

But this new commitment from the Ministry of Environment sends the strongest signal yet that Israel is serious about not only cutting down waste, but re-using it in constructive ways. Given its constant energy-insecurity, which its new natural gas fields can’t alleviate alone, this is a very smart move.

So how does it work?
New factories will house anaerobic digestive facilities that will accelerate the breakdown of organic waste. That process releases methane gas as a byproduct, which can then be harvested and converted to electricity. Read more ..


The Race for EVs

Single Chip Powerline and Wireless Communications for Smart Home and EVs

August 9th 2012

Chevy Volt w/Cord

Greenvity Communications has developed the first hybrid system-on-chip (SoC) family that integrates powerline communication (PLC) and wireless capabilities on a single chip.

The Greenvity Hybrii chip family supports both the HomePlug Green PHY PLC and ZigBee worldwide standards simultaneously to enable robust and intelligent connectivity for a variety of home and building energy management and electric vehicle applications. The first Hybrii family members include the Hybrii-XL chip for smart grid, smart energy management, industrial and consumer applications, and the Hybrii-PLC device for rugged, high temperature conditions.
Hybrii-XL makes smart grid products possible that for the first time integrate both PLC and ZigBee communication capabilities. The single-chip solution allows customers to reduce costs and power consumption by using one chip and one board, rather than the traditional approach requiring multiple chips and boards to support both standards. Read more ..


The Coal Problem

Rockefeller Keeps Heat on Coal Industry

August 8th 2012

coal mine

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) announced new plans Wednesday to craft carbon capture and sequestration legislation as part of a wider push to hold the coal and power industries more accountable to concerns about climate change and public health.

Rockefeller sent a letter last week to 30 organizations ranging from environmental groups to electric utilities indicating he was drafting a CCS research and development bill similar to one he introduced in 2010. He asked for their comments on the initiative no later than Sept. 14. “The future of coal, and frankly that of all fossil fuels, depends on technology to use energy resources more cleanly,” Rockefeller said in the letter. “We have to make the collective choice between developing key technologies of the future here in the United States or ceding that role to other countries.” The letter adds to a growing history of Rockefeller confronting the coal industry on its role in climate change and public health. Read more ..


The Race for Alt Fuel

Industrial Waste Heat Converted to Electricity

August 8th 2012

Oil Refinery

Sixty percent of all energy generated in the world today is lost as wasted heat, according to Loy Sneary. The CEO of Gulf Coast Green Energy wants to capture some of that heat from the thousands of oil and gas wells in Texas – as well as other places – and turn it into electricity.

“We’ve got more electricity than could be generated by all the coal-fired power plants, natural gas-fired power plants and nuclear power plants in the world," he says. "That’s what the potential is.” Deep underground, Sneary explains, the earth is already hot. Drive a diamond drill down into hard rock or shale, and the bit gets even hotter. Liquid cools it. That’s where Sneary’s Green Machine comes in.

Housed in a square box smaller than a compact car, the device channels the abundant hot well water through a pipe which runs next to another filled with refrigerant. The refrigerant boils and vaporizes at low temperatures and the resulting steam is used to generate electricity." Read more ..


The Race for Hybrids

Valeo Creates Affordable Hybrid Technology for your Car Engine

August 7th 2012

Opel Corsa hybrid car

Hybrid cars are still quite expensive, and not everyone can afford to buy one. But automotive supplier Valeo said it has recently launched an affordable hybrid concept for the mainstream. Interviewed by French radio station Europe 1, Henri Trintignac, Valeo’s director of Electric Vehicle Activity, claimed that Valeo SA has developed an electrification solution for the powertrain, Hybrid4All, which enables car manufacturers to turn a traditional engine—diesel or gasoline—into a hybrid engine, at an affordable price by using simple and standardized components.

The Hybrid4all architecture is based on a compact motor generator which uses a low voltage electrical system (48V). Costs are thus reduced, making this solution more acceptable for the mass market. In the Hybrid4all architecture, the electric motor, which assists the internal combustion engine (ICE), can be installed in different positions: in front of the ICE (on the accessory drive belt), after the gear-box or between the two. This solution integrates Valeo’s enhanced Stop-Start, regenerative braking, and torque assist functions. Read more ..


The Race for Natural Gas

Fracking, Legislation and the Court

August 7th 2012

Hydrolic Fracking pollution

The ink was barely dry on far-reaching new Pennsylvania legislation to regulate hydraulic fracking practices before a state appellate court recently overturned key provisions as an unconstitutional encroachment on traditional land-use policies.

This ruling serves as a reminder that few governance issues are as contentious as governmental battles over land-use decisions. Federal and state policies that restrict land-use preferences have routinely been assaulted by waves of litigation, many aiming to return authority to private and local hands.

But many of the very organizations so outraged by top-down governmental control have been remarkably quiet as the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania enacted far-reaching legislation that dramatically shifted one major form of land-use from local to near-total state control. This is why last week’s decision by the Commonwealth Court to overturn key legislative provisions will only serve to draw more attention to this issue, as a larger national debate likely begins on all facets of governance related to fracking. Read more ..


Oil Addiction

Senators Voice Concerns over China's purchase of Gulf of Mexico Oil Assets

August 7th 2012

Offshore Oil Rig

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), citing national security concerns, is questioning a Chinese oil company’s planned purchase of the Canadian energy firm Nexen Inc., which holds substantial Gulf of Mexico oil-and-gas assets. Inhofe joins a pair of senior Democrats – Sen. Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) and Rep. Ed Markey (Mass.) – in questioning state-owned CNOOC Ltd.’s proposed $15.1 billion purchase of Nexen.

“I have serious national security concerns with the Chinese government, acting through one of its corporations, purchasing a company that will give it control over significant U.S. oil and gas resources,” Inhofe told MarketWatch in a statement. “This combined with China’s closed economy, its prohibition on direct, full investment in Chinese business operations by U.S. firms, and its blatant disregard to U.S. intellectual property rights make this transaction even more concerning,” adds Inhofe, who is a senior member of the Armed Services Committee. Read more ..


The Race for Rare Earth

Clean Technologies on the Quest for Rare Earth Elements

August 6th 2012

chinese processing minerals

If you think renewable energies will become an increasingly cheaper alternative to petrol – think again now that there’s peak minerals.

As the world moves toward greater use of zero- carbon energy sources, the supply of certain key metals needed for such clean-energy technologies may dry up, inflating per unit costs and driving the renewable energy market out of business. We’ve talked about peak phosphorus for food; now consider that rare earth metals like neodymium which are used in magnets to help drive wind energy turbines, and dysprosium needed for electric car performance are becoming less available on the planet.

Until the 1980s, the most powerful magnets available were those made from an alloy containing samarium and cobalt. But mining and processing those metals presented challenges: samarium, one of 17 so-called “rare earth elements”, was costly to refine, and most cobalt came from mines in unstable regions of Africa. Read more ..


Oil Addiction

Improved Oil Recovery, Better Environmental Cleanup

August 6th 2012

Click to select Image

Researchers have taken a new look at an old, but seldom-used technique developed by the petroleum industry to recover oil, and learned more about why it works, how it could be improved, and how it might be able to make a comeback not only in oil recovery but also environmental cleanup.

The technology, called "microbial enhanced oil recovery," was first developed decades ago, but oil drillers largely lost interest in it due to its cost, inconsistent results and a poor understanding of what was actually happening underground.

The new findings by engineers at Oregon State University, published in the Journal of Petroleum Science and Engineering, could help change that. This may allow the oil industry not only to produce more oil from their existing wells, but also find applications in cleaning up petroleum spills and contaminants.

"This approach of using microbes to increase oil recovery was used somewhat in the 1980s when oil prices were very high, but the field results weren't very consistent and it was expensive," said Dorthe Wildenschild, an associate professor in the OSU School of Chemical, Biological and Environmental Engineering. "It's seldom used now as a result."

Oil drilling has always been difficult – it's not as simple as drilling a hole and watching the petroleum gush out of the ground.That may happen for a while, but as a secondary step, water is often injected into the well to help flush out more oil. Such production techniques generally recover only one-third to one-half of the oil originally present in a reservoir. A third approach sometimes used after water injection is to inject microbes into the well and "feed" them with sugars such as molasses to encourage their growth. This can clog some pores and in others has a "surfactant" effect, loosening the oil from the surface it clings to, much as a dishwasher detergent loosens grease from a pan."By clogging up some pores and helping oil move more easily through others, these approaches can in theory be used with water flushing to help recover quite a bit more oil," Wildenschild said. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Obama May Lose the Election at the Gas Pump

August 5th 2012

Oil Prices

Gas prices have surged in recent weeks and analysts predict they’ll keep rising, creating fresh openings for GOP attacks against President Obama that had waned when prices dropped sharply. The nationwide average for regular gasoline is $3.60-per-gallon, a 24-cent rise over the past four weeks, according to AAA. Prices are well below the peak of nearly $4 in early April, a run-up that fueled constant GOP criticism of White House energy policies and threw Obama on the defensive. The frequency of political clashes over gas prices have tapered off since prices tumbled. But several analysts have stated that costs at the pump are likely to continue their recent rise through August.

August 3rd brought fresh evidence that pump prices are likely primed for more increases in coming weeks.

U.S. oil futures prices, buoyed in part by the Labor Department report of 163,000 jobs created in July, jumped by over $4-per-barrel to settle at $91.40 in New York trading. Prices for European Brent crude, which some U.S. refiners use, also rose sharply Friday. A continued rise in oil prices, which had fallen below $78-per-barrel for U.S. crude in June, would fuel what analysts say is already going to be some pump price increases on tap. Read more ..


The Race for Wind

Sierra Club Targets Republicans Opposed to Tax Credits for Wind Energy Industry

August 4th 2012

Wind Farm

The Sierra Club’s nonprofit has released three new ads on July 30 targeting Republican congressmen who have opposed renewing a tax credit for the wind energy industry. The Sierra Club so far has taken aim at six Republicans in its pro-wind campaign: Reps. Bob Latta of Ohio, Blake Farenthold of Texas, Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania, Lou Barletta of Pennsylvania, Frank Guinta of New Hampshire and Joe Heck of Nevada.

The TV and radio ads are all variations of the same template, calling on the congressmen to “save wind industry jobs” by voting to renew the wind production tax credit. The production tax credit gives owners of renewable energy projects an income tax reduction based on how much electrical output their projects create. The American Wind Energy Association estimates there are currently 75,000 jobs in the wind industry, 37,000 of which would be at risk if the tax credit expires. Read more ..


The Race for Hydropower

Hydropower Proposal an 'Extreme' Bill

August 4th 2012

Glen Canyon Dam

n environmental advocacy group says a bill introduced Thursday in the House will harm rivers by cutting funding for restoration programs, according to UPI. House Natural Resources Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) says his bill would officially recognize hydropower as renewable energy. It also blocks federal funding for hydropower dam removal.

“This bill would officially recognize hydropower as renewable energy and help eliminate government roadblocks and frivolous litigation that stifle development,” Hastings said in a statement Thursday.

But American Rivers, an advocacy group, told UPI that Hastings’ bill is “an extreme piece of legislation” that would end environmental protections for areas near hydropower projects. The group said it prefers a different bill introduced last month by Rep. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers (R-Wash.). Read more ..


Oil Addiction

Nigerian Oil Production at 'All-Time High'

August 3rd 2012

Nigeria Oil

Nigeria, Africa’s biggest oil exporter and 5th largest supplier to the United States, appears to be growing more productive. After months of reports that theft has been costing the oil industry as much as $1 billion a month, and causing most of the oil spills devastating the Niger Delta region, officials say output is increasing.

"Yesterday we recorded an all-time high of 2.7 million barrels of crude-oil production, and these numbers have never been achieved before," said Andrew Yakubu, group managing director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, who attributes the increase to government efforts to protect pipelines and stop black-market oil trading.

Security forces say they focused this year's Niger Delta policing efforts on protecting oil facilities, declaring that militant groups who fought there between 2003 and 2009 are no longer operational.

However, Niger Delta residents complain that the grievances that started the militancy have still not been addressed. Lucky Daniel, a former chair of the National Youth Council of Nigeria, says young people in the Niger Delta are growing increasingly frustrated because of high unemployment. "The ecosystem has been damaged to such an extent that we do not have even traditional occupations [such as fishing] to depend on, because all the fishes have been killed," he said. "The whole farming system: the ground is no longer fertile because of oil pollution."  Read more ..


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 ..



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