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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 ..


The Race for Alt Fuel

Waste to Watts--The Challenge of Improving Microbial Fuel Cells

July 7th 2012

algal aviation fuel biomass

Some of the planet’s tiniest inhabitants may help address two of society’s biggest environmental challenges:  how to deal with the vast quantities of organic waste produced and where to find clean, renewable energy. According to César Torres and Sudeep Popat, researchers at Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute, certain kinds of bacteria are adept at converting waste into useful energy.  These microorganisms are presently being applied to the task, through an innovative technology known as a microbial fuel cell or MFC.

As Torres explains, “the great advantage of the microbial fuel cell is the direct conversion of organic waste into electricity. “  In the future, MFC’s may be linked to municipal waste streams or sources of agricultural and animal waste, providing a sustainable system for waste treatment and energy production. To scale up the technology however, improvements in efficiency will be required.  “My particular focus is to understand at a fundamental level how anode respiring bacteria transfer electrons from their cells onto an electrode,” Popat says,  “as well as to design new systems that are both economical and efficient.” Read more ..


The Race for Solar

Israel’s bSolar Designs Promising Double-Sided Solar Cell

July 6th 2012

Double-sided solar cells

Researchers have been trying to develop double-sided solar cells that can capture both direct and reflected sunlight for the last forty years, and now an Israeli startup believes they have come up with the winning formula. bSolar, a venture-backed project founded in 2007, showcased their bifacial solar cells at a trade show in Germany last month. According to Yossi Kofman, co-founder and CEO, their cells could produce up to 20 percent more energy than conventional cells. But it won’t be easy.

As Bhushan Sopori, a researcher at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory told GigaOm, there’s a reason that bifacial solar cells have not been successful to date.

Boron is the main component of the bSolar bifacial cell that allows the silicon wafers to capture reflected light on both sides. Although aluminum has historically been used to prevent the loss of electrodes when converting sunlight into electricity, boron won’t bend or break when used in increasingly thin silicon wafers. Plus this chemical element increases efficiency. Read more ..


The Coal Problem

Black Lung Surges Back in Coal Country

July 5th 2012

coal mine

 Ray Marcum bears the marks of a bygone era of coal mining. At 83, his voice is raspy, his eastern Kentucky accent thick and his forearms leathery. A black pouch of Stoker’s 24C chewing tobacco pokes out of the back pocket of his jeans. “I started chewing in the mines to keep the coal dust out of my mouth,” he says.

Plenty of that dust still found its way to his lungs. For the past 30 years, he’s gotten a monthly check to compensate him for the disease that steals his breath — the old bane of miners known as black lung.

In mid-century, when Marcum worked, dust filled the mines, largely uncontrolled. Almost half of miners who worked at least 25 years contracted the disease. Amid strikes throughout the West Virginia coalfields, Congress made a promise in 1969: Mining companies would have to keep dust levels down, and black lung would be virtually eradicated. Read more ..


The Race for Solar

House GOP Wants Chief of Failed Solar Firm to Testify

July 3rd 2012

Solar panels

House Republicans want the CEO of the bankrupt company Abound Solar to testify at a hearing this month, a sign of GOP plans to continue shining the political spotlight on the struggles of the Energy Department’s loan program.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Republicans have asked CEO Craig Witsoe and his predecessor, Tom Tiller, to appear at a July 18 hearing.

The Colorado-based maker of advanced solar panels, which has drawn $70 million in federal loans, filed for bankruptcy Monday and will liquidate.

Trent Waterhouse, an Abound spokesman, noted Witsoe has appeared before the committee in the past and added, “it would be his intention to cooperate again.” Witsoe appeared at a May 16 hearing of the government spending subcommittee, which will also hold the upcoming hearing. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the panel's chairman, sent Witsoe a July 2 letter asking him to appear. Abound is the second Energy Department-backed manufacturer of solar panels to go belly-up. Solyndra, which had won a $535 million loan guarantee in 2009, collapsed last year.  Read more ..


Oil Addiction

Assessing Iraq’s Oil Industry

July 2nd 2012

Oil fields near Ramadi

Contributing 60 percent of GDP, 99 percent of exports, and over 90 percent of government revenue, the oil industry is by far the most vital sector of the Iraqi economy, with proven petroleum reserves of 143 billion barrels and a potential to recover and refine a further 200 billion barrels. The existence of substantial oil reserves in the area of Mesopotamia has been known since at least the end of the nineteenth century, with the monopoly of oil exploration and production originally lying in the hands of the Iraq Petroleum Company (IPC), which was owned by a consortium of foreign oil companies until the Ba’th government completely nationalized the IPC in 1972. It should be emphasized that since that time, the oil industry has remained a state-run enterprise in Iraq.

In the run-up to and in the aftermath of the U.S. invasion in March 2003, a common theory among critics of the war has been that the coalition forces invaded the country to take over its oil reserves. This speculation was fuelled in 2011 by a report in the Independent on UK government memos that had been obtained through a Freedom of Information request. According to this report, in October 2002, the petroleum firms BP, Shell, and BG had a meeting with Baroness Symons, who was Trade Minister in the British government at the time, and agreed to lobby the Bush administration on BP’s behalf. Read more ..


The Race for Smart Grid

Energy-Aware Plug-in 20 Percent Energy Savings in Data Centers

July 1st 2012

Data center computer corridor

The pan-European FIT4Green project, which is focused on finding new energy saving solutions for data centers, is claiming to have discovered solutions that reduce data center energy consumption by more than 20 percent.

The project designed and implemented an energy-aware plug-in on top of the current data centers’ management tools to orchestrate the allocation of ICT resources and turning off unused equipment. Project achieved its goal: 20 percent direct ICT equipment energy savings without compromising compliance with Service Level Agreements (SLA) and Quality of Service (QoS) metrics. The achieved savings in CO2 emissions were on the same scale as in energy. The direct energy savings in the ICT equipment induce also remarkable additional savings due to the reduced needs for cooling, for example. FIT4Green plug-in is designed to be applicable to any data center type. Read more ..


The Race for Natural Gas

Local Leaders Sue for Right to Control Location of Gas Wells

June 29th 2012

Hydrolic Fracking pollution

When Pennsylvania passed a state law that stripped local authority over where potentially hazardous natural gas wells could be drilled, cities and townships decided to take matters into their own hands.

Seven municipalities from across the state have filed a lawsuit in Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court challenging the constitutionality of Act 13, a law passed in February that charges an impact fee for natural gas wells but also overrides local governments’ zoning authority. The case was argued on June 6 and is currently under review.

At first glance, the impact fee of up to $50,000 per well seems to put wealth from drilling on the Marcellus Shale into citizens’ hands. Detractors of Act 13 say, however, that it is a Trojan Horse of unwelcome stipulations. Thanks to the law, doctors can find out what chemicals are used in fracking, the controversial drilling technique that environmentalists say turns their water taps into flamethrowers and poisons the air. Read more ..


The Race for Batteries

The Edison Battery, 21st Century-style

June 27th 2012

Edison's EV 1910
Edison and his EV, 1910 (credit: Edison National Historic Site)

Stanford University scientists have breathed new life into the nickel-iron battery, a rechargeable technology developed by Thomas Edison more than a century ago. Designed in the early 1900s to power electric vehicles, the Edison battery largely went out of favor in the mid-1970s. Today only a handful of companies manufacture nickel-iron batteries, primarily to store surplus electricity from solar panels and wind turbines.

“The Edison battery is very durable, but it has a number of drawbacks,” said Hongjie Dai, a professor of chemistry at Stanford. “A typical battery can take hours to charge, and the rate of discharge is also very slow.”

Now, Dai and his Stanford colleagues have dramatically improved the performance of this century-old technology. The Stanford team has created an ultrafast nickel-iron battery that can be fully charged in about 2 minutes and discharged in less than 30 seconds. The results are published in the June 26 issue of the journal Nature Communications. Read more ..


Oil Addiction

The Lure of Cuban Energy Independence: One Twist After Another

June 26th 2012

Offshore Oil Rig

On May 29 during a press conference presenting Repsol’s four-year strategic plan, the company’s president, Antonio Bufrau, announced that the Spanish oil giant will almost certainly stop prospecting for oil in Cuban territory after a costly well it drilled turned out to be dry. 

This recent disappointment parallels the 2004 finding by Repsol that established that its explorations on the northwest coast of the country would not yield commercially viable quantities of oil.  After spending $150 USD million in explorations throughout the country, Repsol is likely to turn its attention to more profitable fields in countries such as Brazil and Angola.

With the conclusion of the Spanish company’s operations on the island, the Cuban dream for energy independence could vanish, especially considering that the leased platform Scarabeo 9,is the only one allowed to operate offshore in the Cuban Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), an area of 112 square kilometers in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Read more ..


The Race for Solar

MIT Textures Silicon surface with Inverted Pyramids Patterns to Boost Solar Cells‘Output

June 26th 2012

solar power plant

Researchers at the MIT have found a way to reduce the thickness of the silicon used in solar cells by more than 90 percent while still maintaining high efficiency, by etching inverted nanopyramids into the surface.

These tiny indentations, each less than a micrometer across, can trap rays of light as effectively as conventional solid silicon surfaces that are 30 times thicker, according to their findings. The new findings are reported by MIT postdoc Anastassios Mavrokefalos, professor Gang Chen, and three other postdocs and graduate students, all of MIT's Department of Mechanical Engineering. "We see our method as enhancing the performance of thin-film solar cells," Mavrokefalos says, but it would actually work for any silicon cells. "It would enhance the efficiency, no matter what the thickness," he says.

Graduate student Matthew Branham, a co-author of the paper, says, "If you can dramatically cut the amount of silicon (in a solar cell) ... you can potentially make a big difference in the cost of production. The problem is, when you make it very thin, it doesn't absorb light as well." Read more ..


The Race for Solar

Much Slimmer Thin-Film Solar Cells Decrease Manufacturing Costs

June 25th 2012

Solar panels

Researchers from North Carolina State University have found a way to create much slimmer thin-film solar cells without sacrificing the cells’ ability to absorb solar energy. Making the cells thinner should significantly decrease manufacturing costs for the technology.

“We were able to create solar cells using a ‘nanoscale sandwich’ design with an ultra-thin ‘active’ layer,” says Dr. Linyou Cao, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering at NC State and co-author of a paper describing the research.

“For example, we created a solar cell with an active layer of amorphous silicon that is only 70 nanometers (nm) thick. This is a significant improvement, because typical thin-film solar cells currently on the market that also use amorphous silicon have active layers between 300 and 500 nm thick.” The “active” layer in thin-film solar cells is the layer of material that actually absorbs solar energy for conversion into electricity or chemical fuel.

“The technique we’ve developed is very important because it can be generally applied to many other solar cell materials, such as cadmium telluride, copper indium gallium selenide, and organic materials,” Cao adds. Read more ..


The Environment on Edge

BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Exacerbated Existing Environmental Problems in Louisiana Marshes

June 25th 2012

Gulf oil spill

The BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill temporarily worsened existing manmade problems in Louisiana's salt marshes such as erosion, but there may be cause for optimism, according to a new study.

A study by National Academy of Sciences found the 2010 spill killed off salt marsh plants 15 to 30 feet from the shoreline and this plant die off resulted in a more-than-doubled rate of erosion along the marsh edge and subsequent permanent marsh habitat loss. Vegetation farther from shore was relatively untouched by the incoming oil.

"Louisiana is already losing about a football field worth of wetlands every hour, and that was before the spill," said Brian Silliman, a University of Florida biologist and lead author of the study. "When grasses die from heavy oiling, their roots, that hold the marsh sediment together, also often die. By killing grasses on the marsh shoreline, the spill pushed erosion rates on the marsh edge to more than double what they were before. Because Louisiana was already experiencing significant erosive marsh loss due to the channelization of the Mississippi, this is a big example of how multiple human stressors can have additive effects." Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

T. Boone Pickens Hints at Romney Support, Knocks Koch Industries

June 24th 2012

Boone Pickens
Credit: Steve Jurvetson

Billionaire oil-and-gas magnate T. Boone Pickens suggested Sunday that he will support Mitt Romney over President Obama in the 2012 election.

“I will support the one that has the energy plan for America,” Pickens said on Fox News Sunday. “I think that Romney will show up with the plan is what I think. I have seen Obama, I have heard what he says, but he never has a plan, he has never come forward with a plan for energy for America.”

Pickens, who helped bankroll the “Swift Boat” campaign that hurt Sen. John Kerry’s (D-Mass.) White House run in 2004, has said that he has never voted for a Democrat for president.

But in recent years Pickens has de-emphasized politics and worked with Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), to promote the use of natural gas in heavy trucking. Reid has introduced bipartisan legislation that would provide billions of dollars in tax credits to help spur conversion to natural gas-powered trucks, a plan advocates call a way to boost energy security by curbing oil demand in the sector that uses massive amounts of diesel fuel.

Pickens, in the Fox interview, was hardly effusive in his praise for Romney. “Romney has the kind of the skeleton of a plan, but I haven’t heard his plan yet either, but this is an opportunity for us to rebuild our economy off the back of cheap energy,” Pickens said. Neither campaign would likely agree with Pickens' claim that they lack plans. Romney’s energy and environmental platform calls for stripping EPA’s power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions and more broadly rolling back what he calls excessive regulations under the Obama administration. Read more ..


After the BP Spill

BP ‘Sincere’ About Safe Offshore Drilling

June 24th 2012

Burning Oil Platform

A top Interior Department official says regulators are confident that BP is now committed to offshore drilling safety, two years after the catastrophic spill that dumped several million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. “I have a genuine belief that BP is sincere about operating safely and that they have taken steps to reform their culture as well,” said Tommy Beaudreau, director of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), in an interview broadcast Sunday.

The vote of confidence comes several days after BP spent almost $240 million for new federal leases at the June 20 Interior Department auction of tracts in the central Gulf of Mexico.

The British oil giant was among the most aggressive bidders at the first lease sale in the central Gulf since the 2010 spill. BP, in October of 2011, received its first Gulf drilling permit for a new well since the spill. Some lawmakers including Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who is the top Democrat on the Natural Resources Committee, and Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) have argued at various times since the spill that BP should be denied new drilling leases over safety lapses that caused the 2010 disaster (more on that here and here). Read more ..


The Race for Natural Gas

Fracking Opportunities But with Many Challenges

June 23rd 2012

Fracking gas well

We are in the midst of one of the most significant transformations in the energy sector in many decades. This transformation is the result of the development of new recovery techniques, such as hydraulic fracturing (fracking), that have unlocked massive supplies of previously unrecoverable fossil fuels, primarily natural gas and, to a lesser degree, petroleum. Since 2007, natural gas supplies and production in the United States have increased dramatically, and the price of natural gas-powered energy has plummeted. Only a few years ago, many in the United States were concerned about the prospects of dwindling supplies of natural gas in North America; today, we must determine how to manage vast new reserves. The implications of this natural gas revolution will be profound and are only now coming into focus. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

New Romney Swing-State Ads Hit Obama on Energy

June 22nd 2012

Burning Oil Platform

Mitt Romney unveiled new ads Friday that bash the White House refusal to allow oil-and-gas drilling off Virginia’s coast and allege that administration regulations are “strangling our energy industry.”

The new spots, combined with earlier ads pledging to immediately approve the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline, signal that Romney’s campaign hopes to gain traction with repeated attacks on President Obama’s energy record.

The campaign released separate ads Friday in the swing states of Virginia, Ohio, North Carolina and Iowa that tout what Romney would do in his first 100 days if elected. The Virginia and Ohio ads address energy.

“By Day 100, President Romney reverses Obama’s offshore drilling ban, creating thousands of new jobs for Virginians,” the Virginia spot states. Republicans have slammed the Obama administration’s decision not to sell drilling leases off the Atlantic Coast despite the expiration of a leasing moratorium in 2008. Virginia’s two Democratic senators also support drilling off their coast. Read more ..


The Environmental Edge

Interior Allows More Time to Weigh in on 'Fracking' Rule

June 22nd 2012

Hydrolic Fracking pollution

The Interior Department is extending the public comment period on draft rules to regulate oil-and-gas "fracking" by 60 days after being pressured by energy companies that wanted more time to weigh in.

Interior’s Bureau of Land Management had initially required comments by July 10 on the regulations that will govern the oil-and-gas development method called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, on public lands.

An Interior spokesman said the decision was made to give stakeholders more time to provide "important feedback."

“To ensure that the public and key stakeholders, including industry and public health groups, are able to provide important feedback that will help inform any final rule, Interior has decided to extend the public comment period for our commonsense draft rule, which supports the continued development of America’s abundant oil and gas resources on federal and Indian lands by taking steps to ensure public confidence in well stimulation techniques and technologies, including hydraulic fracturing,” said spokesman Adam Fetcher. Read more ..


Oil Addiction

Despite Tapping its Oil Riches, Iraq Remains a Risky Business

June 21st 2012

Kirkuk oil field
Kirkuk oil field

Nine years after the U.S.-led invasion, the Iraqi government says the country is emerging as a global energy giant. A conference in London has brought together leading figures from the government and the oil industry to try to boost investment in Iraq. But, several risks remain - not least the growing instability in some of Iraq's neighbors.

Iraq's government says recent explorations show the country could be sitting on the world's largest oil reserves at up to 350 billion barrels. The figure is unproven, but many agree that Iraq has huge untapped potential. The Iraq Petroleum 2012 Conference in London (June 18-20) brought together Iraqi government and industry figures. Among them was Bayazeed Hassan Abdullah, an Iraqi lawmaker and member of the parliamentary Oil Committee.

"By the end of 2017, Iraq can produce 12 million barrels a day," he said. "And also it has a huge gas (potential) in Iraq because each barrel, when extracted, it is accompanied with 600 cubic feet of gas." Among the speakers at the London conference was Tony Hayward, the former chief executive of BP, who left the company following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. He now runs Genel Energy, the largest oil producer in northern Iraq Read more ..



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