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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 ..

The Problem with Coal

Environmentalists Decry 'Irresponsible' Lobbying by Coal-Burning Utilities

June 20th 2012

coal fired power plant

The Natural Resources Defense Council condemned eight coal-burning utility companies Tuesday for flouting the Clean Air Act and spending millions to lobby against pollution controls.

In a report, the NRDC detailed how the companies have poured money into blocking or delaying clean air protections. The American public pays the price in the form of illnesses, higher health costs and more than 10,000 deaths annually, the environmental group said. The report was released on the eve of a Senate vote on a resolution by Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., to nullify an Environmental Protection Agency rule aimed at reducing emissions of mercury and other air toxics from power plants.

“The ‘Gang of Eight’ utilities are putting their profits over protecting kids and communities from deadly, dangerous air pollution,” Pete Altman, the NRDC’s climate and clean air campaign director, said during a news teleconference. “The health and welfare of millions of Americans, including children, who are most vulnerable to air pollution, hang in the balance.” Read more ..

Broken Energy Policy

White House Threatens Veto on GOP Energy Bill

June 19th 2012

Koch Pine Bend Refinery

The White House is threatening to veto a broad House energy package that would mandate expanded onshore oil-and-gas leasing, limit environmental reviews of drilling projects and delay several Environmental Protection Agency air pollution rules.

The threat to veto the GOP measure is no surprise, and the bill won’t advance in the Senate after its expected House passage this week anyway. But the threat's arrival a day after the White House similarly waved the veto pen at a Senate GOP plan to scuttle EPA power plant rules underscores deep political divides on energy and environmental policy. Here’s what the White House said about the House energy package:

[T]his bill would favor an arbitrary standard for leasing in open areas over leasing on the basis of greatest resource potential; limit the public's opportunity to engage in decisions about the use of public lands as well as protests of oil and gas leases; raise the potential for costly litigation, protests, and delays; curtail the use of public lands for other uses like hunting, fishing, and recreation; and remove the environmental safeguards that ensure sound Federal leasing decision-making by eliminating appropriate reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act.  Read more ..

The Race for Bio-Fuel

Carbon is the Key for Obtaining More Oil from Algae

June 18th 2012

Brookhaven algae researchers
Researchers (l-r) Jilian Fan, Changcheng Xu, and Chengshi Yan

Overturning two long-held misconceptions about oil production in algae, scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory show that ramping up the microbes’ overall metabolism by feeding them more carbon increases oil production as the organisms continue to grow. The findings — published online in the journal Plant and Cell Physiology  — may point to new ways to turn photosynthetic green algae into tiny “green factories” for producing raw materials for alternative fuels.

“We are interested in algae because they grow very quickly and can efficiently convert carbon dioxide into carbon-chain molecules like starch and oils,” said Brookhaven biologist Changcheng Xu, the paper’s lead author. With eight times the energy density of starch, algal oil in particular could be an ideal raw material for making biodiesel and other renewable fuels.

But there have been some problems turning microscopic algae into oil producing factories. For one thing, when the tiny microbes take in carbon dioxide for photosynthesis, they preferentially convert the carbon into starch rather than oils. “Normally, algae produce very little oil,” Xu said. Before the current research, the only way scientists knew to tip the balance in favor of oil production was to starve the algae of certain key nutrients, like nitrogen. Oil output would increase, but the algae would stop growing — not ideal conditions for continuous production. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Stressful Relations between Obama White House and Oil Industry

June 17th 2012

PBObama contemplative

Royal Dutch Shell’s top U.S. official credits the White House for recognizing the “strategic importance” of oil resources off Alaska's coast, but says that overall, tensions between the industry and the Obama administration persist.

“I think you see a lot and you hear a lot about it being a very stressed relationship, and that’s real. We should just be honest about the fact that that’s real,” said Shell Oil Co. President Marvin Odum in an interview with Platts Energy Week TV broadcast Sunday.

Shell is on the cusp of winning federal drilling permits to begin exploratory drilling in Arctic waters off Alaska's coast this summer.

The Obama administration has already provided a series of needed approvals, and the permits are expected after Interior Department officials complete testing and inspections of infrastructure the company is deploying in the region.

But more broadly oil companies and allied GOP lawmakers have consistently accused the administration of keeping too many areas off-limits to drilling, and issuing regulations that companies allege are burdensome.

Odum, in the interview, said the approvals Shell has won display federal recognition of the strategic value of the Arctic resources.

“I think it is a recognition of how strategically important Alaska is and offshore Alaska is to the U.S. and U.S. energy security,” he said, citing estimates that there could be over 25 billion barrels of oil off Alaska’s coast. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

Organic Solar Cells Make a Leap Forward

June 17th 2012

Click to select Image

Drawn together by the force of nature, but pulled apart by the force of man – it sounds like the setting for a love story, but it is also a basic description of how scientists have begun to make more efficient organic solar cells.

At the atomic level, organic solar cells function like the feuding families in Romeo and Juliet. There’s a strong natural attraction between the positive and negative charges that a photon generates after it strikes the cell, but in order to capture the energy, these charges need to be kept separate.

When these charges are still bound together, they are known to scientists as an exciton. “The real question that this work tries to answer is how to design a material that will make splitting the exciton require less energy,” said senior chemist Lin Chen of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory.

Excitons can be thought of as a sort of “quasiparticle,” Chen said, because they exhibit certain unique behaviors. When the two charged regions of the exciton – the electron and a region known as a “hole” – are close together, they are difficult to pry apart. “The closer the hole and the electron regions are inside an exciton, the more likely they are to recombine without generating electricity,” Chen said. Read more ..

Africa on Edge

Can New Oil States in Africa Avoid the 'Resource Curse?'

June 16th 2012

Oil Refinery

When Equatorial Guinea discovered oil in the 1990s, the country was transformed forever from a sleepy former Spanish colony into an oil state.

The country's Gross Domestic Product growth was a staggering 71 percent in 1997, according to the International Monetary Fund, almost entirely on the back of oil revenues.  By 2009, the country was earning more than $8 billion a year from the commodity. But the wealth has only further enriched and entrenched Equatorial Guinea's authoritarian president Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who's held power for more than 30 years, while doing little to improve the lives of 685,000 citizens. The country ranked 136 out of 187 countries last year on the United Nations Human Development Index. Other oil-producing countries, including Angola, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo,  rank even lower. Read more ..

Environment on Edge

Taking Climate into Consideration Affects Carbon Emissions Rankings

June 15th 2012


The U.S. has long been among the world's worst emitters of carbon dioxide, but when accounting for climate in addition to GDP, it is nowhere near the bottom of that list, according to University of Michigan researchers.

"Increased concern about carbon dioxide emissions has resulted in efforts to create methods for ranking countries according to their emissions," said Michael Sivak, director of Sustainable Worldwide Transportation at the U-M Transportation Research Institute. "Such rankings inform policy decisions on an international scale. The more comprehensive these rankings are, the better our chances of reducing emissions."

Sivak and UMTRI colleague Brandon Schoettle say that some rankings adjust the total amount of emissions to account for the size of each country's population (per capita) and its overall economic output (per GDP). But they believe it's important to go one step further: account for the general heating and cooling demands imposed by the climate of a given country because climate control produces carbon dioxide emissions. Read more ..

Oil Addicition

Diesel Engine Exhaust Earns 'Carcinogenic' Label

June 13th 2012

Click to select Image

Diesel engine exhaust is “carcinogenic to humans,” an international health body declared June 12, bolstering the findings of a controversial study published recently in the United States. After a weeklong meeting of experts in Lyon, France, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the World Health Organization, said there is “sufficient evidence that exposure [to diesel exhaust] is associated with an increased risk for lung cancer.” IARC also found “limited evidence” that diesel is linked to a heightened risk of bladder cancer.

IARC previously had classified the fumes—emitted from trucks, trains, ships, buses, mining equipment and other sources—as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” The IARC finding is consistent with a study of 12,000 U.S. miners published earlier this year by the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. That study, publication of which was held up for years by mining industry litigation, found that the lung cancer risk for non-smoking, heavily exposed miners was seven times higher than it was for those exposed to low doses. Some industry-funded scientists have questioned the study’s conclusions. Read more ..

China on Edge

China Defiant on Iran Oil Purchases

June 12th 2012

Iranian oil tanker

The Chinese government has indicated it has no plans to change its position on oil purchases from Iran, a day after the United States left Beijing off a list of economies that are exempt from U.S. sanctions on Iranian oil imports.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin Tuesday rejected a question about whether China will reduce its oil imports from Iran and said these purchases are necessary.

China needs to import crude oil from Iran, Liu said, because of its economic development, describing it as “a completely legal” matter. China's purchase channels are normal, open and transparent and do not violate United Nations resolutions or harm the interests of any other party, he added.

Beijing's defiant tone on the matter follows U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's announcement on Monday of a list of seven more economies exempt from new American sanctions targeting Iran's oil trade. The countries on the list have proven they had significantly reduced the amount of oil they buy from Iran, said Clinton. Read more ..

Oil Addicition

Falling Oil Prices Prompt Russian Economic Fears

June 11th 2012

Russia oil

Oil prices have shown a steady fall in the last few months, prompting fears that the Russian economy, which relies heavily on energy exports, could suffer. Meanwhile, new sources of oil are coming on line and helping to drive down the price at the pump. Khanty-Mansiysk in Siberia - home to around 70 percent of Russia’s developed oil fields and the source of much of the country’s wealth. Russia produces more than 10 million barrels of oil per day - making it a major energy player.

Stephen Tindale, an energy economist at the Center for European Reform, said, “Almost half of the Russian government’s revenue comes from various taxes on oil and gas exports.” Tindale says that leaves the Russian economy highly vulnerable to a fall in oil prices. “It would mean their budget was well out of balance and so would be very serious, short-term, for Putin and the Russian government," he said. In recent weeks, oil prices have begun falling - from around $125 per barrel in March to around $100 by June. Read more ..

The Problem With Coal

South Africa's Coal-Fired Power Plant Advances

June 11th 2012

Pollution Made in China

While the world tries to go green, South Africa still invests in coal. Last Friday, President Jacob Zuma visited what is soon to become the fourth largest coal power-station in the world. The welcome was warm. Gathered against the gates, hundreds of workers greeted South Africa's President Jacob Zuma as he made his way through the construction site.

In Lephalale, a wind-blown desert area 350 kilometers north of Johannesburg, the huge power station is being built. And on June 8, the South African president came to unveil the first unit which has been completed. In his speech, he reminded the crowd about the purpose of the gigantic project. "These new power stations will provide the electricity capacity needed to grow the economy, attract investment, and create jobs," said Zuma.

The Medupi power station is part of a $41 billion project to build several power plants across the country. The project is run by Eskom, South Africa's electricity company. Since construction started in 2005, 17,000 people worked daily on the Medupi site to build what is seen as part of the solution to South Africa's power woes. Read more ..

After Fukashima

Japanese Wary of Nuclear Energy

June 10th 2012

Click to select Image

After almost a month of Japan making do without nuclear energy, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda may have finally persuaded local communities that it is safe to restart two of the 50 reactors that have been idled in the wake of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Nonetheless, 70% of Japanese say their country should reduce its reliance on nuclear energy, in a poll conducted as the country’s last nuclear power stations went offline. This is a much larger number taking this position than in the weeks following last year’s nuclear meltdown at the quake and tsunami-damaged Fukushima Daiichi power plant.

Increased skepticism about nuclear power is coupled with widespread dissatisfaction with the government’s performance: eight-in-ten say the government has done a poor job dealing with the Fukushima crisis and six-in-ten disapprove of how Tokyo has handled the overall recovery from the earthquake and tsunami. Read more ..

Broken Energy Policy

House Votes to Block Enforcement of Energy Efficient Light Bulb Standards

June 10th 2012

Click to select Image

The House approved two amendments to a 2013 spending bill late night June 5 that would prohibit the government from enforcing federal light bulb standards that Republicans say are too intrusive. In a voice vote, the House approved an amendment to the Energy and Water spending bill for 2013 that would prevent the Department of Energy from spending money to enforce a 2007 law that sets bulb efficiency standards. The law bans the sale of 100 watt incandescent bulbs and will ban the sale of 75 watt traditional bulbs in July 2013.

This year, like last year, the amendment was sponsored by Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas), who said the federal government should not be in the business of requiring certain light bulbs to be used. "We shouldn't be making these decisions for the American people," Burgess said on the House floor. Burgess added that his amendment was approved last year and signed into law by President Obama, after which the House quickly passed his amendment again. The language was subject to a brief debate in which Rep. Pete Visclosky (D-Ind.) said he opposed the language because it could hurt U.S. companies making bulbs that comply with the standards. "The only benefit to this amendment is to allow foreign manufacturers who may not feel a similar obligation to export noncompliant light bulbs that will not only harm the investments made by U.S. companies but place at risk U.S. manufacturing jobs associated with making compliant bulbs," he said. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

New Twist on Old Chemical Process Could Boost Energy Efficiency

June 9th 2012

Click to select Image

Chemical reactions on the surface of metal oxides, such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, are important for applications such as solar cells that convert the sun's energy to electricity. Now University of Washington scientists have found that a previously unappreciated aspect of those reactions could be key in developing more efficient energy systems. Such systems could include, for example, solar cells that would produce more electricity from the sun's rays, or hydrogen fuel cells efficient enough for use in automobiles, said James Mayer, a UW chemistry professor. "As we think about building a better energy future, we have to develop more efficient ways to convert chemical energy into electrical energy and vice versa," said Mayer, the corresponding author of a paper about the discovery in the June 8 edition of Science.

Chemical reactions that change the oxidation state of molecules on the surface of metal oxides historically have been seen as a transfer solely of electrons. The new research shows that, at least in some reactions, the transfer process includes coupled electrons and protons. "Research and manufacturing have grown up around models in which electrons moved but not atoms," Mayer said. The new paper proposes a different model for certain kinds of processes, a perspective that could lead to new avenues of investigation, he said. "In principle this is a path toward more efficient energy utilization." Read more ..

The Enviornmental Edge

Conservative Group's $1M Ad Buy Seeks Votes to Kill Coal Rule

June 8th 2012

Missouri coal-fired power plant

A conservative advocacy group says it’s spending almost $1 million on ads to corral support for an upcoming Senate effort to overturn Environmental Protection Agency rules that require cuts in toxic emissions from coal-fired power plants.

American Commitment is running ads starting Friday in four states taking aim at “Obama’s war on coal” — the phrase critics use to allege the EPA rule and other White House policies create costly burdens that will kill jobs and raise power costs.

 The ads running in Tennessee, West Virginia, New Hampshire and Maine urge senators to support Sen. James Inhofe’s (R-Okla.) resolution to overturn the rules that EPA finalized late last year. A vote on Inhofe’s plan is expected as soon as soon as next week. One of the ads urges Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who opposes outright killing the EPA emissions rules, to change course and support Inhofe’s plan. “Is Senator Lamar Alexander joining Obama’s war on coal? It looks like it,” the ad states, alleging that a vote against Inhofe’s plan is “a vote against Tennessee.” Read more ..

The Race for BioFuel

Environmental Benefit of Biofuels is Overestimated, New Study Reveals

June 8th 2012

Two scientists are challenging the currently accepted norms of biofuel production. A commentary published today in GCB Bioenergy reveals that calculations of greenhouse gas (GHGs) emissions from bioenergy production are neglecting crucial information that has led to the overestimation of the benefits of biofuels compared to fossil fuels.

The critique extends to the Life Cycle Analysis models of bioenergy production. Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) is a technique used to measure and compile all factors relating to the production, usage, and disposal of a fuel or product. The authors conclude that LCAs are overestimating the positive aspects of biofuel use versus fossil fuel use by omitting the emission of CO2 by vehicles that use ethanol and biodiesel even when there is no valid justification. Read more ..

The Race for Energy Storage

‘Nanocable’ Could Be Big Boon For Energy Storage

June 8th 2012

energy storage

Thanks to a little serendipity, researchers at Rice University have created a tiny coaxial cable that is about a thousand times smaller than a human hair and has higher capacitance than previously reported microcapacitors.

The nanocable, which is described this week in Nature Communications, was produced with techniques pioneered in the nascent graphene research field and could be used to build next-generation energy-storage systems. It could also find use in wiring up components of lab-on-a-chip processors, but its discovery is owed partly to chance.

“We didn’t expect to create this when we started,” said study co-author Jun Lou, associate professor of mechanical engineering and materials science at Rice. “At the outset, we were just curious to see what would happen electrically and mechanically if we took small copper wires known as interconnects and covered them with a thin layer of carbon.”
Coaxial nanocable

The Race for Alt Fuel

Solar Technology to Convert Greenhouse Gas into Fuel

June 8th 2012

Brown coal mining AU

An Israeli-Australian venture will use solar technology developed at the Weizmann Institute of Science to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the burning of brown coal. The venture was recently launched in Israel by NewCO2Fuels Ltd., a subsidiary of the Australian company Greenearth Energy Ltd., which has acquired an exclusive worldwide license for the solar technology from Yeda, the Weizmann Institute’s technology transfer arm.

The Weizmann technology makes use of concentrated solar energy to dissociate CO2 to carbon monoxide (CO) and oxygen (O2). This method, developed at the Institute by Prof. Jacob Karni of the Department of Environmental Sciences and Energy Research, also makes it possible to dissociate water (H2O) to hydrogen (H2) and O2 at the same time it dismantles the CO2.

CO, or its mixture with hydrogen, called Syngas, can then be used as gaseous fuel, for example, in power plants, or converted to liquid fuel such as methanol, which can be stored, transported, or used to power motor vehicles. Read more ..

The Race for Thermal

Compact and Flexible Thermal Storage

June 7th 2012

carbon emissions

Bio-gas plants, combined heat and power plants don’t just generate electricity, they also produce heat. However, unlike the electricity they yield, the heat generally dissipates unused. A new technology is set to change this: It will allow the heat to be stored lossfree in the smallest of spaces for lengthy periods of time, for use as and when required. There’s a growing trend towards generating electricity from biogas. But these systems would be considerably more effective if better use could be made of the heat that is produced in the process.

Roughly half of the total energy content of the fuel is released as heat, which typically dissipates into the atmosphere unused. Large quantities of heat likewise escape from combined heat and power plants, not to mention many industrial installations. The root of the problem lies in the fact that the heat is not generally used at the time it is generated–and options for storing it are limited. Traditionally, water tanks have been used for this purpose, but they can only absorb a finite quantity of heat. And of course, the heat can only be stored for short periods of time, because although the water tanks are insulated, the water gradually loses its heat to the surrounding atmosphere. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

Solar Plane Soars from Europe to Africa

June 6th 2012

Solar Impulse

A Swiss adventurer is flying an experimental solar-powered plane from southern Europe toward northern Africa in a bid to complete the world's first inter-continental flight by an aircraft without using fuel. Bertrand Piccard took off from the Spanish capital Madrid, early Tuesday aboard the Solar Impulse plane on an 830 kilometer journey to the Moroccan capital, Rabat. Several hours later he was nearing Spain's southern coast while cruising at an altitude of 3,600 meters.

After crossing the Strait of Gibraltar, the plane is due to enter Moroccan airspace over Tangiers and land at Rabat's airport after 9 pm local time (2200 UTC). Solar Impulse has a huge 63-meter wingspan covered by 12,000 solar cells connected to a set of electrical motors that power the single-pilot aircraft. Despite its size, the plane weighs only about as much as an average family car. Speaking as he flew over Spain, Piccard said his goal is to try to change public perceptions about renewable energy sources, showing that they can be used not just for airplanes, but also on the ground to power cars and home appliances such as air conditioners. Read more ..

Race for Biofuel

Energy-dense Biofuel from Cellulose Close to Being Economical

June 5th 2012

Click to select Image

A new Purdue University-developed process for creating biofuels has shown potential to be cost-effective for production scale, opening the door for moving beyond the laboratory setting.

A Purdue economic analysis shows that the cost of the thermo-chemical H2Bioil method is competitive when crude oil is about $100 per barrel when using certain energy methods to create hydrogen needed for the process. If a federal carbon tax were implemented, the biofuel would become even more economical.

H2Bioil is created when biomass, such as switchgrass or corn stover, is heated rapidly to about 500 degrees Celcius in the presence of pressurized hydrogen. Resulting gases are passed over catalysts, causing reactions that separate oxygen from carbon molecules, making the carbon molecules high in energy content, similar to gasoline molecules. Read more ..

Argentina on Edge

The Logic of Argentina's Expropriation of YPF Petroleum Business

June 4th 2012

Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner

On April 16th, 2012, Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner expropriated the Argentinian oil subsidiary Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales (YPF) from the Spanish conglomerate Repsol. According to Fernández, her executive order to seize 51 percent of Repsol’s stake in YPF was prompted by what she and Argentine state officials deemed an inexcusable “underinvestment” in the development of newfound oil and natural gas deposits in the nation’s western regions. Instantly popular among Argentinians, the takeover was decried as unprovoked and nearsighted by Repsol’s board of directors and much of the international business community.

Nevertheless, for all the attention initially enjoyed by the Fernández administration, the Western world seems to have rapidly lost interest. Indeed, legislation finalizing the nationalization sailed through the Argentine National Congress essentially unopposed, and with virtually no coverage from Western media outlets. Read more ..

Edge Of Climate Change

Both Nuclear and Coal-Fired Power Plants show Vulnerability to Climate Change

June 3rd 2012

Smokestack pollution

Warmer water and reduced river flows in the United States and Europe in recent years have led to reduced production, or temporary shutdown, of several thermoelectric power plants. For instance, the Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant in Alabama had to shut down more than once last summer because the Tennessee River's water was too warm to use it for cooling.

A study by European and University of Washington scientists published in Nature Climate Change projects that in the next 50 years warmer water and lower flows will lead to more such power disruptions. The authors predict that thermoelectric power generating capacity from 2031 to 2060 will decrease by between 4 and 16 percent in the U.S. and 6 to 19 percent in Europe due to lack of cooling water. The likelihood of extreme drops in power generation—complete or almost-total shutdowns—is projected to almost triple.

"This study suggests that our reliance on thermal cooling is something that we're going to have to revisit," said co-author Dennis Lettenmaier, a UW professor of civil and environmental engineering.

Thermoelectric plants, which use nuclear or fossil fuels to heat water into steam that turns a turbine, supply more than 90 percent of U.S. electricity and account for 40 percent of the nation's freshwater usage. In Europe, these plants supply three-quarters of the electricity and account for about half of the freshwater use. Read more ..

Nigeria on Edge

OccupyNigeria--Nigeria's Petroleum By-Product

June 3rd 2012

Nigeria gas station

Attempts to fully deregulate the subsidized petroleum industry failed in January as a result of mass nationwide protests, with demonstrations, marchers, and strikes under the hash tag #OccupyNigeria, which begun over the hike in the price of fuel and the removal of the state subsidy at the beginning of January 2012. Protesters took issue with the subsidy removal that more than doubled the price of petroleum and caused the cost of basic goods to skyrocket, yet was promoted as a necessary austerity measure for the country. The government produced estimates that 8 billion USD would be saved in the budget by removing the subsidy.

All the while high ranking state officials continued their exorbitant expenditures, including the presidency, members of the national assembly, and cabinet. The expenditures were for salaries, allowances, and other budgeted items that were clearly not in the spirit of saving given that the state indicated in needed to save and cut costs. The prevailing view was that the president was out of touch and did not care about the plight of average Nigerians.

To defend the programme the administration released statements that the 8 billion would be used to invest in health care, infrastructure, education, improving the downstream refining capacity to reduce oil imports that would all help ordinary Nigerians. Members of the cabinet came forward to defend the administration and support the programme. Read more ..

The Edge of Architecture

Bauhaus Design goes Underground at Israeli Train Station

June 2nd 2012

Israeli Underground station

Galmidi Yitzhar and the industrial designer Yaksein Eliran won first place in a design competition for a new underground train station in one of Israel’s most vibrant cities – Tel Aviv. Borrowing inspiration from some of the city’s most iconic features, such as its ubiquitous collection of Bauhaus architecture and the Ficus Microcarpa trees planted throughout in order to provide shade and shelter, the pair have designed a subterranean space that swims in natural light.

Combining the color of Bauhaus homes (white!) and the ambience it creates on the street with the fluid, arboreal form of the Ficus Microcarpa, Yitzhar and Eliran’s winning train station design is far more aesthetically pleasing than any existing station. Steel trunks are rooted to the floor while branches bend up under a transparent glass shield that permits natural light. Several of these line the station, which is enclosed by Bauhaus-styled edges. Read more ..

Inside Nigeria

Concern grows in Oil-Rich Nigeria over Political Support for Boko Haram terrorists

June 2nd 2012

Nigeria joint military task force

Northern leaders in Nigeria may indeed be sponsoring the Islamic extremist group Boko Haram for political reasons. Recently the national chairman of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Bamanga Tukur a prominent northern leader, said that “Boko Haram is fighting for justice” in a meeting with the Governor and party officials from Gombe State.

The statement has already enraged the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) prompting CAN President, Pastor Ayo Oritesejafor to call for the ruling party’s national chairman to explain himself. Some say that Tukur may have indeed been referring to the youth in the north of the country that have been recruited by the group and not the group or its leaders, but his soft stance against the sect echoes many northern leaders who have been making calls for dialogue and negotiations between the group and the government to address the group’s “grievances”.

What is clear from the exchange between Christian Leaders and their northern Muslim counterparts is that there is a wide difference of opinion on the group and how it should be handled. The claims that the group is fighting injustice is problematic since many of the same injustices are prevalent throughout the country. Further, prominently among the list of past corrupt officials are Muslim political elite from the nations north Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Arctic Drilling a Political Win for Obama

June 1st 2012

NASA ICESCAPE Arctic melt pools

The Obama administration’s expected approval of Royal Dutch Shell's plan to drill in Arctic waters off Alaska’s coast this summer is a political plus for President Obama, according to Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), an advocate of the project.

“I think what he is showing is — and [Interior Secretary Ken] Salazar and the whole team and what we have been doing with them — is [saying] ‘look, let’s manage it right, let’s manage it carefully, and at the end of the day let’s also constantly review what we are doing,’ ” Begich said in the Capitol Friday.

Interior is on the cusp of providing Shell its drilling permits for the long-planned, long-delayed project to drill exploratory wells in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas. The department is vowing robust safety oversight — it plans to have inspectors on the rigs around-the-clock — and the permits will follow testing of Shell’s spill containment equipment and other inspections of the company’s infrastructure.  Read more ..

The Race for Biofuel

Greener ties for Jordan and Israel

June 1st 2012


In wealthy Western countries, renewable energy developments are a source of progress, pride and smart business. For Israel and Jordan, two Middle Eastern countries severely lacking in water and energy resources, renewable energy is a matter of survival.

That’s why there’s been a new green twist to the Trilateral Industrial Development Foundation (TRIDE), founded in 1996 as a pilot project under the wing of the BIRD Foundation—the Israel-US Binational Industrial Research and Development Foundation—to create joint ventures between Israeli, Jordanian and American companies.

The latest iteration of the cooperative project will support water, agritech and renewable energy companies in the two neighboring nations, which have a peace treaty but only limited dealings.

BIRD executive director Eitan Yudilevich explains that Jordan is supported heavily by USAID because US State Department considers it important to contribute to a stable and prospering Jordan for the sake of peace and economic development. TRIDE, run out of BIRD’s Israel office, gives matching grants of up to half a million dollars to three partners with mutual goals. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Oil-Rich Nigeria Soon to Become Africa's Leading Economy

May 31st 2012

Nigeria Oil

Nigeria is currently on record as Africa’s second-largest economy, and one of the fastest growing economies on the continent and in the world. However, it is only a matter of a year or two before Nigeria becomes Africa’s largest economy. Presently it is roughly equal to South Africa.

Nigeria is expected to rebase its economy in 2012 in order to provide an accurate measure of its actual size. When neighbouring Ghana rebased its economy in 2010 it was found to be 60% larger than had previously estimated jumping from USD 18 to USD 31 billion. Nigeria is expected to have a similar jump once the rebase is completed this year. Rebasing adds different weighting on sectors that have changed over the last 30 years.

In Nigeria the telecommunications industry, banking industry, and real estate and infrastructure sectors will receive different weights due to the growth in these sectors over the last few decades. According to Renaissance Capital, Nigeria could eclipse South Africa by 2014 and is presently likely to be roughly equal in size already at over USD 400 billion.

According to projections by Price Waterhouse Coopers, Nigeria not only will be the largest African Economy in the next few years but will also eclipse major European Economies like Italy and Spain by 2050 and become one of the top 20 largest economies in the world. Read more ..

The Race for Wind

Obama Administration Hits Chinese Wind Energy Tower Exports with New Tariffs

May 30th 2012

Wind Farm

The Commerce Department made a preliminary decision Wednesday to impose new tariffs on imports of wind energy towers from China, the latest volley in an escalating trade war between the two superpowers over expanding green technology markets.

The move by Commerce also reflects a show of strength by the Obama administration against China at a time when presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney has criticized the administration for going soft.

Commerce’s International Trade Administration — responding to a petition from U.S. wind tower manufacturers — said a group of Chinese producers and exporters has received production subsidies ranging from roughly 14 to 26 percent that warrant new U.S. tariffs of the same extent.The preliminary subsidy determination covers utility-scale steel towers that support wind turbines with electric power generation capacity greater than 100 kilowatts.

“As a result of the preliminary affirmative determination, Commerce will instruct U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to collect a cash deposit based on these preliminary rates,” Commerce said in a summary of the decision to impose preliminary tariffs. Commerce plans to make a final decision in August. The United States imported an estimated $222 million worth of the wind towers from China last year, according to Commerce.  Read more ..

The Enviornmental Edge

Creating Value from Society's Waste: The Viennese Method

May 29th 2012

Detroit Trash-to-Power Plant

Trash. Just the sound of the word brings to mind rotten food, mountainous landfills, and general noxiousness. But what if a city turned this image on its head? What if trash became a city resource? What if landfills became a relic of the past?

This is the exact effort underway in Vienna, Austria. The oft-cited smartest city on the planet utilizes an enviable mix of capital investments, innovative policymaking, and public information campaigning to transform municipal waste into a source of city pride and a vital tool to meet their sustainability goals.

To tell this story of transition, let’s start at one of Vienna’s three world class incineration plants. Pfaffenau operates six miles southeast of the city center, and is a genuine tourist attraction. The sleek, modern, and very orange design is certainly a major driver of visitor interest--it's unusual to see a waste facility look so hip. But the plant also drives traffic due to what goes on inside.

Pfaffenau doesn’t just burn trash--it saves space and creates energy for the city. Every day up to 200 truckloads deliver 770 tons of non-recyclable waste to the facility’s Death Star-looking trash pit (see photos). The trash then moves through a maze-like process of sorting, burning, and other chemical reactions, leaving the plant with a mix of recyclable metal scraps and a ton of dust. In the end, Pfaffenau produces enough heat to warm 50,000 homes and enough electricity to power another 25,000. Numbers like that suggest it’s more appropriate to call Pfaffenau a power plant. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

Why Solar Cookers Should Spread Like Satellites in Morocco

May 29th 2012

solar cooker

Women in rural Morocco are often responsible for the grueling task of trekking miles to collect fuel for cooking, which requires not only energy but also time that might have been used developing or applying other skills. Lacking access to natural gas, these villagers have had no choice but to burn biomass to produce the family’s meals–a situation that also has grave environmental consequences.

But a new initiative brought to our attention by Hicham Semlali has already profoundly improved the quality of life for residents of Ouffi Ait–a small, sunny village southeast of Marrakech. The Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECI) introduced 150 new solar-cookers, which allow women to spend time on cottage industries and give the surrounding forests a much-needed break.

Spreading solar like satellites

Working with the Foreign Association XXI and ADMR from Morocco, AECI targeted women as protagonists of a cleaner, more equitable future in their Morocco Solar Cookers for Rural Families project. Aimed at overcoming poverty and exclusion, the initiative promotes using technology and renewable energy to strengthen the social and economic fabric of rural society and contribute to the successful management of natural capital and environmental preservation. Read more ..

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