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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

switchgrass

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 ..


Oil Addiction

Iran's Interests In Rising Iraqi Oil Production

May 29th 2012

Iranian oil port

Iraq reported its highest level of oil production and oil exports since 1989 in April. The country exported approximately 2.5 million barrels per day (bpd) and produced approximately 3.03 million bpd. While perhaps inflated, the production figure marks a 7 percent increase from March and is the highest reported rate in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein.

Iran, meanwhile, has seen its production levels slide from 3.4 million bpd to roughly 3.1 million-3.2 million bpd since January and February 2012, according to OPEC monthly reports, reflecting a narrowing gap between the two countries. April's figures point to a broader trend in which Iraq will surpass declining Iranian production and exports. Iran has reasons to be worried about a significant rise in Iraqi production: Tehran does not want Iraqi oil supplies to displace Iran's heavily sanctioned exports, nor does Iran want increased supply to undercut the price of oil and its financial outlook. Furthermore, Tehran does not want Iraq's gradual economic independence to translate into foreign policy independence. However, Iran's deep political, economic and militant links in Iraq -- particularly in the oil-rich, Shiite-dominated south -- will help Tehran manage the near-term politics of Iraq's oil-driven ascent. And illicit trade links pervasive in Iraq's southern border regions could even allow Iran to reap financial rewards from increased Iraqi production. Read more ..


The Race for LEDs

European LED Commercial Lighting Market Value To Increase Seven-Fold

May 28th 2012

LED bulb

According to a report from market researcher LEDinside, the European LED lighting market's rapid growth is attributed to the energy-saving awareness and high electricity prices in Europe, especially the latter. For example, if a 7W LED light bulb (a replacement for 40W incandescent light bulb) is used for eight hours a day for a month (31 days), it can save 8 kWh compared to using an 40W incandescent light bulb. With the electricity prices of EU-27, US$2 can be saved every month by adopting a LED light bulb instead of incandescents.

As for the future of LED, the market research company expressed "high hopes" for LED commercial lighting's prospects. Given the global anti-nuclear trend and no room for the electricity prices to dip, the energy-saving demand will only climb. LEDinside predicts that LED price will see a drastic drop starting from 2012 and expects the value of European LED commercial lighting market to reach US$1.9 billion by 2015, seven times more than that in 2011. Read more ..


The Race for Batteries

'Unzipped' Carbon Nanotubes Could Help Energize Fuel Cells and Batteries, Stanford Scientists Say

May 28th 2012

Click to select Image

Multi-walled carbon nanotubes riddled with defects and impurities on the outside could replace some of the expensive platinum catalysts used in fuel cells and metal-air batteries, according to scientists at Stanford University. Their findings are published in the May 27 online edition of the journal Nature Nanotechnology. "Platinum is very expensive and thus impractical for large-scale commercialization," said Hongjie Dai, a professor of chemistry at Stanford and co-author of the study. "Developing a low-cost alternative has been a major research goal for several decades."

Over the past five years, the price of platinum has ranged from just below $800 to more than $2,200 an ounce. Among the most promising, low-cost alternatives to platinum is the carbon nanotube–a rolled-up sheet of pure carbon, called graphene, that's one-atom thick and more than 10,000 times narrower a human hair. Carbon nanotubes and graphene are excellent conductors of electricity and relatively inexpensive to produce.

For the study, the Stanford team used multi-walled carbon nanotubes consisting of two or three concentric tubes nested together. The scientists showed that shredding the outer wall, while leaving the inner walls intact, enhances catalytic activity in nanotubes, yet does not interfere with their ability to conduct electricity. "A typical carbon nanotube has few defects," said Yanguang Li, a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford and lead author of the study. "But defects are actually important to promote the formation of catalytic sites and to render the nanotube very active for catalytic reactions." Read more ..


Oil Addiction

Cuba's Search for Oil could be a Game-Changer for U.S. Foreign Policy

May 27th 2012

Offshore Oil Rig

The recent discovery of offshore oilfields in the Gulf of Mexico has given Havana new hopes of establishing rich deposits of its own, thereby decreasing Cuba’s present dependence on foreign energy sources.

Fidel Castro began to look for new energy suppliers immediately upon coming to power in 1959, and he soon found one. The Soviet Union was Cuba’s largest supplier of energy resources during the Cold War, but Moscow’s collapse in the early 1990s, coupled with the longstanding American embargo, drove the Cuban economy into a deep depression. Havana, in response, has begun implementing market-based reforms, including intensifying efforts to open the country to tourism, as well as encourage strategic partnerships with other Latin American countries, most notably Venezuela.

In 2011, Cuba produced about 55,000 onshore barrels of oil per day, mostly from the northern province of Matanzas, refining it at the island’s four refineries (in Cabaiguán, Cienfuegos, La Habana, and Santiago de Cuba). Consumer needs, however, call for over 170,000 barrels per day, making the island a net importer of oil. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Rockefeller Questions Cybersecurity of Gas Pipelines

May 27th 2012

Oil Pipes2

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) questioned whether gas pipelines are vulnerable to cyberattacks in a letter on May 24th to the president of a gas trade association. Hackers recently attacked computer networks managing several major gas pipelines, although it is unclear how much damage they caused.

Rockefeller, the chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said the attacks "remind all of us that these threats are real and that we must take steps to protect our country from threats to critical infrastructure." Rockefeller is one of the leading supporters of a Senate bill that would give the Homeland Security Department the authority to force critical infrastructure, such as gas pipelines or electrical grids, to meet minimum cybersecurity standards. Read more ..


The Race for Solar

High-Speed Method to Aid Search for Solar Energy Storage Catalysts

May 26th 2012

solar panels and flowers

Eons ago, nature solved the problem of converting solar energy to fuels by inventing the process of photosynthesis. Plants convert sunlight to chemical energy in the form of biomass, while releasing oxygen as an environmentally benign byproduct. Devising a similar process by which solar energy could be captured and stored for use in vehicles or at night is a major focus of modern solar energy research. "It is widely recognized that solar energy is the most abundant source of energy on the planet," explains University of Wisconsin-Madison chemistry professor Shannon Stahl. "Although solar panels can convert sunlight to electricity, the sun isn't always shining."

Thus, finding an efficient way to store solar energy is a major goal for science and society. Efforts today are focused on electrolysis reactions that use sunlight to convert water, carbon dioxide, or other abundant feedstocks into chemicals that can be stored for use any time. A key stumbling block, however, is finding inexpensive and readily available electrocatalysts that facilitate these solar-driven reactions. Now, that quest for catalysts may become much easier thanks to research led by Stahl and UW-Madison staff scientist James Gerken and their colleagues. Read more ..


The Race for EVs

Better Place Electric Car Network Begins in Israel

May 25th 2012

Better Place EV charging

Shai Agassi hopes Israel is ready to embrace the efficiency and economics of electric cars. His company Better Place rolled out four electric car charging stations in northern Israel. He plans to quickly grow this network so that every place in Israel with be within range of one of their network stations. This is intended to eliminate, the “range anxiety” which frightens some consumers out of considering electric cars. Better Place contracted with French automaker Renault to produce a customized version of their Fluence electric car.

The Fluence will sell for about $32,000– similar to the price of gasoline powered equivalents in Israel. Better Place has already sold 1800 of these vehicles to leasing companies in Israel and hundreds more to individuals. This is a significant, especially compared to the anemic sales of the Nissan LEAF and Chevy Volt in the US. Better Place’s subscription plan includes a home charging station as well as free access to charging stations in their network. The Fluence Z.E. has Quickdrop battery replacement technology which eliminates one of the inconveniences of previous electric cars, recharging took a long time. A ten gallon gasoline tank contains the energy equivalent of more than 300 kilowatt-hours of electricity. Read more ..

The Environmental Edge

Worldwide Carbon Emissions Hit Record High, Energy Agency Says

May 25th 2012

Pollution Made in China

Global carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels hit record levels in 2011, according to the International Energy Agency, which warned Thursday that the window to prevent temperature increases above 2 degrees Celsius is closing fast. The Paris-based IEA released a preliminary estimate Thursday showing that global emissions from burning fossil fuels reached 31.6 gigatons (Gt) last year, a 3.2 percent increase over 2010.

The data show that emissions from China and India jumped, while they fell slightly in the United States and the European Union. The IEA warns that global emissions need to peak soon to stand a decent chance of limiting the eventual average global temperature rise to 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels, the threshold that many scientists and advocates say is needed to avert the most dangerous climatic changes. Under the IEA’s “450 Scenario,” stabilizing atmospheric greenhouse gases at 450 parts per million of CO2-equivalent means that emissions must peak at 32.6 Gt by 2017, which is just 1 Gt ave last year’s levels. Read more ..


The Race for Wind

White House Touts Green Energy Credits for Wind

May 23rd 2012

OK Turbine

State of play: The White House is pulling out all stops—or at least, plenty of stops—to build pressure on Congress to extend expiring tax credits that are vital to the wind energy industry. President Obama will ramp up his call for extension of the production tax credit in a speech at an Iowa turbine blade maker on May 24th.

Ahead of the speech, the administration brought top White House energy aide Heather Zichal before reporters May 22nd to warn that lots of jobs are on the line if Congress doesn’t re-up the credits, which are expiring at year’s end. She noted that the credits have support across the aisle and among business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers.

“[T]oday, the wind industry supports tens of thousands of jobs all across the country. While these are encouraging trends, it also means that thousands of jobs including those in the supply chain are at risk if Congress fails to act in renewing the credits,” she said. New wind-power installations have dropped sharply when the credit has been allowed to lapse (the last time that happened was in 2004). “This year it was a banner year for wind production, but without an extension of the production tax credit, we concede job losses up to 37,000,” Zichal said. Read more ..


The Race for Solar

$109 Billion Solar Plan to Power a Third of Saudi Arabia

May 23rd 2012

Rub al Khali Saudi Empty Quarter

Saudi Arabia has finally noticed it has twenty centuries of solar reserves and has made plans to tap them. For its own use. The Kingdom has just announced a $109 billion plan to create a solar industry that generates a third of the nation’s electricity by 2032, according to Bloomberg Businessweek. Maher al- Odan, a consultant at the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy (KACARE) announced a plan to have 41 GW of solar capacity within two decades.

To put 41 GW in perspective, China is the world’s leader in wind power now, overtaking Germany and the U.S. with about 48 GW of wind. This is a very serious move by a country well able to afford this kind of investment, that till recently has lagged the rest of the MENA region in renewables trailing Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria and the United Arab Emirates. Read more ..


Oil Addiction

Fuel Savings Where the Rubber Meets the Road

May 22nd 2012

Flat Tire

A new study by civil engineers at MIT shows that using stiffer pavements on the nation's roads could reduce vehicle fuel consumption by as much as 3 percent — a savings that could add up to 273 million barrels of crude oil per year, or $15.6 billion at today's oil prices. This would result in an accompanying annual decrease in CO2 emissions of 46.5 million metric tons.

The study, released in a recent peer-reviewed report, is the first to use mathematical modeling rather than roadway experiments to look at the effect of pavement deflection on vehicle fuel consumption across the entire U.S. road network. A paper on this work has also been accepted for publication later this year in the Transportation Research Record.

By modeling the physical forces at work when a rubber tire rolls over pavement, the study's authors, Professor Franz-Josef Ulm and PhD student Mehdi Akbarian, conclude that because of the way energy is dissipated, the maximum deflection of the load is behind the path of travel. This has the effect of making the tires on the vehicle drive continuously up a slight slope, which increases fuel use.

The deflection under the tires is similar to that of beach sand underfoot: With each step, the foot tamps down the sand from heel to toe, requiring the pedestrian to expend more energy than when walking on a hard surface. On the roadways, even a 1 percent increase in aggregate fuel consumption leaves a substantial environmental footprint. Stiffer pavements — which can be achieved by improving the material properties or increasing the thickness of the asphalt layers, switching to a concrete layer or asphalt-concrete composite structures, or changing the thickness or composition of the sublayers of the road — would decrease deflection and reduce that footprint. Read more ..


Coal Reliance

Oxygen-separation Membranes could Aid in CO2 Reduction at Coal-Fired Power plants

May 21st 2012

coal fired power plant

It may seem counterintuitive, but one way to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere may be to produce pure carbon dioxide in powerplants that burn fossil fuels. In this way, greenhouse gases — once isolated within a plant — could be captured and stored in natural reservoirs, deep in the Earth’s crust.

Such “carbon-capture” technology may significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from cheap and plentiful energy sources such as coal and natural gas, and help minimize fossil fuels’ contribution to climate change. But extracting carbon dioxide from the rest of a powerplant’s byproducts is now an expensive process requiring huge amounts of energy, special chemicals and extra hardware.

Now researchers at MIT are evaluating a system that efficiently eliminates nitrogen from the combustion process, delivering a pure stream of carbon dioxide after removing other combustion byproducts such as water and other gases. The centerpiece of the system is a ceramic membrane used to separate oxygen from air. Burning fuels in pure oxygen, as opposed to air — a process known as oxyfuel combustion — can yield a pure stream of carbon dioxide. Read more ..


The Race for Alt Energy

3,000-foot Downdraft Energy Tower Planned by Israeli Professors for Mexico-US Border

May 18th 2012

Artist's conception: Downdraft wind power generator
Illustration of downdraft wind energy tower

Professor Dan Zaslavsky and Dr. Rami Guetta from Technion-Israel Institute of Technology are trying to develop an idea first patented by Phillip R. Carlson in 1975. In what is known as a downdraft energy tower, water is sprayed onto solar heated air at the top of a hollow tower. Now cooled and denser, this air falls rapidly to the bottom of the tower where it drives turbines and generates electricity. Annapolis Maryland-based Clean Wind Energy Tower, Inc. (CWET) has plans to build two such towers near the US-Mexican border in San Luis, Arizona. At 3000 feet, the tower’s height will surpass Burj Khalifa—currently the world's tallest building— but unlike most skyscrapers, this one is designed to give more than it takes, in the form of clean electricity.

At first glance, this idea seems incredibly simple when compared with mile deep oil rigs and nuclear reactors. But there are significant technical challenges to building any 3000 foot high structure, much more so when the tower contains an artificial thundercloud and generates electricity. Evaporatively-cooled downdraft towers such as this require a very dry climate. The deserts of the US southwest, the Mideast and North Africa seem ideal for this, but that cooling water has to come from somewhere. So designers have proposed that saltwater should be used to cool the air. Read more ..


The Race for Solar

New Black Silicon Solar Cells Approach Zero Reflectance

May 18th 2012

Black silicon solar cell from Natcore

Scientists at Natcore Technology, using simple liquid bath processes, have created a black surface on a silicon wafer with an average reflectance in the visible and near-infrared region of the solar spectrum of 0.3 percent. This makes it the "blackest" silicon solar cell surface ever recorded. Compared with standard production cells now available, this represents a tenfold reduction in reflectance over that portion of the spectrum, which is the source of about 80 percent of the usable power that can be drawn from sunlight.

The black colour of black silicon results from the near-total absence of reflected light from the porous wafer surface. With solar cells, "blackness" is highly desirable because it indicates that incident light is being absorbed for conversion to energy rather than being reflected and thus wasted. Quantitatively, reflectance is the proportion of light striking a surface that is reflected from it. Thus a reflectance of 0.3 percent means that only 0.3 percent of incident light is reflected from the solar cell’s surface, while 99.7 percent of incident light is absorbed by the cell and is available for conversion into electrical energy. A tenfold reduction in reflectance would mean that up to 3 percent more usable light would get into the cell, effectively increasing the cell efficiency by that amount. Read more ..


Broken Energy Policy

Road Ahead for Energy Policy Fractured Until "Grand Bargain" is Struck

May 18th 2012

Broken Road

Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) has reached a sobering conclusion: Energy legislation will remain stuck in the political mud until Washington reaches a sweeping – and thus far elusive – financial agreement. “Until we get a clear architecture built dealing with taxes, revenues, entitlements and federal spending, I think any broad policy initiative is not going to move,” said Udall, a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, in an interview held May 17, 2012.

“So that speaks to the need for Bowles-Simpson to be implemented,” added Udall, referring to the broad 2010 plan by the federal commission headed by former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.) and Erksine Bowles, who was President Clinton’s chief of staff. That plan has not gained enough traction on Capitol Hill. Talks between President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to strike a “grand bargain” on spending and tax policy collapsed last year, while bipartisan Senate talks on debt and related matters have also fallen short. Read more ..


The Race for Solar

US Imposes Tariffs on Solar Imports from China

May 18th 2012

solar panels and flowers

The Obama administration will impose hefty tariffs on Chinese solar imports after determining Thursday that the country is flooding the market with underpriced panels. The Commerce Department, in a preliminary determination, ordered U.S. Customs and Border Protection to impose tariffs of between 31 and 250 percent on solar imports from various Chinese companies.

The decision is a victory for solar panel manufacturer SolarWorld Industries America, which, along with several other manufacturers, pressed the administration to impose the tariffs last year. “The verdict is in,” SolarWorld President Gordon Brinser said in a statement. “In addition to its preliminary finding that Chinese solar companies were on the receiving end of at least 10 WTO-illegal subsidies, Commerce has now confirmed that Chinese manufacturers are guilty of illegally dumping solar cells and panels in the U.S. market. We appreciate the Commerce staff’s hard work on this matter.”

The company accused China of violating World Trade Organization rules, making it difficult for U.S. companies to compete. The trade case has divided the U.S. solar industry. Solar generators, which have thrived because of the inexpensive Chinese solar panels, have raised concerns that the tariffs will stunt the industry’s growth. “The global market for solar cells and modules is more competitive than ever, and companies around the world, including SolarWorld, have been forced to cut prices to compete,” Jigar Shah -- president of the Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy, which opposes the tariffs -- said in a statement. “Ultimately, free global competition is good for American consumers and American workers. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

House GOP's Energy Dept. Loan Probe Could Ensnare Two Cabinet Secretaries

May 17th 2012

Click to select Image

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) wants to hear from two Cabinet officials—Commerce Secretary John Bryson and Energy Secretary Steven Chu—as part of an investigation into the Energy Department’s loan program. Republicans alleged at a hearing Wednesday that Bryson, while chairman of BrightSource Energy, planned to lobby the White House for speedy finalization of a $1.6 billion loan guarantee for the Ivanpah solar generation project in California. Issa said on Wednesday that he plans to invite Bryson and Chu to an upcoming hearing on the BrightSource loan. “As a matter of fact, we’re going to ask Secretary Bryson to come to the committee for his direct lobby effort of the White House,” he said.

Committee Republicans released a March 7, 2011, email from BrightSource President John Woolard to Jonathan Silver, then director of the Energy Department’s loan program. Woolard shared with Silver a draft version of a letter from Bryson to then-White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley calling for finalization of the company’s loan guarantee for Ivanpah, a huge solar power plant being constructed in California's Mojave Desert. “I have a fairly significant challenge for the administration that I would like to bring to your attention.”

“The White House needs to focus on finalizing the loan guarantee for what would be the largest solar thermal project in the world,” Bryson said in the draft letter. The letter—which was never sent—notes that the White House “has been a strong supporter of the project,” pointing to a weekend radio address in which the president mentioned Ivanpah. Read more ..


The Race for Hydrogen

Nanosheet Catalyst Discovered to Sustainably Split Hydrogen from Water

May 16th 2012

Hydrogen car Turkey

Hydrogen gas offers one of the most promising sustainable energy alternatives to limited fossil fuels. But traditional methods of producing pure hydrogen face significant challenges in unlocking its full potential, either by releasing harmful carbon dioxide into the atmosphere or requiring rare and expensive chemical elements such as platinum. Now, scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory have developed a new electrocatalyst that addresses one of these problems by generating hydrogen gas from water cleanly and with much more affordable materials. The novel form of catalytic nickel-molybdenum-nitride – described in a paper published online May 8, 2012 in the journal Angewandte Chemie International Edition – surprised scientists with its high-performing nanosheet structure, introducing a new model for effective hydrogen catalysis.

“We wanted to design an optimal catalyst with high activity and low costs that could generate hydrogen as a high-density, clean energy source,” said Brookhaven Lab chemist Kotaro Sasaki, who first conceived the idea for this research. “We discovered this exciting compound that actually outperformed our expectations.”

Goldilocks chemistry

Water provides an ideal source of pure hydrogen – abundant and free of harmful greenhouse gas byproducts. The electrolysis of water, or splitting water (H2O) into oxygen (O2) and hydrogen (H2), requires external electricity and an efficient catalyst to break chemical bonds while shifting around protons and electrons. To justify the effort, the amount of energy put into the reaction must be as small as possible while still exceeding the minimum required by thermodynamics, a figure associated with what is called over-potential. Read more ..


The Racew for Clean Energy

Oxygen-Separation Membranes Could Aid in CO2 Reduction

May 15th 2012

Coal Train

It may seem counterintuitive, but one way to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere may be to produce pure carbon dioxide in powerplants that burn fossil fuels. In this way, greenhouse gases — once isolated within a plant — could be captured and stored in natural reservoirs, deep in Earth's crust. Such "carbon-capture" technology may significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from cheap and plentiful energy sources such as coal and natural gas, and help minimize fossil fuels' contribution to climate change. But extracting carbon dioxide from the rest of a powerplant's byproducts is now an expensive process requiring huge amounts of energy, special chemicals and extra hardware.

Now researchers at MIT are evaluating a system that efficiently eliminates nitrogen from the combustion process, delivering a pure stream of carbon dioxide after removing other combustion byproducts such as water and other gases. The centerpiece of the system is a ceramic membrane used to separate oxygen from air. Burning fuels in pure oxygen, as opposed to air — a process known as oxyfuel combustion — can yield a pure stream of carbon dioxide. The researchers have built a small-scale reactor in their lab to test the membrane technology, and have begun establishing parameters for operating the membranes under the extreme conditions found inside a conventional powerplant.

Ahmed Ghoniem, the Ronald C. Crane Professor of Engineering at MIT, says ceramic-membrane technology may be an inexpensive, energy-saving solution for capturing carbon dioxide. "What we're working on is doing this separation in a very efficient way, and hopefully for the least price," Ghoniem says. "The whole objective behind this technology is to continue to use cheap and available fossil fuels, produce electricity at low price and in a convenient way, but without emitting as much CO2 as we have been." Read more ..


Guatemala on Edge

Disputed Hydro-Electric Project Energizes Civil Unrest in Guatemala

May 15th 2012

Guatemala soldiers on patrol

For over four years the tiny Guatemalan hamlet of Santa Cruz Barillas, Huehuetenango has struggled to halt the construction of hydroelectric projects that would negatively impact their community. Over the course of multiple administrations, the government of the Central American country has historically sided with large foreign corporations, citing major economic benefits as a consequence.

However, the companies have neglected to respect the community’s right to free, prior and informed consent on the plausible impact of the hydroelectric project. In response, the indigenous community of Barillas rose up in protest, escalating on the occasion when towns people took control of a military outpost on May 1st. Consequently, Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina declared that the area would be operating under a “state of siege” for thirty days.

The Conflict Begins

Conflict between a number of Hydroelectric companies and communities of the surrounding region began in 2007, when a different hydroelectric company, Hidralia Energía—a Spanish Corporation—attempted to initiate a project. As a response, 47,000 community members as well as their Community Development Council (COCODE) arose and overwhelmingly voted in opposition to mining activities and other mega projects, such as the hydroelectric plant, in the area, maintaining that it will have harmful consequences on the Cambalan river ecosystem. Read more ..


Edge of Transportation

Connected Vehicle Technologies May Save Energy - And Lives

May 15th 2012

Connected vehicle intersection

The University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute is embarking on the next step in a $22M motor-vehicle safety research project, by equipping vehicles with connected vehicle technologies—devices that enable vehicles to send and receive wireless messages, messages that may someday prevent crashes. The joint effort named “Safety Pilot Model Deployment,” is the largest connected vehicle, street-level pilot project in the western hemisphere. UMTRI and the U.S. Department of Transportation have partnered to examine connected vehicle the technology in the real world use, by actual drivers.

The connected vehicle technology involves both vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure wireless communications that privately and securely transmit and receive vehicle data such as position and speed. The systems can alert drivers to a potential crash situation—such as a nearby vehicle unexpectedly breaking, a sudden lane change, merging traffic, etc. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for people 4 to 35 years old. Crashes are associated with 34,000 fatalities a year, 2.3 million patient emergency room visits, and a cost of $240 billion in terms of medical expenses and work loss. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that connected vehicle technology has the potential to address more than 80 percent of unimpaired driver crashes. Read more ..


The Health Edge

Battery-Related Emergency Department Visits by Children More Than Doubles

May 14th 2012

Battery xray

Every 90 minutes, a child younger than 18 years of age is seen in a US emergency department for a battery-related problem. In today's technology-driven world, batteries, especially button batteries, are everywhere. They power countless gadgets and electronic items that we use every day. While they may seem harmless, button batteries can be dangerous if swallowed by children.

A new study conducted by researchers at the Center for Injury Research and Policy of The Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital found that the annual number of battery-related emergency department visits among children younger than 18 years of age more than doubled over the 20-year study period, jumping from 2,591 emergency department visits in 1990 to 5,525 emergency department visits in 2009. The number of button batteries swallowed by children also doubled during this period. Read more ..


The Energy Edge

Scientists Generate Device Electricity from Pressures

May 13th 2012

HTC thunderbold droid phone

Imagine charging your phone as you walk, thanks to a paper-thin generator embedded in the sole of your shoe. This futuristic scenario is now a little closer to reality. Scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have developed a way to generate power using harmless viruses that convert mechanical energy into electricity.

The scientists tested their approach by creating a generator that produces enough current to operate a small liquid-crystal display. It works by tapping a finger on a postage stamp-sized electrode coated with specially engineered viruses. The viruses convert the force of the tap into an electric charge. Their generator is the first to produce electricity by harnessing the piezoelectric properties of a biological material. Piezoelectricity is the accumulation of a charge in a solid in response to mechanical stress.

The milestone could lead to tiny devices that harvest electrical energy from the vibrations of everyday tasks such as shutting a door or climbing stairs. Read more ..


The Race for Alt Fuel

Gasification Catalyst Brings Alt Fuels Closer

May 12th 2012

India Highway Congestion

We live in a petroleum-based society, and the oil we use comes from plants that were buried eons ago and changed under pressure and high temperatures. As countries across the globe face dwindling oil supplies and the environmental impacts of tapping hard-to-process shale oil, the question arises: is there a greener way to replicate Mother Nature?

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) are looking for ways to thermochemically treat biomass to arrive at an end product that is similar to oil. One way to get there is through a process called gasification. Gasification takes biomass and heats it with steam and air to produce synthesis gas, or syngas. Syngas is a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide - the building blocks of fuels and chemicals. After the syngas goes through another catalytic process, it is possible to make almost any type of related fuel or chemical. Read more ..


The Race for Alt Fuel

Secrets of the First Practical Artificial Leaf

May 11th 2012

Artificial Leaf

A detailed description of development of the first practical artificial leaf—a milestone in the drive for sustainable energy that mimics the process, photosynthesis, that green plants use to convert water and sunlight into energy—appears in the ACS journal Accounts of Chemical Research. The article notes that unlike earlier devices, which used costly ingredients, the new device is made from inexpensive materials and employs low-cost engineering and manufacturing processes.

Daniel G. Nocera points out that the artificial leaf responds to the vision of a famous Italian chemist who, in 1912, predicted that scientists one day would uncover the “guarded secret of plants.” The most important of those, Nocera says, is the process that splits water into hydrogen and oxygen.

The artificial leaf has a sunlight collector sandwiched between two films that generate oxygen and hydrogen gas. When dropped into a jar of water in the sunlight, it bubbles away, releasing hydrogen that can be used in fuel cells to make electricity. These self-contained units hold promise for making fuel for electricity in remote places and the developing world, but designs demonstrated thus far rely on metals like platinum and manufacturing processes that make them cost-prohibitive. Read more ..


After the Spill

Mississippi River Kept Deepwater Horizon Oil Slick Off Shore

May 11th 2012

Gulf oil spill

 When the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded April 20, 2010, residents feared that their Gulf of Mexico shores would be inundated with oil. And while many wetland habitats and wildlife were oiled during the three-month leak, the environmental damage to coastal Louisiana was less than many expected, in part because much of the crude never made it to the coast.

Research by a trio of geoscientists, including the University of Pennsylvania’s Douglas Jerolmack, now offers an explanation for why some of the oil stayed out at sea. Using publicly available datasets, their study reveals that the force of the Mississippi River emptying into the Gulf of Mexico created mounds of freshwater which pushed the oil slick off shore.

“The idea is that, if the water surface is tilting a little bit, then maybe the oil will move downhill, sort of like a ball on a plate. If you tilt the plate, the ball will roll one way and then another,” Jerolmack said. “Surprisingly no one had really investigated the effect that the tilting of the water surface can have on the migration of oil.” The finding could help make better predictions about where oil will make landfall in future oil spills, helping to direct efforts to spare fragile coastlines and wildlife. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

DeMint Claims Obama's a Hypocrite on Energy Tax Breaks

May 10th 2012

Energy Tax

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) hit back at President Obama Thursday for suggesting that Republicans are violating Grover Norquist’s tax pledge by opposing the extension of tax credits for the renewable energy industry.

“What the president is doing is wrong, and again, it is hypocritical,” DeMint said during a conference call with reporters. “He doesn’t go after the green companies that he’s given these big energy subsidies to that end up with credits for years to come.”

DeMint, a favorite of Tea Party activists, joined Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) and Norquist, the powerful president of Americans for Tax Reform, to rebut Obama’s claims and push for the elimination of a slew of energy industry tax credits.

Pompeo and DeMint have introduced legislation in both chambers to eliminate energy tax credits for electric vehicles, alternative fuels, coal, nuclear energy, oil and natural gas. The lawmakers have said the bill would be revenue-neutral because it requires a reduction in the corporate tax rate. Read more ..


Oil Addiction

Activists Should be ‘Willfully Naive’ in Oil Subsidy, Climate Battle

May 10th 2012

Petroleum

A prominent environmentalist is suggesting an outside-the-box political strategy for climate advocates seeking to end oil industry tax breaks and stop the Keystone XL pipeline: naivete. Bill McKibben, founder of the climate group 350.org, stood in front of the Capitol Thursday and warned against “taking it for granted that this is always how it has to be, that realism . . . is just people taking the money and doing the bidding of big industry.”

“We no longer have the margin to allow that to be the way it is,” he said at a press conference. “Now we have actually to be kind of willfully naive and demand that our system work the way that it is supposed to work.” McKibben spoke at the rollout of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) and Rep. Keith Ellison’s (D-Minn.) new bill that would strip tax incentives and other federal financial support from the oil-and-gas and coal industries.

Multiple speakers touting the bill used the event to decry the amount of money sloshing around lobbying and politics, criticizing the 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC that allows unlimited corporate spending in elections. McKibben  has been a key organizer of high-profile protests against the proposed Keystone XL oil sands pipeline. Read more ..


The Obama Edge

Senior Official In Charge Of Energy Investment Agency To Step Down

May 9th 2012

Arun Majumdar
Arun Majumdar

Arun Majumdar, a top Energy Department official, will leave the agency next month, Energy Secretary Steven Chu said Wednesday.

Majumdar will step down as head of the Energy Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) on June 9. He will leave his position as acting under secretary of Energy effective immediately. “Arun has been an invaluable resource to me, to the Department, and to the Administration, and we will miss his leadership,” Chu said in an email to staff Wednesday afternoon. ARPA-E — which was first established in 2007 but didn’t receive funding until 2009 — invests in so-called "high-risk, high-reward" projects to develop "transformational" energy technologies. “Under Arun's leadership, we have seen ARPA-E grow from a fledgling program to become a leading agency for innovation and energy research,” Chu said in the email. ARPA-E, a centerpiece of Chu’s push to spur development of next-wave green-energy technologies, is modeled after the military’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Read more ..


The Race for Lighting

Quantum Dots Brighten the Future of Lighting

May 8th 2012

Click to select Image

With the age of the incandescent light bulb fading rapidly, the holy grail of the lighting industry is to develop a highly efficient form of solid-state lighting that produces high quality white light.

One of the few alternative technologies that produce pure white light is white-light quantum dots. These are ultra-small fluorescent beads of cadmium selenide that can convert the blue light produced by an LED into a warm white light with a spectrum similar to that of incandescent light. (By contrast, compact fluorescent tubes and most white-light LEDs emit a combination of monochromatic colors that simulate white light).

Seven years ago, when white-light quantum dots were discovered accidentally in a Vanderbilt chemistry lab, their efficiency was too low for commercial applications and several experts predicted that it would be impossible to raise it to practical levels. Today, however, Vanderbilt researchers have proven those predictions wrong by reporting that they have successfully boosted the fluorescent efficiency of these nanocrystals from an original level of three percent to as high as 45 percent. Read more ..



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