The Race for Batteries
|Mark Shwartz||May 28th 2012|
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 ..
|Elena Maffei||May 27th 2012|
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
|Brendan Sasso||May 27th 2012|
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
|Shannon Stahl||May 26th 2012|
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
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
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
|Ben Geman and Andrew Restuccia||May 23rd 2012|
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
|Susan Kraemer||May 23rd 2012|
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 ..
|Denise Brehm||May 22nd 2012|
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
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 ..
|Jennifer Chu||May 21st 2012|
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
|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
|Julien Happich||May 18th 2012|
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
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
|Andrew Restuccia||May 18th 2012|
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
|Andrew Restuccia||May 17th 2012|
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
|By Justin Eure||May 16th 2012|
Brookhaven National Laboratory News
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.”
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
|Sarah McDonnell||May 15th 2012|
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
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
|Gabriela Acosta||May 15th 2012|
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
|Diego Dighero||May 15th 2012|
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
Nationwide Children's Hospital
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
DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
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
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
|Michael Bernstein||May 11th 2012|
American Chemical Society
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
|Katherine Unger Baillie||May 11th 2012|
Universiy of Pennsylvania
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
|Andrew Restuccia||May 10th 2012|
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 ..
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
|Andrew Restuccia||May 9th 2012|
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
|David Salisbury ||May 8th 2012|
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 ..
The Race for Alt Fuel
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.
But copying Mother Nature is rarely easy. During the syngas process, tars and other undesired components are also created. These tars can foul the refining process and must be removed from the syngas before the fuel-synthesis step. NREL has patented a fluidizable tar reforming catalyst that converts tars into additional syngas to make thermochemically derived biomass syngas ready for fuel synthesis. Read more ..
The Race for Batteries
City College of New York
The CUNY Energy Institute, which has been developing innovative low-cost batteries that are safe, non-toxic, and reliable with fast discharge rates and high energy densities, announced that it has built an operating prototype zinc anode battery system. The Institute said large-scale commercialization of the battery would start later this year.
Zinc anode batteries offer an environmentally friendlier and less costly alternative to nickel cadmium batteries. In the longer term, they also could replace lead-acid batteries at the lower cost end of the market. However, the challenge of dendrite formation associated with zinc had to be addressed. Dendrites are crystalline structures that cause batteries to short out.
To prevent dendrite build-up, CUNY researchers developed a flow-assisted zinc anode battery with a sophisticated advanced battery management system (BMS) that controls the charge/discharge protocol. To demonstrate the new technology and its applications, which range from peak electricity demand reduction to grid-scale energy storage, they have assembled a 36 kilowatt-hour rechargeable battery system.
The system, housed in the basement of Steinman Hall on The City College of New York campus, consists of 36 individual one kWh nickel-zinc flow-assisted cells strung together and operated by the BMS. In peak electricity demand reduction, batteries charge during low usage periods, i.e. overnight, and discharge during peak-demand periods when surcharges for power usage are very high. Read more ..
The Race for Alt Energy
Research News May 2012
Sensors, radio transmitters and GPS modules all feature low power consumption. All it takes is a few milliwatts to run them. Energy from the environment – from sources such as light or vibrations – may be enough to meet these requirements. A new measurement device can determine whether or not the energy potential is high enough.
The freight train races through the landscape at high speed, the train cars clattering along the tracks. The cars are rudely shaken, back and forth. The rougher the tracks, the more severe the shaking. This vibration delivers enough energy to charge small electronic equipment: this is how the sensors that monitor temperatures in refrigerator cars, or GPS receivers, can receive the current they need to run.
Experts refer to this underlying technology as “energy harvesting“, where energy is derived from everyday sources such as temperature or pressure differences, air currents, mechanical movements or vibrations. But is this really enough to supply electronic microsystems? The answer is provided by a data logger that is also installed on board, a product by the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits. This compact system analyzes and characterizes the potential of usable energy – in this case, the oscillations created during the ride. It measures key parameters of the source of the vibrations, such as the amplitude and the frequency spectrum of acceleration. “We can use the data collected to design vibration converters, such as the piezoelectric generators, to feed the sensors, radio transmission receivers, tracking systems and other low-power-consuming devices with enough energy to power them,“ explains the IIS group manager and engineer, Dr. Peter Spies. Read more ..
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka is backing construction of the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline in comments that downplay divisions among unions in the labor federation over the controversial project. “They are not divided on the pipeline itself,” Trumka said in a C-SPAN interview when asked about differences among unions over Keystone. “They are divided on how the pipeline is done.”
“I think we are all unanimous by saying we should build the pipeline, but we have to do it consistent with all environmental standards, and I think we can work that out, I really do, and we are for that happening,” Trumka said in the interview that aired May 6.
The comments could provide a political lift to advocates of the proposed pipeline to bring Canadian oil sands to Gulf Coast refineries, a project that has increasingly been at the center for election-year political battles over energy. Capitol Hill Republicans – and some Democrats – are pushing for immediate approval of the TransCanada Corp.’s project, and Republican leaders have hammered President Obama because he has not granted a permit for the pipeline. Obama, who has won the AFL-CIO’s endorsement, has said more review is needed but has not taken a position on the cross-border pipeline itself. Read more ..
The Race for EVs
|Christoph Hammerschmidt||May 7th 2012|
While electric vehicles, driven by energy from renewable sources, could be an attractive option for urban mobility, e-cars derived from conventional cars are too heavy and too expensive to gain the acceptance of the masses. Light cars, in contrast, do not reach an acceptable level of safety. The Technical University of Munich has now launched a research project aiming at designing a vehicle that is light, safe and at the same time easy to manufacture. In the "Visio M" project, the researchers are working side by side with experienced professional car designers - the research consortium is led by carmaker BMW. The specifications for the concept car to be developed are: 15 kW engine power and maximum weight excluding battery of 400kg. In addition, the vehicle will have to meet the requirements of the car approval class L7e. In the scope of the project, the researchers will use the MUTE electric concept vehicle which has been developed by the Munich Technical University in an earlier project, in order to explore new technologies with respect to vehicle safety, drive, energy storage and HMI concept. The focus of the research activities is on the safety design: Despite its very low weight, the goal of the Visio M concept is a safety level on par with today's conventional cars. Read more ..
|Daniel Schearf ||May 5th 2012|
In Burma, workers are building one of the most lucrative foreign-funded development projects in the country’s history. Twin oil and gas pipelines will stretch from Burma’s west coast to its northeast border and into energy-hungry China. They are expected to earn Burma about $1 billion per year, but, not everyone is a supporter.
China is Burma’s biggest investor and here in the country’s second largest city residents say an influx of Chinese immigrants now dominate the busy downtown. Former Mandalay Trader’s Association general secretary Sai Kyaw Zaw, says that Burmese businesses can no longer compete. “Seventy-five percent of businesses here are invested by Chinese either legally and illegally. We can see it clearly after Mandalay was razed by heavy fire in 1985," Sai Kyaw Zaw explained. "Most Chinese could re-build their houses immediately with support from mainland China. After that, all of downtown Mandalay became China Town.” Read more ..
|Andrew Restuccia and Ben Geman||May 3rd 2012|
Two of the biggest energy challenges facing President Obama are expected to come careening into the spotlight in the coming days. Keystone XL pipeline developer TransCanada Corp. is preparing to reapply for a permit to carry Canadian oil sands into the United States. And the Interior Department is slated to unveil proposed “fracking” regulations. The Washington Post broke the news earlier Thursday that TransCanada will reapply for the cross-border permit as soon as Friday. Terry Cunha, a TransCanada spokesman, would not give specific details on timing, but said the company planned to submit its application “shortly.”
The move is certain to escalate the political debate in Washington over the pipeline, which would carry oil sands from Alberta, Canada, to refineries on the Gulf Coast. The GOP has pummeled Obama over Keystone for months, arguing he is standing in the way of energy development. Obama rejected the cross-border permit for the project in January. But he said the decision was based not on the merits of the pipeline, but on a GOP-backed deadline to weigh in on the project included in legislation to extend the payroll tax cut. Read more ..
The Race for Solar
Heliatek GmbH is claiming a new world record for organic photovoltaic (OPV) cells with cell efficiency on 1.1 cm2. Heliatek commissioned SGS, an accredited and independent testing facility, to measure the efficiency of the company's latest OPV cells.
The key to Heliatek's success is the family of small organic molecules - oligomers - developed and synthesized at its own lab in Ulm, Germany. Dr. Martin Pfeiffer, co-founder and CTO of Heliatek, explained: "Heliatek is the only solar company in the world that uses the deposition of small organic molecules in a low temperature, roll-to-roll vacuum process. Our solar tandem cells are made of nanometers thin layers of high purity and uniformity. This enables us to literally engineer the cell architecture to systematically improve efficiency and lifetime."
The measurement campaign of SGS included efficiency measurements under standard testing conditions (STC) of the solar industry as well as performance measurements at low light and high temperatures of up to 80°C. The test results not only set a new world record for OPV with cell efficiency, but the additional measurements highlight the superior performance of Heliatek's OPV cells under real life conditions. Read more ..
|Michael Bernstein||May 2nd 2012|
American Chemical Society
Scientists are reporting development and successful testing of the first self-propelled "microsubmarines" designed to pick up droplets of oil from contaminated waters and transport them to collection facilities. The report concludes that these tiny machines could play an important role in cleaning up oil spills, like the 2010 Deepwater Horizon incident in the Gulf of Mexico.
Joseph Wang and colleagues explain that different versions of microengines have been developed, including devices that could transport medications through the bloodstream to diseased parts of the body. But no one has ever shown that these devices — which are about 10 times smaller than the width of a human hair — could help clean up oil spills. There is an urgent need for better ways of separating oil from water in the oceans and inside factories to avoid releasing oil-contaminated water to the environment. Wang's team developed so-called microsubmarines, which require very little fuel and move ultrafast, to see whether these small engines could help clean up oil. Read more ..
The Automotive Edge
|Jennifer Judge Hensel||May 2nd 2012|
|University of Michigan concept vehicle|
Can a car really get 3,300 miles to the gallon? The University of Michigan's Supermileage Team is on its way to proving it can—with a lawnmower engine. "We are taking something that is in your backyard and turning it into something that's sleek, modern and high-performance," said mechanical engineering senior Laura Pillari, project manager and co-founder of the team.
The new student team will compete in its first competition this summer, the SAE International Supermileage Challenge, in Marshall, Mich. The competition challenges student teams to design and construct a single-person, fuel-efficient vehicle with a small four-stroke engine. The team's goal this year is to beat the North American record of 3,169 miles per gallon, and to better it by reaching 3,300 mpg. "Fuel efficiency is one of those issues prevalent in society today," said chief engineer and co-founder Brett Merkel, a senior in mechanical engineering. "The technology we're coming up with can have far-reaching effects, and be implemented in just a few years." In fact, that process has already begun. The fuel injection system, designed by mechanical engineering student and team member Lihang Nong for the team's vehicle, is now the focus of a start-up called PicoSpray. Read more ..
The Race for Wind
|Cheryl Dybas||April 30th 2012|
National Science Foundation
Wind turbines interact with atmospheric boundary layer near the surface. Large wind farms in certain areas in the United States appear to affect local land surface temperatures. The study, led by Liming Zhou, an atmospheric scientist at the State University of New York- (SUNY) Albany, provides insights about the possible effects of wind farms. The results could be important for developing efficient adaptation and management strategies to ensure long-term sustainability of wind power. "This study indicates that land surface temperatures have warmed in the vicinity of large wind farms in west-central Texas, especially at night," says Anjuli Bamzai, program director in the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Division of Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences, which funded the research. "The observations and analyses are for a relatively short period, but raise important issues that deserve attention as we move toward an era of rapid growth in wind farms in our quest for alternate energy sources." Read more ..
The Race for Hi-Speed Rail
|Sabina Castelfranco||April 29th 2012|
|Italian High-Speed Rail|
Italy will launch Europe's first private high-speed train service Saturday, as the country moves towards a more liberal economy. The move could lead other European countries to follow Italy's example of privatizing rail transport and creating new jobs and competition in the marketplace.
The new bullet-shaped "Italo" trains can travel at a top speed of 360 kilometers per hour. They are run by NTV, a company headed by Ferrari boss Luca di Montezemolo, which invested $1.3 billion. He says the real achievement was having brought about liberalization in Italian rail transportation. "At last, Italian citizens and foreign travelers will be able to choose, and one of the longest monopolies in our country has come to an end," said Montezemolo. Montezemolo says passengers would benefit from the competition. He adds that the aim is to take a quarter of the market from the state rail network Trenitalia, the biggest employer in the country, by 2014. Read more ..
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