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Oil Addicition

Falling Oil Prices Prompt Russian Economic Fears

June 11th 2012

Russia oil

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

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


The Problem With Coal

South Africa's Coal-Fired Power Plant Advances

June 11th 2012

Pollution Made in China

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

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

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

After Fukashima

Japanese Wary of Nuclear Energy

June 10th 2012

Click to select Image

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

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


Broken Energy Policy

House Votes to Block Enforcement of Energy Efficient Light Bulb Standards

June 10th 2012

Click to select Image

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

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


The Race for Solar

New Twist on Old Chemical Process Could Boost Energy Efficiency

June 9th 2012

Click to select Image

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

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


The Enviornmental Edge

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

June 8th 2012

Missouri coal-fired power plant

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

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

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


The Race for BioFuel

Environmental Benefit of Biofuels is Overestimated, New Study Reveals

June 8th 2012

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

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


The Race for Energy Storage

‘Nanocable’ Could Be Big Boon For Energy Storage

June 8th 2012

energy storage

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

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

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


The Race for Alt Fuel

Solar Technology to Convert Greenhouse Gas into Fuel

June 8th 2012

Brown coal mining AU

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

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

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


The Race for Thermal

Compact and Flexible Thermal Storage

June 7th 2012

carbon emissions

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

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


The Race for Solar

Solar Plane Soars from Europe to Africa

June 6th 2012

Solar Impulse

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

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


Race for Biofuel

Energy-dense Biofuel from Cellulose Close to Being Economical

June 5th 2012

Click to select Image

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

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

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


Argentina on Edge

The Logic of Argentina's Expropriation of YPF Petroleum Business

June 4th 2012

Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner

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

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


Edge Of Climate Change

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

June 3rd 2012

Smokestack pollution

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

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

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

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


Nigeria on Edge

OccupyNigeria--Nigeria's Petroleum By-Product

June 3rd 2012

Nigeria gas station

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

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

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


The Edge of Architecture

Bauhaus Design goes Underground at Israeli Train Station

June 2nd 2012

Israeli Underground station

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

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


Inside Nigeria

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

June 2nd 2012

Nigeria joint military task force

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

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

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


Oil Addiction

Arctic Drilling a Political Win for Obama

June 1st 2012

NASA ICESCAPE Arctic melt pools

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

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

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


The Race for Biofuel

Greener ties for Jordan and Israel

June 1st 2012

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 ..



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