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The Race for Hydrogen

Nanosheet Catalyst Discovered to Sustainably Split Hydrogen from Water

May 16th 2012

Hydrogen car Turkey

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

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

Goldilocks chemistry

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


The Racew for Clean Energy

Oxygen-Separation Membranes Could Aid in CO2 Reduction

May 15th 2012

Coal Train

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

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

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


Guatemala on Edge

Disputed Hydro-Electric Project Energizes Civil Unrest in Guatemala

May 15th 2012

Guatemala soldiers on patrol

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

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

The Conflict Begins

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


Edge of Transportation

Connected Vehicle Technologies May Save Energy - And Lives

May 15th 2012

Connected vehicle intersection

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

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


The Health Edge

Battery-Related Emergency Department Visits by Children More Than Doubles

May 14th 2012

Battery xray

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

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


The Energy Edge

Scientists Generate Device Electricity from Pressures

May 13th 2012

HTC thunderbold droid phone

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

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

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


The Race for Alt Fuel

Gasification Catalyst Brings Alt Fuels Closer

May 12th 2012

India Highway Congestion

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

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


The Race for Alt Fuel

Secrets of the First Practical Artificial Leaf

May 11th 2012

Artificial Leaf

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

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

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


After the Spill

Mississippi River Kept Deepwater Horizon Oil Slick Off Shore

May 11th 2012

Gulf oil spill

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

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

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


The 2012 Vote

DeMint Claims Obama's a Hypocrite on Energy Tax Breaks

May 10th 2012

Energy Tax

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

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

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

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


Oil Addiction

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

May 10th 2012

Petroleum

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

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

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


The Obama Edge

Senior Official In Charge Of Energy Investment Agency To Step Down

May 9th 2012

Arun Majumdar
Arun Majumdar

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

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


The Race for Lighting

Quantum Dots Brighten the Future of Lighting

May 8th 2012

Click to select Image

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

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

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


The Race for Alt Fuel

Syngas Could Transform Gas Tank Fuels

May 8th 2012

Traffic Jam

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

Innovative Battery System May Reduce Buildings' Electric Bills

May 8th 2012

Minneapolis skyline

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

Analyzing Energy Potential

May 7th 2012

Click to select Image

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 ..


Oil Addiction

Big Labor in Favor of Big Keystone Pipeline Project

May 7th 2012

Keystone Pipeline

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

Mass-Producing EVs that at Light and Safe

May 7th 2012

Toyota Prius PHEV

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 ..


Oil Addiction

Burma-China Pipelines Bring Benefits and Complaints

May 5th 2012

Oil Pipes2

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 ..


Energy Policy

Fracking and Keystone Shoot to the Forefront

May 3rd 2012

Keystone Pipeline

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 Claims New World Record Efficiency for Organic Tandem Solar Cell

May 2nd 2012

solar cell in color

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 ..


Oil Spills

First 'Microsubmarines' Designed to Help Clean Up Oil Spills

May 2nd 2012

Gulf oil spill

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

Reaching the 3,000 MPG Goal

May 2nd 2012

Univ Michigan concept vehicle
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

Scientists Find Night-Warming Effect Over Large Wind Farms In Texas

April 30th 2012

Wind Farm

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

Italy's New 'Bullet Train' Aims to Shake Up Euro Travel

April 29th 2012

Italian Hi-Speed Rail
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 ..


The Race for Hydro

Many Along Mekong River Concerned About Hydropower Expansion

April 28th 2012

Mekong
Mekong

A Thai company says it is going ahead with construction of the controversial $3.5 billion Xayaburi dam on the Mekong River in Laos. Some 12 planned hydropower dams on the Mekong are expected to bring in lucrative profits, but environmentalists warn the dams threaten the health of a river that sustains tens of millions of people. Ek Than's family has lived in this remote Mekong village in northern Kratie, Cambodia, for more than three generations. As dams have popped up in China, as well as on upstream tributaries, he has noticed the difference. "In the past, there were plenty of fish. Now, even if we use 10 fish traps, it's hard to get fish," he said. Than's family lives north of one proposed hydropower dam, in Sambor district. It would be Cambodia's first on the mainstream Mekong - and one of 12 planned along the 3,000-kilometer river. Most remain suspended over environmental concerns, but governments are eager to develop hydropower to boost their economies. Read more ..


The Race For EVs

Better Driving Range Though Energy Management

April 28th 2012

Plug-in Vehicle
Charging a Car

Up to 15 percent more kilometers per battery charge just by improving the energy management systems - this is the goal of a research project led by the Dresden Institute for Automotive Technology. The researchers expressly do not intend to modify or change the battery itself. Instead, intelligent networking of car and infrastructure as well as better management of the in-car energy sinks will be established to reach this goal. The EFA 2014/2 research consortium plans to use forward-thinking energy management to improve the driving range of the cars. The 14 project partners, among them carmaker BMW, tier ones such as Bosch, Continental Hella and Valeo as well as semiconductor companies Elmos and Infineon as well as research institutes FKFS Stuttgart and Technical University of Dresden, will achieve the goal of a better driving range by pursuing several approaches. One is more intelligence with regard to choosing the best route and improving the traffic flow. In order to establish an intelligent infrastructure, the researcher will create an interface enabling the exchange of data between electric vehicles and municipal traffic control centers. Thus, the cars can access information on the traffic situation along the route. The information obtained will be visualized by means of innovative displays at the dashboard. The availability of this kind of information helps the driver to plan time-efficient and energy-saving rides through the city. Read more ..


The Race for Solar

Folding Light: Wrinkles and Twists Boost Power from Solar Panels

April 27th 2012

solar power plant

Taking their cue from the humble leaf, researchers have used microscopic folds on the surface of photovoltaic material to significantly increase the power output of flexible, low-cost solar cells. The team, led by scientists from Princeton University, reported that the folds resulted in a 47 percent increase in electricity generation. Yueh-Lin (Lynn) Loo, the principal investigator, said the finely calibrated folds on the surface of the panels channel light waves and increase the photovoltaic material's exposure to light. "On a flat surface, the light either is absorbed or it bounces back," said Loo, a professor of chemical and biological engineering at Princeton. "By adding these curves, we create a kind of wave guide. And that leads to a greater chance of the light's being absorbed."

The research team's work involves photovoltaic systems made of relatively cheap plastic. Current solar panels are typically made of silicon, which is both more brittle and more expensive than plastics. So far, plastic panels have not been practical for widespread use because their energy production has been too low. But researchers have been working to increase that efficiency with the goal of creating a cheap, tough and flexible source of solar power. Read more ..


Broken Energy Policy

GOP Pounces on EPA Official's Gaffe about Crucifying Environmental Lawbreakers

April 27th 2012

Al Armendariz
Al Armendariz - EPA Region 6 Administrator

Republicans pounced on April 26 on 2010 comments in which an Obama administration official compared enforcement of environmental laws to crucifixion. The comments by Environmental Protection Agency Region 6 Administrator Al Armendariz gained traction this week after Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), a vocal critic of the administration, highlighted them in a floor speech. Armendariz apologized on April 26, calling the comments “an offensive and inaccurate way to portray our efforts to address potential violations of our nation’s environmental laws.”

But that hasn’t stopped Republicans from using them as a rallying against Obama’s energy and environmental agenda. At least five lawmakers from Louisiana and Texas have called for Armendariz to resign or be fired over the comments. Rep. John Fleming (R-La.), one of the lawmakers, called the comments “enviro-fascism at its worst.” Louisiana is one of the states in EPA's Region 6, along with Texas, New Mexico, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. Other members calling for the EPA official's ouster include Reps. Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Pete Olson (R-Texas). House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) pointed to the comments on Twitter, saying that the “Obama admin admits 'crucify' strategy for energy job creators.”

Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), whose bid for the GOP White House nomination collapsed months ago, went even further, casting the comments as a reason to get rid of EPA itself. “Another reason to all-but-eliminate EPA. Armendariz equating EPA philosophy to ‘crucifixion,’” he said over Twitter, calling the comments “unacceptable & offensive.” Read more ..


Sudan on Edge

South Sudan's President goes to China to Iron out Oil Deal

April 24th 2012

Salva Kiir Mayardit of Sudan, Hu Jintao of China
Sudanese Pres. Salva Kiir Mayardit (l) and Chinese Pres. Hu Jin Tao (r)

The president of South Sudan, Salva Kiir Mayardit began a state visit to Beijing on April 23. The Chinese are major supporters of the Sudanese regime of Omar al-Bashir and are heavily invested in petroleum interests in Sudan. While South Sudan continues to struggle to define its boundaries with the Muslim-dominated Sudan to the north, President Kiir hopes to get China's help to improve relations with Khartoum and especially to obtain funds to build an alternative pipeline to the one currently in the hands of Sudan. India, besides China, is also heavily invested in the north.

South Sudan is rich in oil and natural gas. However, it is landlocked and dependent on Sudan - from which it broke away in July 2011 - for downstream services such as pipelines and refineries. The oil wells are in the Christian majority South, while the refineries and infrastructure necessary for the extraction and transportation of crude oil are in the Muslim majority north. On April 10, South Sudan troops invaded the disputed Heglig oil fields just to the north of the disputed border with Sudan. However, his troops have now retreated following intense bombardment by Sudan's air forces and skirmishes between the two countries armies. Troops from Sudan occupied Heglig, but have since pulled back. Read more ..


The Arab Winter in Egypt

Implications of Egypt's Gas Cut-Off with Israel

April 23rd 2012

Egyptian Gas Pipeline After Attack

Yesterday's predictable but still surprising announcement that Egypt's state-run gas company has cancelled its natural gas supply contract with Israel is of immediate concern to Washington, not only because it may affect the peace treaty between the two countries, but also because it could increase the likelihood of vexatious disputes in the development of Eastern Mediterranean gas reserves.

Egypt's supply of oil and, later, natural gas to Israel is considered one of the foundations of the 1979 Camp David Accords. Although a commercial contract, the gas deal is covered by a 2005 memorandum of understanding between the two governments, which notes that the supply arrangement -- slated for an initial period of fifteen years -- "will contribute to enhancing peace and stability in the Middle East." Under the memorandum's terms, Cairo "guarantees the continuous and uninterrupted supply" of gas. But the deal has long been contentious in Egypt among liberals and Islamists alike -- one of the charges that deposed president Hosni Mubarak is facing alleges corruption in the contract. The deal's cancellation, reportedly on the grounds of Israel not paying for supplies, has been welcomed across the Egyptian political spectrum. Read more ..


The Race for Biofuel

The Biofuel Debate: Food vs Fuel

April 22nd 2012

Grown from Biofuel

As biofuel production has increased – particularly ethanol derived from corn – a hotly contested competition for feedstock supplies has emerged between the agricultural grain markets and biofuel refineries. This competition has sparked concern for the more fundamental issue of allocating limited farmland resources, which has far-reaching implications for food security, energy security and environmental sustainability.

Numerous studies of land use, food prices, environmental impact and more have fed the so-called “food versus fuel” debate. However, according to new models created by University of Illinois researchers, most studies so far have overlooked a key factor: selfish and possibly competing interests of the biofuel industry and individual farmers, who independently seek the most profit from their crops.

“We looked at competition among farmers and between the refinery and the food market and put them into one model to optimize the whole system,” said Yanfeng Ouyang, a professor of civil and environmental engineering. “A lot of researchers now working on biofuel supply chain optimization have not been able to develop a holistic model that can address such complex interactions among multiple stakeholders in a comprehensive framework.” Read more ..


Sudan on Edge

Dispute Over Oil Fields Continues to Fuel Sudan's Volatility

April 22nd 2012

Sudanese militia

The border region between the two Sudans remains volatile after the south's withdrawal from the flashpoint town of Heglig, an oil-producing area claimed by both countries along their shared border.

There are reports that Sudan's armed forces continued air raids inside South Sudan on April 22, despite the south's withdrawal from Heglig on April 20.

The showdown over Heglig and its lucrative oil fields had raised fears the two countries could be on the verge of a full-scale war, less than ten months after South Sudan formally split from the north.

Residents in South Sudan's town of Bentiu told VOA News they live in fear because of continued air attacks by Sudan. Meanwhile, convoys of the south's Sudan Peoples Liberation Army were seen traveling toward the northern border late on April 21. Read more ..


Oil Spills

Researchers Develop New Ecological Model for Deep-Water Oil Spills

April 21st 2012

Click to select Image

On the second anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil platform blowout, a national panel of researchers is providing new insight into what happened in the disaster, as well as a guide for how to deal with such events in the future, and why existing tools were inadequate to predict what lay before them. The study, produced by the Gulf Oil Spill Ecotox Working Group at UC Santa Barbara's National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS), is published in the May issue of the journal Bioscience. It is titled, "A Tale of Two Spills: Novel Science and Policy Implications of an Emerging New Oil Spill Model."

"The old model assumed that oil would simply float up to the surface and accumulate there and along the coastline," said co-author Sean Anderson, an associate professor at California State University Channel Islands. "That model works well for pipeline breaks and tanker ruptures, but it is inadequate for this novel type of deep blowout."

The 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was unlike any oil spill science and society had encountered. The blowout occurred at unprecedented depths and released enormous quantities of oil (an estimated 4.9 billion barrels, or 206 million gallons). Marine and wildlife habitats suffered major damage, and, according to authors, the damage continues to happen today, out of sight. Local and regional economies and livelihoods suffered as well.

According to the researchers — a renowned group of ecotoxicologists, oceanographers, and ecologists who convened under the auspices of NCEAS while the spill was still active — the response to clean up and contain the oil followed a framework that assumed the oil's behavior would mimic the more familiar shallow-water and surface spills, despite the fact that the dynamics, fate, and effect of deep-water oil on ecosystems are not understood. "As the Deepwater Horizon spill unfolded, you would hear folks saying things like, 'We all know what happens when oil and water mix; the oil floats.' That wasn't the whole story, and that assumptions and actions that were not the best possible use of our time and effort," said Anderson. Read more ..


The Race For Batteries

Improved Batteries With Carbon Nanoparticles

April 19th 2012

Lithium car battery
Lithium Car Battery

From smartphones to e-bikes, the number of mobile electronic devices is steadily growing around the world. As a result, there is an increased need for batteries that are small and light, yet powerful.                      

As the potential for the further improvement of lithium-ion batteries is nearly exhausted, experts are now turning to a new and promising power storage device: lithium-sulfur batteries. In an important step toward the further development of this type of battery, a team led by Professor Thomas Bein of LMU Munich and Linda Nazar of Waterloo University in Canada has developed porous carbon nanoparticles that utilize sulfurmolecules to achieve the greatest possible efficiency. In prototypes of the lithium-sulfur battery, lithium ions are exchanged between lithium- and sulfur-carbon electrodes. The sulfur plays a special role in this system: Under optimal circumstances, it can absorb two lithium ions per sulfur atom. It is therefore an excellent energy storage material due to its low weight. At the same time, sulfur is a poor conductor, meaning that electrons can only be transported with great difficulty during charging and discharging. Read more ..


The Race for Wind

China Plans to Tap 600 MW of Wind Power in Turkey

April 17th 2012

Wind Farm

Turkey’s massive wind resource has long been recognized. Now China’s wind giant Sinovel has signed an agreement to supply turbines to build 600 MW of wind projects in Turkey, in what could be the company’s largest overseas deal to date.

In the deal sealed this week in Beijing when Turkish prime minister Tayyip Erdogan visited China’s capital, not only will China supply the turbines, but the lions share of the financing as well: 60% will be provided by China Development Bank.

Rather than a single large wind farm, the deal would be split up into more than 10 smaller projects, but the turbines would be Sinovel’s 1.5 MW, 3 MW and 3.6 MW, according to Li Lecheng, senior vice president at Sinovel.

The first of the Turkish wind farms would be completed by the end of this year, continuing an a acceleration in wind development in the country, which grew from just 147 MW in 2007, to 2,000 MW (2 GW) by the end of 2011, according to Leonardo Energy, and Turkey aims to increase this tenfold to 20GW by 2023. Read more ..


The Race for Solar

Solar on Saudi Sands Could Export Energy for Decades

April 17th 2012

Rub al Khali Saudi Empty Quarter

Every square meter of Saudi Arabia produces an extraordinary 7 kilowatt hours of energy daily in each 12 hours of sun power. If the Saudis were to use up each days solar energy supply, or 12,425 TWh of electricity, it would be a 72 year supply. Put another way, in just one day, enough solar energy hits Saudi sands to power the kingdom for 72 years, according to a study made by the World Academy of Science, Engineering and Technology.

That is an extraordinary resource. It is significantly more than the rest of the world. For example: as a Californian who used a typical 15 kilowatt hours of energy a day, this means my entire home could have been fully solar powered by just 2 square meters – or about 3 feet by 6 feet – of solar panels in Saudi Arabia! And Saudi Arabia has about 2 trillion square meters able to produce 14 trillion kilowatt hours of solar energy every sunny day – that is enough to power the world. Read more ..


The Sudan on Edge

The Two Sudans Collide Again Because of Oil

April 17th 2012

Sudan oil

News that forces of the nascent Government of South Sudan have occupied the Heglig Oil Field operated by the Government of the Sudan in its South Kordofan region is but the most recent chapter in a sad history that stretches back for more than a quarter-century.

Approached rationally, the distribution of oil wealth might have worked miracles in uniting the two Sudans whose fissiparous political and cultural tendencies were quite apparent even prior to its achieving independence in 1956.  Predictably, the Sudanese Muslim majority that held power in Khartoum reacted selfishly, assuming a proprietary interest in the resource and giving short shrift to Southern claims.

Jaafar Numayri, President of the Sudan from 1969-1985, dealt the oil card to create divisions among Sudan's southern politicians, and in doing so he also expanded the growing breech between North and South. For most Muslims of the North, especially the politically powerful riverine Arabs, an impoverished Southern Sudan -- which comprised Bahr al-Ghazal, Upper Nile and Equatoria provinces -- really wasn't worth bothering about. Sudan had already suffered through one civil war (1955-1972), and the battle to maintain national cohesiveness was expensive; it would not have been worth the effort had it not been for the fact that had they been allowed to secede the Southern provinces could then tap the Upper Nile water resource which was crucial to Sudan and Egypt. Read more ..


Energy vs Environment

Nanosponges Absorb Oil Again and Again

April 17th 2012

Gulf oil spill

Researchers at Rice University and Penn State University have discovered that adding a dash of boron to carbon while creating nanotubes turns them into solid, spongy, reusable blocks that have an astounding ability to absorb oil spilled in water. That’s one of a range of potential innovations for the material created in a single step. The team found for the first time that boron puts kinks and elbows into the nanotubes as they grow and promotes the formation of covalent bonds, which give the sponges their robust qualities.

The researchers, who collaborated with peers in labs around the nation and in Spain, Belgium and Japan, revealed their discovery in Nature’s Scientific Reports. Lead a uthor Daniel Hashim, a graduate student in the Rice lab of materials scientist Pulickel Ajayan, said the blocks are both superhydrophobic (they hate water, and float really well) and oleophilic (they love oil). The nanosponges, which are more than 99 percent air, also conduct electricity and can easily be manipulated with magnets. To demonstrate, Hashim dropped the sponge into a dish of water with used motor oil floating on top. The sponge soaked it up. He then put a match to the material, burned off the oil and returned the sponge to the water to absorb more. The robust sponge can be used repeatedly and stands up to abuse; he said a sample remained elastic after about 10,000 compressions in the lab. The sponge can also store the oil for later retrieval, he said. Read more ..


The Race for Energy

New Nanoparticle Technology Could Cut Water Use, Energy Costs

April 16th 2012

Nuclear Reactors

Nuclear and coal power plants are some of the thirstiest machines on earth. The turbines that spin inside of them to generate electricity require tons and tons of steam—and all of that water has to come from somewhere.

Recent studies have estimated that roughly two-fifths of the nation’s freshwater withdrawals and three percent of overall freshwater consumption goes to supplying the steam generators at large power stations in the United States. In order to cut down on the enormous quantities of water required to operate these plants, scientists have begun to look for alternative cooling methods and new technologies that could improve their efficiency and reduce the demand for water.

As part of a larger consortium involving partners from several energy companies, universities, and government agencies, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory are developing a special class of nanoparticles that partially melt as steam evaporates from a plant’s cooling towers, absorbing a significant percentage of the diffused heat in the system. In order to operate, electrical plants use a cycle that uses partially condensed high-temperature steam to turn a large turbine. During generation, a significant quantity of this steam is lost due to evaporation. “In every cycle, there’s a significant amount of water that we can’t recapture,” said Argonne materials scientist Dileep Singh, who is working to develop the specialized nanoparticles. Read more ..



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