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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 ..


The Race for EVs

Israeli EV Company Better Place Reports Millions In Losses

April 15th 2012

Better Place EV charging

The idea seemed flawless: battery-powered cars that could run on 100% electricity and could be recharged almost instantly by swapping batteries at special charging stations. But despite all the optimistic predictions, Better Place, the Israeli company that has been trying to build the world’s first operational infratructure for electric vehicles (EV), has been facing a series of obstacles in moving ahead with its technology.

Israel Corp., which holds 32% of the company’s shares, reported that Better Place lost over 1.5 billion NIS ($433 million) since 2009, 760 million NIS ($204 million) of which was lost over the course of 2011 alone, and deployment of battery recharging and swapping stations has been delayed in both Denmark in Israel from the scheduled date this April to the summer.

Heavy spending

Better Place has secured millions in funding from private investors around the globe and has been spending heavily in the last few years as it attempts to build complete EV infrastructure in Israel and Denmark that will include not only battery swapping stations for long distance travel but also hardware, software, installation mechanisms, and charge sports in parking lots, urban centers, offices and residences to support use of EVs. Read more ..


The Race for Methane

Making Gas Flow from Deep Sea Wells is a Freezing Proposition

April 14th 2012

Gas hydrate

During the massive oil spill from the ruptured Deepwater Horizon well in 2010, it seemed at first like there might be a quick fix: a containment dome lowered onto the broken pipe to capture the flow so it could be pumped to the surface and disposed of properly. But that attempt quickly failed, because the dome almost instantly became clogged with frozen methane hydrate.

Methane hydrates, which can freeze upon contact with cold water in the deep ocean, are a chronic problem for deep-sea oil and gas wells. Sometimes these frozen hydrates form inside the well casing, where they can restrict or even block the flow, at enormous cost to the well operators.

Now researchers at MIT, led by associate professor of mechanical engineering Kripa Varanasi, say they have found a solution. The deep sea is becoming “a key source” of new oil and gas wells, Varanasi says, as the world’s energy demands continue to increase rapidly. But one of the crucial issues in making these deep wells viable is “flow assurance”: finding ways to avoid the buildup of methane hydrates. Presently, this is done primarily through the use of expensive heating systems or chemical additives. Read more ..


After the Spill

Gulf Coast Residents Say BP Oil Spill Changed Their Environmental Views

April 12th 2012

offshore oil rig

University of New Hampshire researchers have found that residents of Louisiana and Florida most acutely and directly affected by the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster -- the largest marine oil spill in U.S. history -- said they have changed their views on other environmental issues as a result of the spill. "If disasters teach any lessons, then experience with the Gulf oil spill might be expected to alter opinions about the need for environmental protection. About one-fourth of our respondents said that as a result of the spill, their views on other environmental issues such as global warming or protecting wildlife had changed," said Lawrence Hamilton, professor of sociology at the University of New Hampshire. "This proportion rose to 35 percent among those most affected economically by the spill. People reporting changed views also expressed greater concern about sea level rise due to climate change, more support for a moratorium on deepwater drilling, and were more likely to favor alternative energy rather than increased oil exploration," Hamilton said.

Hamilton and his colleagues Thomas Safford, assistant professor of sociology, and Jessica Ulrich, a doctoral student in sociology, present their findings in the journal Social Science Quarterly in the article "In the Wake of the Spill: Environmental Views Along the Gulf Coast." Read more ..


The Race for Biofuel

First 'Electrified Snail' Created for Tiny Devices

April 12th 2012

Electrified Snail

The world's first "electrified snail" has joined the menagerie of cockroaches, rats, rabbits and other animals previously implanted with biofuel cells that generate electricity — perhaps for future spy cameras, eavesdropping microphones and other electronics — from natural sugar in their bodies. Scientists are describing how their new biofuel cell worked for months in a free-living snail in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

In the report, Evgeny Katz and colleagues point out that many previous studies have involved "potentially implantable" biofuel cells. So far, however, none has produced an implanted biofuel cell in a small live animal that could generate electricity for an extended period of time without harming the animal. "The snail with the implanted biofuel cell will be able to operate in a natural environment, producing sustainable electrical micropower for activating various bioelectronic devices," the authors say.

To turn a living snail into a power source, the researchers made two small holes in its shell and inserted high-tech electrodes made from compressed carbon nanotubes. They coated the highly conductive material with enzymes, which foster chemical reactions in animals' bodies. Using a different enzyme on each electrode, one pulling electrons from glucose and another using those electrons to turn oxygen molecules into water, they induced an electric current. Read more ..


The Race for Cordless

Cordless Power for Living

April 12th 2012

Pacemaker

For more than 50 years, pacemakers have set the rhythm for many hearts. The engineering of microelectronic implants has since advanced by leaps and bounds: they have become ever-smaller and more technologically sophisticated. The trend is moving toward miniaturized, intelligent systems that will take over therapeutic and diagnostic functions. For example, in the future implantable sensors will measure glucose levels, blood pressure or the oxygen saturation of tumorous tissue, transmitting patient data via telemetry. Meanwhile, medication dosing systems and infusion pumps will be able to deliver a targeted release of pharmaceutical substances in the body, alleviating side effects in the process.

Technology that can be worn on a belt

All these solutions are composed of probes, actuators, signal processing units and electronic controls – and therein lies the problem, too: they must have a power supply. Batteries are usually ruled out because of their limited durability – after all, implants stay inside the body for years. Currently, radio wave-based (HF) and inductive systems are most commonly in use. However, these exhibit differences in efficiency based on location, position and movement and are also often limited in range. Soon, a new power transfer system should circumvent the limitations of previous methods. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Crossroads Debuts $1.7M Ad Buy Slamming Obama Energy Policies

April 10th 2012

Barack Obama Israel speech

A conservative political action committee is going up with a new television commercial — backed by a $1.7 million ad buy — slamming President Obama's energy policies. The ad, titled "Too Much," accuses the president of taking credit for increased oil production that was put into motion by the Geroge W. Bush administration. The Crossroads GPS super-PAC — backed by Bush adviser Karl Rove — said the commercial would air in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, Ohio and Virginia, all expected to be pivotal swing states in the coming election.

“President Obama’s ‘hope and change’ has deteriorated into hype and blame — puffing up his record and blaming others for policy failures,” said Crossroads GPS President Steven Law. “This ad sets the record straight and calls for real solutions to sky-high gas prices, not more political spin.” Gas prices have become an increasingly prominent issue in recent months as oil has hit unseasonably high peaks. Republican candidates, including Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, have strongly criticized the president for his energy policy and suggested increased drilling in offshore and federally owned lands could drive down prices. Read more ..


The Race for EVs

Listening To The Radio Even with an Electric Drive

April 7th 2012

Toyota Prius PHEV

Listening to the radio is a favorite German pastime. Every day, more than 60 million people turn their radios on, especially while driving, and studies show that one in two of them are unwilling to give up enjoying radio programs behind the wheel. But in the vehicle of the future, the electric car, listening to the radio is in principle not possible, since electrical interference impedes the reception of radio waves. These disruptions are caused by the frequency converter, which changes electrical energy into mechanical energy so as to control the electric motor’s speed and direction of rotation. These converters turn the current and the voltage on and off rapidly and frequently, and the way they chop electrical energy up in fractions of a second produces electromagnetic interference. If this becomes too loud, you can only hear the electric drive, not the car radio.

To get around this problem, not only must the engine’s cabling be shielded, the motor itself must also be insulated – but this comes with a high price tag for automakers. Fortunately, researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Reliability and Microintegration IZM in Berlin have worked out how to significantly reduce these costs. Dr. Eckart Hoene, director of the Power Electronic Systems research group, and his team have developed a whole series of tools and methods for reducing interference. Using new simulations and calculation methods, the engineers can for instance now determine where in the vehicle components should be positioned to keep their electromagnetic interactions to a minimum. Read more ..


The Race for Wind

Wind Energy and Organic Farming Collide in Western Turkey

April 6th 2012

Traditional Turkish Windmill
Traditional Turkish Windmill

An organic farmer near İzmir in western Turkey awoke a few weeks ago to the sound of poles and transmission lines being installed on a hill near his farm. The lines will connect new wind energy projects in Çeşme to the city of İzmir, but pose a serious threat to future farming activity in the region, according to the farmer. The twist: this organic farmer is also the manager of one of Turkey’s first wind energy project developers.

A haven of organic farming

Because of his prominence in the sector, the organic farmer and wind energy company manager didn’t want his name published. But he explained the situation in an exclusive interview. We’ll call him Rüzgar (“wind” in Turkish, also sometimes used as a first name for men) for the purposes of this article. “The channel which the line is passing through is the only region conducting organic farming activities such as ours,” Rüzgar says. “I just want to show the paradox of how these wind power plant activities — which we are deeply involved in — are destroying our organic farming activities.” Read more ..


The Obama Edge

Treasury Department Review of Solyndra Loan Was Rushed

April 5th 2012

Solyndra HQ 02

The Energy Department kept Treasury Department officials in the dark until late in the government's review of the $535 million loan to now-bankrupt solar panel maker Solyndra, triggering a rushed consultation that may have left concerns unresolved, a new audit released April 4 found.

The audit by the Treasury Department’s inspector general found that Treasury officials had raised serious concerns about the terms of the loan, but there was no documentation of whether they were addressed. The report’s findings of hurried reviews and ignored warning signs echo previous reporting on Solyndra.

The loan, originally touted as a model of President Obama’s green energy program, has become a political weapon. “The Treasury report echoes what our investigation has shown over and over; Solyndra was a bad bet from the beginning that was rushed out the door while every red flag was ignored,” Republican Reps. Fred Upton and Cliff Stearns said in a statement Wednesday. Read more ..


The Race for Solar

World’s Longest Solar-Powered Flight Will Land in Morocco!

April 4th 2012

Solar Impulse

Just 107 years after the Wright Brothers became famous for successfully flying the world’s first airplane, Swiss pilots Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg made history in July, 2010 by piloting the longest solar-powered flight at 26 hours, 10 minutes, and 19 seconds. Now they have announced plans to break their own record in May or June by flying their Solar Impulse plane from Switzerland to Morocco in preparation of their round-the-world trip scheduled for next year.

The 1,550 mile journey from Switzerland over the Pyrenees Mountains is expected to last 48 hours, which will be by far the longest solar-powered flight ever. This flight will not use a single drop of oil, and therefore it will produce zero harmful greenhouse gas emissions. Piccard and Borschberg will take turns flying the plane and will switch seats during a brief stopover in Madrid. Read more ..


After Fukushima

Sampling the Pacific for Signs of Fukushima Debris

April 4th 2012

Japan debris

An international research team is reporting the results of a research cruise they organized to study the amount, spread, and impacts of radiation released into the ocean from the tsunami-crippled reactors in Fukushima, Japan. The group of 17 researchers and technicians from eight institutions spent 15 days at sea in June 2011 studying ocean currents, and sampling water and marine organisms up to the edge of the exclusion zone around the reactors.

Led by Ken Buesseler, a senior scientist and marine chemist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), the team found that the concentration of several key radioactive substances, or radionuclides, were elevated but varied widely across the study area, reflecting the complex nature of the marine environment. In addition, although levels of radioactivity in marine life sampled during the cruise were well below levels of concern for humans and the organisms themselves, the researchers leave open the question of whether radioactive materials are accumulating on the seafloor sediments and, if so, whether these might pose a long-term threat to the marine ecosystem. The results appear in the April 2 online edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Read more ..


Oil Addiction

New Hybrid Materials Can Make Refining More Efficicient

April 2nd 2012

Research and Development Chemistry

A new type of hybrid material could help oil and chemical companies save energy and money—and lower their environmental impacts—by eliminating an energy-intensive gas-separation process.

Today, to separate hydrocarbon gas mixtures into the pure chemicals needed to make plastics, refineries “crack” crude oil at high temperatures—500 to 600 degrees Celsius—to break complex hydrocarbons into lighter, short-chain molecules. They then chill the gaseous mixture to 100 degrees below zero Celsius to liquefy and divide the gases into those destined for plastics and those used as fuel for home heating and cooking.“Cryogenic distillation at low temperatures and high pressures is among the most energy-intensive separations carried out at large scale in the chemical industry, and an environmental problem because of its contributions to global climate change,” said Jeffrey Long, a professor of chemistry at the UC Berkeley and a faculty researcher at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Long and his UC Berkeley colleagues now have created an iron-based material—a metal-organic framework, or MOF—that can be used at high temperatures to efficiently separate these gases while eliminating the chilling. “You need a very pure feedstock of propylene and ethylene for making some of the most important polymers, such as polypropylene, for consumer products, but refineries dump a lot of energy into bringing the high temperature gases down to cryogenic temperatures,” Long said. “If you can do the separation at higher temperatures, you can save that energy. This material is really good at doing these particular separations.” Read more ..


The Race for Nuclear

South Carolina Nuclear Reactors Approved for Construction

March 31st 2012

Click to select Image

Federal regulators greenlighted the construction of new nuclear reactors Friday for just the second time in longer than three decades.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) voted 4-1 to approve a license allowing construction and conditional operation of two new reactors at Scana Corp.’s Virgil C. Summer nuclear power plant in Fairfield County, S.C. NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko was the lone vote against approving the license. About two months ago, the commission approved construction of new reactors at Southern Co.’s Vogtle power plant near Waynesboro, Ga. The February decision marked the first time regulators approved construction of a new reactor since 1978. Friday’s decision is a major victory for the nuclear power industry, which has struggled for years to receive the necessary regulatory approvals to build new reactors. 

“The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s approval of the license application to build two new advanced-design reactors continues the needed expansion of our nation’s electricity system,” said Marvin Fertel, president of the Nuclear Energy Institute, in a statement. “This will be one of the largest construction and engineering projects in South Carolina history. It will create thousands of well-paying jobs during construction and provide careers for several hundred more people over the decades that the new reactors will generate electricity.” Read more ..


The Race for Alt Fuels

UCLA Researchers Use Electricity and Carbon Dioxide to Generate Butanol

March 30th 2012

Ralstonia Eutropha

Imagine being able to use electricity to power your car—your existing car, not an electric vehicle. Researchers at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science have for the first time demonstrated a method for converting carbon dioxide into a liquid fuel—isobutanol—using electricity.

Today, electrical energy generated by various methods is still difficult to store efficiently. Chemical batteries, hydraulic pumping, and water splitting suffer from low energy-density storage or incompatibility with current transportation infrastructure.

In a study published March 30 in the journal Science, James Liao, UCLA’s Ralph M. Parsons Foundation Chair in Chemical Engineering, and his team report a method for storing electrical energy as chemical energy in higher alcohols, which can be used as liquid transportation fuels.

“The current way to store electricity is with lithium ion batteries, in which the density is low, but when you store it in liquid fuel, the density could actually be very high,” Liao said. “In addition, we have the potential to use electricity as transportation fuel without needing to change current infrastructure.” Read more ..


Broken Energy Policy

Obama Administration Made Loan to Solyndra while Insiders Foresaw Failure

March 29th 2012

Obama and Solyndra officials
President Obama meeting with Solyndra officials

On August 20, 2009, an Energy Department staffer examining a pending loan to a California clean energy start-up came to a startling conclusion: The company would run out of money by September 2011.

As part of the 2009 job-creating stimulus, the government has committed nearly $40 billion to clean energy projects. The first loan guarantee went to Solyndra Inc., a California solar firm backed by an Obama fundraiser. But instead of picking a winner, the government backed a loser. The firm failed, putting more than 1,000 people out of work and taxpayers on the hook for $535 million. Among questions now: Did the White House unduly influence the process? Did the Energy Department rush its first commitment, ignoring warning signs about the company's viability? Will this failed project cost Obama?

The Department of Energy was fully aware of the risks in backing Solyndra Inc., a start-up company that pocketed a half-billion dollar DOE loan but never turned a penny in profit before shutting its doors, concludes a former FBI agent hired to examine the company’s books. Read more ..


Oil Addiction

Shell Closer to Drilling Along Alaska Coastal Waters

March 28th 2012

Oil Barrels 400px

The Interior Department on Wednesday green-lighted a plan that brings Shell closer to drilling in waters off the coast of Alaska this summer. The department’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) announced that it has approved Shell’s oil spill response plan for exploration in the Beaufort Sea, which is located in arctic waters off Alaska’s northern coast. Interior said it subjected the plan to additional scrutiny based on a series of beefed-up safety and environmental standards put in place in the aftermath of the massive 2010 Gulf of Mexcio oil spill.
We have conducted an exhaustive review of Shell’s response plan for the Beaufort Sea,” BSEE Director James Watson said in a news release. “Our focus moving forward will be to hold Shell accountable and to follow-up with exercises, reviews and inspections to ensure that all personnel and equipment are positioned and ready.” Shell called approval of the plan a “major milestone” in its longtime efforts to drill in the Arctic.
Read more ..

The Race for Alt Energy

Liquid-like Materials Could Pave Way for New Thermoelectric Devices

March 27th 2012

Warwick golden electrode

In the continual quest for better thermoelectric materials — which convert heat into electricity and vice versa — researchers have identified a liquid-like compound whose properties give it the potential to be even more efficient than traditional thermoelectrics.

The researchers studied a material made from copper and selenium. Although it is physically a solid, it exhibits liquid-like behaviors due to the way its copper atoms flow through the selenium's crystal lattice. "It's like a wet sponge," explains Jeff Snyder, a faculty associate in applied physics and materials science in the Division of Engineering and Applied Science at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and a member of the research team. "If you have a sponge with very fine pores in it, it looks and acts like a solid. But inside, the water molecules are diffusing just as fast as they would if they were a regular liquid. That's how I imagine this material works. It has a solid framework of selenium atoms, but the copper atoms are diffusing around as fast as they would in a liquid." Read more ..


The Race For Wind

Real-World Wind Turbine Performance and Just-in-Time Predictive Maintenance Software Studied

March 26th 2012

Click to select Image

The production of wind-derived renewable energy is growing, and so, it’s important to help wind farm owners operate at higher efficiencies with lower costs.

In fact, figures from the World Wind Energy Association report that installed global capacity for wind-energy production was approximately 240,000 megawatts of power in 2011, up nearly ten fold since 2001.

That growth, which is expected to continue, will increase demand to facilitate plant efficiency and lowered operational costs along with just-in-time turbine maintenance among wind farms. And to that end, University of Cincinnati researchers have been conducting real-world tests of new predictive software that does just that – increases efficiency and lowers costs when it comes to commercial wind-turbine operations. The test results, which analyze two years’ worth of operating and environmental data from a commercial wind turbine, have just been published in the Journal of Renewable Energy, along with information on the predictive maintenance software. Read more ..


The Race for Hydrogen

Nuclear Can Fuel the Hydrogen Economy

March 26th 2012

Davis Bessee nuke plant Ohio

The long-sought technology for enabling the fabled "hydrogen economy" — an era based on hydrogen fuel that replaces gasoline, diesel and other fossil fuels, easing concerns about foreign oil and air pollution — has been available for decades and could begin commercial production of hydrogen in this decade, a scientist reported here today.

Speaking at the 243rd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), the world's largest scientific society, Ibrahim Khamis, Ph.D., described how heat from existing nuclear plants could be used in the more economical production of hydrogen, with future plants custom-built for hydrogen production. He is with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, Austria.

"There is rapidly growing interest around the world in hydrogen production using nuclear power plants as heat sources," Khamis said. "Hydrogen production using nuclear energy could reduce dependence on oil for fueling motor vehicles and the use of coal for generating electricity. In doing so, hydrogen could have a beneficial impact on global warming, since burning hydrogen releases only water vapor and no carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas. There is a dramatic reduction in pollution." Read more ..


The Road's Edge

Congressional Debate over Gasoline Prices Complicates Case Against Highway Bill

March 25th 2012

Broken Road

The political debate over gas prices appears to be complicating Democratic efforts to compare the standoff over federal transportation spending to last year’s shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration.

With gas prices on the rise, some Republican strategists think voters might welcome at least a temporary 18.4 cent-per-gallon break on the cost of filling up their gas tanks.

“A stalled highway bill could cause short-term relief from gas price pain for millions of Americans who aren't thinking about the ramifications,” former Senate Republican Conference Chief of Staff Ron Bonjean said in an email.

Few people in Washington are arguing that Congress should eliminate the gas tax altogether. But if lawmakers do not agree on at least a temporary extension that is what would happen on March 31 until lawmakers end their logjam.

Most observers expect the impasse will end before it gets to that point. But in the run up to the deadline, Democrats have been raising the specter of an interruption and blaming Republicans for the possibility. Democrats argue that a gas tax interruption would be worse than the temporarily shutdown of the FAA in 2011 because the gas tax generates $100 million per day for the federal government, which is used to fund transportation projects across the country. The FAA shutdown, which lasted two weeks, was projected to have cost the federal government $30 million per day in lost sales taxes on airline ticket purchases. Read more ..


Edge of Architecture

Integrated Responsive Building Envelopes Provide Greener Future for Buildings

March 23rd 2012

smart exterior building panels
Prototype responsive envelope system for interior walls

Within the "envelopes" of commercial and residential buildings rests the promise of major, new energy efficiencies in the built-environment, according to University of Michigan researchers.

A team of U-M architects, civil engineers and materials and environmental scientists will embark this fall on a two-year collaborative project they call Integrated Responsive Building Envelopes (IRBE). Together they will explore the potential of intelligent building exteriors, or envelopes, that are capable of monitoring weather, daylight and occupant use to manage heating, cooling and lighting in dynamic ways that protect the environment and promote energy efficiency.

"We're exploring the interface between a building's external environment and the shelter it provides, and exploring the adaptation of that interface to better control the flow of energy," said Jerome Lynch, a principal investigator on the project and an associate professor in the departments of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. "We are working to mitigate the total energy consumption of buildings and their environmental impact, while enhancing their comfort and aesthetic appeal." Read more ..


The Race for Wind

Wind Energy Potential in India Much Greater than Previously Believed

March 21st 2012

Wind Farm

A new assessment of wind energy in India by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has found that the potential for on-shore wind energy deployment is far higher than the official estimates— about 20 times and up to 30 times greater than the current government estimate of 102 gigawatts.

This landmark finding may have significant impact on India’s renewable energy strategy as it attempts to cope with a massive and chronic shortage of electricity. “The main importance of this study, why it’s groundbreaking, is that wind is one of the most cost-effective and mature renewable energy sources commercially available in India, with an installed capacity of 15 GW and rising rapidly,” says Berkeley Lab scientist Amol Phadke, the lead author of the report.  Read more ..


Oil Addiction

Oil Execs to Obama: Partial Keystone Pipeline Approval isn’t Enough

March 21st 2012

Energy

Top executives with Oklahoma-based oil-and-gas companies are greeting President Obama’s upcoming visit with a push for approval of the entire Keystone XL pipeline, not just the Oklahoma-to-Texas portion that the White House is pledging to expedite.

That message is part of a broader open letter to Obama from the heads of four prominent independent oil-and-gas companies: Continental Resources (whose CEO is heading Mitt Romney’s energy advisory team), Chesapeake Energy, Devon Energy, and Sandridge Energy.

It comes ahead of Obama’s Thursday visit to Cushing, Okla., where he’s expected to tout plans to expedite federal permits for the southern part of TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone project.

But the administration in January rejected a cross-border permit for the bigger portion that would carry crude from Alberta’s tar sands projects (and some oil from production in North Dakota and Montana) to Gulf Coast refineries. It has invited TransCanada to reapply.

“Approval of the entire Keystone XL pipeline should happen now—not after the election. Yes, we are pleased TransCanada decided to build a critical section of the project from Cushing to the Gulf Coast. We note that this section doesn't require State Department approval. However, America's greatest benefit will come when we can transport oil from our best energy partner, Canada, and oil-rich North Dakota and Montana,” states the letter, published in The Oklahoman.

The letter is part of a wider clash between the White House and oil-and-gas companies that allege administration policies are too restrictive. Read more ..


The Defense Edge

Obama Prepares for War with Sweeping Executive Order

March 20th 2012

Barack Obama in Thought

Last Friday, March 16, President Barack Obama may have quietly placed the United States on a war preparedness footing, perhaps in anticipation of an outbreak of war between Israel, the West, and Iran. A newly-propounded Executive Order, titled "National Defense Resources Preparedness," renews and updates the president's power to take control of all civil energy supplies, including oil and natural gas, control and restrict all civil transportation, which is almost 97 percent dependent upon oil; and even provides the option to re-enable a draft in order to achieve both the military and non-military demands of the country, according to a simple reading of the text. The Executive Order was published on the White House website.

The timing of the Order -- with little fanfare -- could not be explained. Opinions among the very first bloggers on the purpose of the unexpected Executive Order run the gamut from the confused to the absurd. None focus on the obvious sudden need for such a pronouncement: oil and its potential for imminent interruption. If Iran was struck by Israel or the West, or if Iran thought it might be struck, the Tehran regime has promised it would block the Strait of Hormuz, which would obstruct some 40 percent of the world's seaborne oil, some twenty percent of the global supply, and about 20 percent of America's daily needs. Moreover, Tehran has promised military retaliation against any nation it feels has harmed it. The United States is at the top of the list. Read more ..


Russia on Edge

German Picked To Head South Stream Project

March 20th 2012

Keystone Pipeline
Typical pipeline construction

Gazprom chief Aleksei Miller has nominated the former mayor of Hamburg, Henning Voscherau, to head the board of the Russia-backed South Stream pipeline project.

Miller on March 19 cited Voscherau's "experience in working with international organizations dealing with legal regulation" and said his "weighty authority will make him a considerable contribution to the successful and timely implementation of the South Stream project." After serving as the first mayor of Hamburg, Voscherau is also a former president of Germany's upper house of parliament. The South Stream natural-gas pipeline aims to carry some 63 billion cubic meters of Russian gas across southeastern Europe to points in Italy and Austria. Miller said that construction of the pipeline is due to start this December with operation set to start in December 2015. Voscherau, 70, is not the first high-ranking former German official to receive a post with Gazprom. Read more ..


Broken Government

Audit Cites Risk in DOE Loan Program

March 17th 2012

A new audit of the Department of Energy’s $34 billion loan guarantee program said the agency doesn’t always follows its own rules in awarding the highly coveted funding, creating risk in an effort already hindered by breakdowns. The audit by the Government Accountability Office carries fresh relevance amid the bankruptcies of two of the first three firms to land the government’s green energy funding: Solyndra Inc. and Beacon Power Corp. “What we found was problems in how they followed their process and in some cases deviated from the process without a clear explanation why,” Frank Rusco, the GAO auditor who wrote the report, said in an interview. “This has gotten the program in trouble in the past and certainly raises questions that are hard for them to answer.” The GAO report, the latest to spotlight vulnerabilities in the way DOE awards public money, details just how selective the loan pool is.

Of 460 applicants, the GAO found, the Energy Department awarded loan guarantees to 7 percent and committed to 2 percent more.  To date, the investigative arm of Congress said, the department has issued $15 billion in guarantees and committed to $15 billion more. The GAO scrutinized 13 winning applications in detail. Of those, it found, the Energy Department did not follow its written procedures at least once in 11 of the 13 cases. Read more ..


The Race for Alternative Energy

A Fragrant New Biofuel

March 15th 2012

Research and Development Chemistry

A class of chemical compounds best known today for fragrance and flavor may one day provide the clean, green and renewable fuel with which truck and auto drivers fill their tanks. Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) have engineered Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria to generate significant quantities of methyl ketone compounds from glucose. In subsequent tests, these methyl ketones yielded high cetane numbers – a diesel fuel rating comparable to the octane number for gasoline – making them strong candidates for the production of advanced biofuels. “Our findings add to the list of naturally occurring chemical compounds that could serve as biofuels, which means more flexibility and options for the biofuels industry,” says Harry Beller, a JBEI microbiologist who led this study. “We’re especially encouraged by our finding that it is possible to increase the methyl ketone titer production of E. coli more than 4,000-fold with a relatively small number of genetic modifications.”

Beller directs the Biofuels Pathways department for JBEI’s Fuels Synthesis Division, and also is a senior scientist with the Earth Sciences Division of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab). He is the corresponding author of a paper describing this work titled “Engineering of Bacterial Methyl Ketone Synthesis for Biofuels,” which was published in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology. Co-authoring this paper were Ee-Been Goh, who is the first author on the paper, plus Edward Baidoo and Jay Keasling. Read more ..

The Environmental Edge

Bright is the New Black: New York City Roofs Go Cool

March 14th 2012

Click to select Image
credit: Kris Arnold

On the hottest day of the New York City summer in 2011, a white roof covering was measured at 42 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than the traditional black roof it was being compared to, according to a study including NASA scientists that details the first scientific results from the city’s unprecedented effort to brighten rooftops and reduce its urban heat island effect.

The dark, sunlight-absorbing surfaces of some New York City roofs reached 170 degrees Fahrenheit on July 22, 2011, a day that set a city record for electricity usage during the peak of a heat wave. But in the largest discrepancy of that day, a white roofing material was measured at about 42 degrees cooler. The white roof being tested was a low-cost covering promoted as part of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s effort to reduce the city’s greenhouse gas emissions 30 percent by 2030.

On average through the summer of 2011, the pilot white roof surface reduced peak rooftop temperature compared to a typical black roof by 43 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the study, which was the first long-term effort in New York to test how specific white roof materials held up and performed over several years. Read more ..


Edge of Geopolitics

America is Becoming a Natural Gas Exporter and Geopolitical Player in Asia

March 13th 2012

Fracking gas well

The United States has significantly increased its natural gas production since 2005, largely because of advancements in extraction technology. These technological improvements are relatively new, so their exact long-term impact on U.S. production is currently unclear. However, in the short term, this increased production has caused domestic prices to decrease substantially.

To remain profitable, U.S. companies are making plans to begin exports in the form of liquefied natural gas (LNG), which could lead the United States to become a net exporter of natural gas in the next few years. With prices for natural gas higher in East Asia and Europe, the United States can use these exports as an effective economic and political tool. Read more ..


The Race for Solar

Solar Panels Derived From CERN Technology for Massive Swiss Array

March 13th 2012

Solar panels

At Geneva International Airport SRB Energy has delivered the first of the solar panels that will form one of the largest solar energy systems of Switzerland. Ultimately, some 300 high-temperature solar thermal panels will cover a surface of 1 200 square meters on the roof of the airport’s main terminal building. The panels, which will be used to keep the buildings warm during the winter and cool in the summer, are derived from vacuum technology developed at CERN for particle accelerators.

“We are delighted that Geneva International Airport has opted for this technology,” said Cristoforo Benvenuti, the inventor of the panels, who has been working on vacuum technology at CERN since the 1970s. “The panels emerged from vacuum technologies that were developed for fundamental physics purposes, and it is highly gratifying to see them put to use for renewable energy.”  Read more ..


The Race for Nuclear

Uncertainty Reigns over How Nuclear Fuel Behaves Under Stress

March 12th 2012

Fukushima plant worker

One year ago on March 11, an earthquake off the coast of Japan and the resulting tsunami triggered a month-long partial meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. In the days leading up to the anniversary of the crisis, advocates and opponents of nuclear power are squaring off in a fight over the lessons U.S. regulators should learn from the disaster.

But both sides are making policy recommendations without a full accounting of the facts. The most definitive, independent study of the disaster isn’t due to be released for months.

In one corner, and at one press conference this week, advocates at the industry-funded Nuclear Energy Institute were eager to highlight the “diverse and flexible” response operators of America’s 104 reactors are taking to improve their disaster preparedness. NEI is touting the $100 million the industry is investing in some 300 additional emergency pumps, generators, and batteries that it says could be used to keep the pools that spent fuel rods are kept in from overheating like they did in Japan. Read more ..



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