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The Fuel Economy

Average Fuel Economy Shows Improvement over Four Years Ago

February 9th 2012

Automotive - car door

The average fuel economy of current model year vehicles is 14 percent higher than just four years ago, say researchers at the University of Michigan. For all 2012 light-duty vehicles (cars, pickup trucks, minivans, vans and SUVs) offered for sale, average mpg is 21.5, compared to 18.9 mpg for model year 2008 vehicles. The averages were 21.2 for 2011, 20.7 for 2010 and 19 for 2009.

For new vehicles actually purchased, average fuel economy is typically one-to-two miles per gallon higher—22.5 mpg for model year 2011 (the last full year of sales), 22.1 for 2010, 21.3 for 2009 and 20.8 for 2008. "This implies that consumers tend to choose vehicle models with better fuel economy than the average of all vehicles available," said Brandon Schoettle of the U-M Transportation Research Institute. "The recent economic downturn, coupled with rising gas prices, has led to an increased interest in purchasing more fuel-efficient vehicles."

Using data from the EPA, Schoettle and UMTRI colleague Michael Sivak also examined fuel economy changes by vehicle characteristics: cars vs. light trucks, vehicle class size, transmission type, number of engine cylinders, drive type, fuel type and hybrid vs. conventional vehicles. Read more ..


Energy vs Environment

New Cooling Lagoons Could Save Marine Enviornments

February 8th 2012

Energy / Environment - power plant crystal lagoon

Crystal Lagoons—the company behind the planned world’s largest artificial lagoon for the Red Sea—has developed an alternative cooling and energy harvesting system for power plants that doesn’t require the use of seawater.

Gulf countries that lack freshwater resources rely deeply on seawater desalination to meet their daily needs and cool down thermal generation plants. According to Gulf News, the United Arab Emirates alone uses four trillion litres of Gulf seawater each year to cool down its power plants, foundries, and desalination plants. A report released last year revealed that UAE coastal development has seriously jeopardized the health of the marine environment. This technology has the potential to seriously arrest further damage. The byproduct of these operations produces a hot briny fluid that is then pumped back into the Gulf. But Crystal Lagoons is marketing a new closed-loop cooling system that would ensure that no more water would have to be extracted from the Gulf to cool down industrial plants. Read more ..


Book Review

British Petroleum and the Redline Agreement: How America's Oil Addiction Created a Legacy of Deceit and War

February 2nd 2012

Book Covers - redline agreement

British Petroleum and the Redline Agreement. Edwin Black. 2011. Dialog Press. 277 pages.

British Petroleum and the Redline Agreement: The West's Secret Pact to Get Mideast Oil is the third and latest entry in an series of books written by award-winning investigative journalist Edwin Black that tackles the issues surrounding automobiles, energy, and transportation. The previous two books are Internal Combustion and The Plan: How to Rescue Society the Day the Oil Stops. As with all of his other books, Black relies upon a crack research team to uncover and compile an exhaustive trove of heretofore unknown factual information and data.

Buy it here. See Book TV here.

To me, as a dedicated free-market capitalist and defender of American ideals, I would like to believe that the story of petroleum oil exploration should be one of entrepreneurial glory. Instead, the more I learn about the corruption and machinations employed by British Petroleum and its industry cohorts and competitors, the more I realize that we have been the victims of oil’s subjugation for well over 100 years.

With the rise of industrialization and the advent of the automobile and other forms of engine-powered transportation, the world needed a standardized source of fuel for the new machines. That fuel could easily have been a fuel produced by virtually anyone using organic materials. However, a fuel based on simple vegetation or human waste, and a common distillation process that couldn't be patented left little on the table for those who sought unbridled power and wealth. British Petroleum and the Redline Agreement reads like the most exciting Tom Clancy novel entwined with a devious international conspiracy worthy of Ian Fleming’s wildest James Bond adventure; although even for a 007 yarn it might run the risk of being considered too implausible a plot. Buy it here. Read more ..


Energy vs Environment

How Seawater Could Corrode Nuclear Fuel

February 1st 2012

Japan - Fukushima damage

Japan used seawater to cool nuclear fuel at the stricken Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear plant after the tsunami in March 2011—and that was probably the best action to take at the time, says Professor Alexandra Navrotsky of the University of California, Davis.

But Navrotsky and others have since discovered a new way in which seawater can corrode nuclear fuel, forming uranium compounds that could potentially travel long distances, either in solution or as very small particles. The research team published its work in January in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“This is a phenomenon that has not been considered before,” said Alexandra Navrotsky, distinguished professor of ceramic, earth, and environmental materials chemistry. “We don’t know how much this will increase the rate of corrosion, but it is something that will have to be considered in future.” Read more ..


The Race for Biofuel

Etihad Airways Leads the Way in Biofuel Use

January 29th 2012

Technology - airplane

Etihad Airways from the United Arab Emirates scores a double play in the Green World Series:  It has become both the first airline to fly on biofuel directly from the factory and the first biofuel-flying Gulf carrier. Although, not yet on its fuel-efficient Dreamliners, Etihad’s new Boeing 777-300ER traveled from its Seattle birthplace to its home base at Abu Dhabi International Airport this past Wednesday, powered by a mix of traditional fuel and plant-based biofuel. The biofuel having been created from recycled vegetable cooking oil.  Used oil from the food industry qualifies as a bio-based waste stream, its resulting carbon footprint is especially trim.

“This flight marks a significant milestone in our efforts to drive commercialization of sustainable aviation fuel in Abu Dhabi, the region, and globally. Use of presently available biofuel is just part of a comprehensive strategy to ensure that we are able to use biofuel to decarbonize an entire industry sector in the long term”, said Etihad Airways’ President and CEO James Hogan in a public statement.

Financed by $2 million of Etihad funding, this ground-breaking R&D lab is pioneering use of salt water-tolerant plants in production of alternative aviation fuel. As a member of the global Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group, the airline is fully committed to developing biofuel feedstocks, which protect drinking water supplies; are non-competitive with food sources and maintain optimal biodiversity. Read more ..


The Race for Solar

Illuminating Dark Continents with Solar Power

January 28th 2012

Energy Topics - Solar/LED streetlight

How can local governments keep public spaces and roads illuminated at night in places where there’s no electricity, or an unreliable supply? Solar power, obviously.

But there’s a catch.

“The vast majority of solar-powered streetlights and similar fixtures on the market don’t survive for long,” according to Zeev Jakoby, managing director of Israeli startup Globe Light & Water System. “That’s why we’ve devised a sturdy, solar-powered light fixture that needs no infrastructure.”

This could prove a godsend to developing nations where a lack of street lighting results in dangerous driving conditions and far slower economies. “It’s designed with the African market in mind,” explains Jakoby, who spent many years in Nigeria overseeing construction projects. Read more ..


The Race for Nuclear

Congressional Legislation may Inadvertently Encourage Production of Highly-Enriched Uranium

January 27th 2012

Energy / Environment - Nuclear danger sign

In the post 9/11 world, the threat of a nuclear bomb being fabricated and used by terrorists is real. Now a group of nuclear experts has told Congress that a loophole in a bill meant to limit the use of bomb-grade uranium in medical isotopes could undo years of work to curb the risk of such material being diverted to such a bomb.

Signed by over a dozen experts in the medical and nuclear non-proliferation fields, the letter raises concerns about the American Medical Isotopes Production Act of 2011, passed by the Senate in November. The bill, currently awaiting a House vote, is aimed at reducing the use of highly-enriched uranium (HEU) in developing the medical isotope Molybdenum-99 — a key ingredient in the medical diagnosis of millions of American patients a year.

Highly-enriched uranium is also a key ingredient in nuclear weapons, and experts say its continuing production for civilian use poses many security risks. The letter, submitted by the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Project (NPPP), argues that the bill might unintentionally promote the heightened production of HEU by Russia, in particular. Read more ..


The Race for BioFuel

Microbubbles provide new Boost to Algae for Biofuel Production

January 27th 2012

Science - algae biofuel

The technique builds on previous research in which microbubbles were used to improve the way algae is cultivated. Algae produce an oil which can be processed to create a useful biofuel. Biofuels, made from plant material, are considered an important alternative to fossil fuels and algae, in particular, has the potential to be a very efficient biofuel producer. Until now, however, there has been no cost-effective method of harvesting and removing the water from the algae for it to be processed effectively.

Now, a team led by Professor Will Zimmerman in the Department of Chemical and Process Engineering at the University of Sheffield, believe they have solved the problem. They have developed an inexpensive way of producing microbubbles that can float algae particles to the surface of the water, making harvesting easier, and saving biofuel-producing companies time and money. The research is set to be published in Biotechnology and Bioengineering on 26 January 2012. Read more ..


The Race for EV's

London to be European Electromobility Capital

January 25th 2012

Automotive - Ford Focus electric

The British government and a number of private-public initiatives are successfully building the charging infrastructure for electric vehicles, says Frost & Sullivan. "London has over 500 public charging stations and is dynamically adding more to it", explains Research Associate Prajyot N. Sathe. “The launch of the Source London scheme is working towards getting 1.300 public charging stations by 2013.” By 2015, about 25.000 charging stations will be available in the greater London area. The North East England region also is pushing ahead electromobility infrastructure - the region recently has installed 300 charging stations; the goal is to get 1300 charging stations already in 2013. North East England has been included in the “Plugged-in places” project, that offers matched funding to business and public sectors to install charging stations. They have also been formulated to integrate residential charging stations with a provision for smart meters.

Nissan's strategic use of its Sunderland plant for developing Electric Vehicles (EVs) across Europe has accelerated the government’s vision to increase sustainable and 'green-collar’ jobs. The ambitious targets set by the government and heavy contracts secured by leading EV infrastructure providers are the major grounds for the impressive deployment of the EV charging stations network at strategic locations such as car parks, residential and commercial locations as well as leisure facilities. Read more ..


Oil Addicition

Keystone XL Pipeline Rejection Minor Setback for Canadian Tar Sands Development

January 23rd 2012

Energy / Environment - Alberta tar sands operations

The Obama administration’s recent decision to reject a pipeline that would have carried crude from Canada’s tar sands deposits to Texas oil refineries isn’t likely to end investment in the carbon-rich fuel, industry analysts say.

In killing the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, President Obama blamed congressional Republicans, who he said “forced this decision” by requiring an expedited 60-day review of the pipeline as a provision of the recent payroll tax extension. President Obama also reaffirmed his support for domestic oil and gas exploration and expanding fossil fuel infrastructure. “In the months ahead, we will continue to look for new ways to partner with the oil and gas industry to increase our energy security,” he said. Read more ..


The Race for Solar

AORA’s Solar Sun Tulip Says Ola Sol in Spain

January 23rd 2012

Energy / Environment - Solar Tulip

With a 35 meter high sun-ray collection tower and about 50 mirrors positioned to direct the sun, Israel’s AORA is about to flip the switch on its latest solar power plant in Spain. The company created a huge buzz in Israel in 2009 when it was the first solar energy company to connect to the national grid.

Since, it has been under the radar, and has recently emerged at the prestigious Platforma Solar Almeria in Almeria, Spain.

The new ultra-high temperature concentrating solar power (CSP) technology it is showcasing there focuses heliostats, small mirrors, onto a sun collecting turbine built on top of the “tulip”. Read more ..


The Race for Wind

The Answer for more Energy is Blowing in the Wind

January 22nd 2012

Energy / Environment - Wind Farm

By looking at the stability of the atmosphere, wind farm operators could gain greater insight into the amount of power generated at any given time.

Power generated by a wind turbine largely depends on the wind speed. In a wind farm in which the turbines experience the same wind speeds but different shapes, such as turbulence, to the wind profile, a turbine will produce different amounts of power.

This variable power can be predicted by looking at atmospheric stability, according to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory scientist Sonia Wharton and colleague Julie Lundquist of the University of Colorado at Boulder and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

In a paper appearing in the Jan. 12 edition of the journal Environmental Research Letters, Wharton and Lundquist examined turbine-generated power data, segregated by atmospheric stability, to figure out the power performance at a West Coast wind farm."The depend ence of power on stability is clear, regardless of whether time periods are segregated by three-dimensional turbulence, turbulence intensity or wind shear," Wharton said. The team found that power generated at a set wind speed is higher under stable conditions and lower under strongly unsteady conditions at that location. The average wind power output difference is as high as 15 percent less wind power generation when the atmosphere is unstable. Read more ..


The Race for Solar

In Solar Cells, Tweaking the Tiniest of Parts Yields Big Jump in Efficiency

January 22nd 2012

Technology - Solar Cells

Researchers from the University at Buffalo, Army Research Laboratory and Air Force Office of Scientific Research have developed a new, nanomaterials-based technology that has the potential to increase the efficiency of photovoltaic cells up to 45 percent.

Specifically, the researchers have shown that embedding charged quantum dots into solar cells can improve electrical output by enabling the cells to harvest infrared light, and by increasing the lifetime of photoelectrons. The technology can be applied to many different photovoltaic structures.A  new company the researchers founded, OPtoElectronic Nanodevices LLC. (OPEN LLC), is commercializing this technology. Read more ..


The Race for Alt Fuel

Findings Prove Miscanthus X Giganteus Has Great Potential as an Alternative Energy Source

January 22nd 2012

Nature - Miscanthus

Concerns about the worldwide energy supply and national, environmental and economic security have resulted in a search for alternative energy sources. A new University of Illinois study shows Miscanthus x giganteus (M. x giganteus) is a strong contender in the race to find the next source of ethanol if appropriate growing conditions are identified.

M. x giganteus is a bioenergy crop that can be grown to produce ethanol. The study investigated the establishment success, plant growth and dry biomass yield of the grass. Tom Voigt, lead scientist and associate professor in the U of I Department of Crop Sciences, said the overall goal is to promote biomass yield per acre for ethanol production using the fewest inputs with no environmental damage. Read more ..


Oil Addiction

Labor Union Leaves BlueGreen Alliance Over XL Pipeline

January 20th 2012

Energy Topics - Keystone Pipeline

The Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) left the BlueGreen Alliance Friday, citing a disagreement with the group’s members over the Keystone XL pipeline. LIUNA, a vocal Keystone supporter, took aim at other unions for opposing the project. “We’re repulsed by some of our supposed brothers and sisters lining up with job killers like the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council to destroy the lives of working men and women,” LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan said in a statement. The BlueGreen Alliance, a coalition of environmental groups and labor unions, confirmed LIUNA’s exit Friday afternoon. “The BlueGreen Alliance regrets the decision of the Laborers' International Union of North America to leave our strategic partnership of labor and environmental organizations,” the group’s executive director, David Foster, said in a statement.

The move underscores the intense political divide among unions over the pipeline, which would carry oil sands crude from Alberta, Canada, to refineries along the Gulf Coast. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said earlier this month that the group’s membership has been unable to come to a unified position on the pipeline Read more ..


The Race for Smart Grid

Using Water to Power Itself

January 19th 2012

Energy / Environment - Water Supply

Hydroelectricity is among the cleanest of today's clean energies. As water flows through a hydraulic turbine connected to a generator -- often at a dam -- its kinetic energy creates electricity, and it emerges at the other side no worse for the wear. This is a wonderful way to produce power in places blessed with raging rivers.

Israel isn't, which would make it an unlikely place for a breakthrough in hydroelectric technology. But HydroSpin, based at Kibbutz Lavi in northern Israel, has come up with a new way to power a "smart water network"  (SWAN) by marshaling the flow of water in pipes.

"Our system generates one to five watts of electricity," says HydroSpin CEO Gabby Czertok. "That's enough to power a network and send the data forward every five minutes or so, instead of once a day in other smart water network systems." Read more ..


The Race for LED's

Energy Efficient 100-W LED Light Bulb Uses Only 12 W

January 16th 2012

Energy Topics - LED bulb

Anomax has invented a revolutionary 100-W LED bulb that uses only 12 W of energy. Compared to today's most energy efficient 100-W bulb (CFL Compact Florescent Light at 23 W) Anomax's bulb is 48% more efficient!

Anomax's super energy efficient lights pair their patent pending IPCHS™ substrate technology (a low cost metal-core board with circuits directly plated on alumina) with off-the-shelf LED diodes. Anomax names this break-through technology LMR™ for Light Made Right.

H.A. Chan, Director of Anomax, states, "Today's LED bulbs' bottleneck is their extremely low heat transfer (3 W/mK) board that overheats the LED diodes and greatly lowers the light output. That's why brighter than 60-W LED bulbs exist only in R&D labs and are very expensive to produce. The very high thermal transfer (30 W/mK) of IPCHS™ enables efficient power-to-light conversion, improving energy use by almost 50%." Read more ..


Nigeria on Edge

Impoverished Nigerian Workers Strike over Fuel Subsidy Suspension

January 15th 2012

Nigeria - Nigeria Oil

A labor union representing 20,000 oil and gas workers in Nigeria threatened on January 12 it would shut down all production starting Sunday, January 15 to take part in the crippling nationwide strike over spiraling fuel prices. Nigeria’s main workers’ unions are scheduled to resume their strike today (Monday) after the group said talks with the government failed to resolve their concerns over the removal of a popular fuel subsidy.

The spokesman for the Nigeria Labor Congress, Owei Lakemfa, says negotiations failed after the government refused to reinstate the subsidy. “We felt that the first thing to do is to stop the price increase, which has incensed a lot of Nigerians and pushed them on the streets,” said Lakemfa. “But the government felt that all it needed to do was to offer a price reduction, which wasn’t fundamental to us.” The unions want the government to return fuel prices to the levels before the $8 billion subsides were eliminated at the beginning of this month.

The removal, union workers say, caused fuel prices to double and led to sharp increases in food and transportation prices. The groups, which include the Nigeria Labor Congress (NLC), Trade Union Congress (TUC) and Joint Action Front (JAF) suspended their initial strike over the weekend to make room for talks with the government. But President Goodluck Jonathan and his administration have refused to reinstate the subsidy, saying it’s unaffordable. Labor spokesman Lakemfa said the government has been unwilling to resolve their concerns. Read more ..


Edge on Washington

The Prospect of Keystone Pipeline Jobs Makes Capitalists Bullish and Environmentalists Skittish

January 15th 2012

Energy Topics - Keystone Pipeline

When U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue proclaimed that the Keystone XL pipeline would create 250,000 jobs, he touched a nerve in the environmental community. “That’s just not true,” Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s international program, told reporters Friday, calling Donohue’s jobs estimate “wildly inflated.”

It’s a familiar refrain from the environmental community, which has been working overtime in recent weeks to counter Republican and industry claims that the 1,700-mile pipeline would create a mini-job boom in the United States.  The fight over the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry oil sands crude from Alberta to the Gulf Coast, is increasingly becoming a knock-down, drag-out fight over jobs. And with President Obama slated to make a decision on the pipeline by Feb. 21 under a provision included in a payroll-tax-cut package, the pressure is on.

The fight over jobs is a pivotal issue in the Keystone XL war. Green groups have seized on the issue, realizing that their concerns about the environmental implications of the project are not enough to counter Republican support for the project. And the GOP hopes to inflict political damage on Obama going into the 2012 election by arguing that the rejection of the pipeline would be a missed opportunity to mend the ailing economy. Supporters of the pipeline, armed with a handful of industry-sponsored studies, say the pipeline will create 20,000 temporary construction and manufacturing jobs in the short-term, along with hundreds of thousands of indirect jobs in the coming decades. Read more ..


Edge on Oil

Iran warns Neighbours Against Augmenting their Oil Exports

January 15th 2012

Energy Topics - Iran Esfandiar oil

Iran has warned its Persian Gulf neighbors such as Saudi Arabia not to raise their oil exports if the West imposes an embargo on Iranian oil supplies. In an interview published today in Qatar's "Sharq" newspaper, Iran's OPEC representative, Mohammad Ali Khatibi, said Tehran would not see such actions as "friendly" and that those countries "will be held responsible for what happens." European Union nations have tentatively agreed to embargo imports of Iranian oil as part of Western efforts to pressure Tehran over what the West says is its program to develop nuclear weapons.

Saudi Arabia, the region's biggest oil producer, has already said it is ready to meet an increase in consumer demand. Meanwhile, China has criticized the United States for imposing sanctions on a state-run oil firm for exporting petroleum products to Iran. The United States on January 12 imposed sanctions on China's Zhuhai Zhenrong, barring it from doing business in the United States, saying it brokered delivery of more than $500 million worth of gasoline to Iran from July 2010-January 2011. Read more ..


The Race for EVs

Brookhaven Gets New Electrocatalyst Technology for Fuel Cells in Electric Vehicles

January 14th 2012

Energy Topics - Hydrogen car

N.E. Chemcat Corporation, Japan’s leading catalyst and precious metal compound manufacturer, has licensed electrocatalysts developed by scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory that can reduce the use of costly platinum and increase the effectiveness of fuel cells for use in electric vehicles. In addition, the license includes innovative methods for making the catalysts and an apparatus design used in manufacturing them.

Platinum is the most efficient electrocatalyst for fuel cells, but platinum-based catalysts are expensive, unstable, and have low durability. The newly licensed electrocatalysts have high activity, stability, and durability, while containing only about one tenth the platinum of conventional catalysts used in fuel cells, reducing overall costs. Read more ..


Oil Addiction

Republicans Seek Political Gains by Assailing Obama on Keystone Pipeline Project

January 13th 2012

Energy Topics - Keystone pipe

House GOP leaders hope to reclaim political momentum from the White House by bashing President Obama for dithering over the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline. Republicans, bruised by December’s battle over extending the payroll tax cut, see Keystone as a weak spot for a president focused on the economy as he enters a difficult reelection campaign. “Attacking Obama on the pipeline delay is definitely a good hit,” said GOP strategist Tyler Harber. “This issue gives another example to Republicans that demonstrates that Obama hasn’t fully embraced policies that could grow jobs.”

Republicans argue that approving pipeline to carry Alberta’s oil sands to Gulf Coast refineries would create thousands of jobs while curbing reliance on oil from unstable nations. It’s a case GOP lawmakers are making at every turn – Republicans have unloaded on Obama with a stream of tweets, Fox News appearances and even homage to Bob Dylan as they call for approval of TransCanada Corp.’s project. The GOP is coming off a politically disastrous fight over extending the payroll tax cut for two months that appeared to put them on the wrong side of helping struggling workers. “Waging war on the White House for the pipeline delay will successfully shift the public debate from the payroll tax cut extension to an issue that Republicans can use to make headway against Obama,” Harber said.

House GOP leaders last month held up the payroll deal when rank-and-file members initially bristled at legislation that had the backing of Senate Republicans. Ultimately, House Republicans relented, but only after handing the White House political ammunition for a week while they balked. But the silver lining for the House GOP is that bill included language intended to force the president's hand on Keystone by requiring a permit decision within 60 days, a countdown that expires Feb. 21. Read more ..


Oil Addiction

Republicans Weigh Options if Obama Nixes Keystone pipeline

January 12th 2012

Energy Topics - Keystone Pipeline

Capitol Hill Republicans are mulling new efforts to win approval of the proposed Keystone XL oil sands pipeline if the White House rejects the project in February.

The short-term payroll tax cut deal struck in December requires a permit within 60 days for the pipeline to bring Canadian oil sands to Gulf Coast refineries — that is, unless President Obama determines that it’s not in the national interest.

Republican aides signaled Wednesday that the GOP won’t give up the fight if Obama rejects the project or finds a way to avoid the deadline.

The GOP could seek to add new Keystone provisions to the year-long payroll bill that lawmakers plan to negotiate. Read more ..


Edge on Emissions

Average U.S. Fuel Economy drops in 2011

January 12th 2012

Energy / Environment - exhaust pipe

After two months of increases, the average fuel economy of all new vehicles sold in the United States fell by a half mile per gallon last month, say researchers at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. Average fuel economy of cars, light trucks, minivans and SUVs purchased in December 2011 was 22.2 mpg, down from 22.7 mpg in November and 22.6 in October.

According to Michael Sivak, research professor and head of UMTRI's Human Factors Group, average fuel economy of all new vehicles bought last month was down from 22.3 in December 2010, but up slightly from 22.0 in December 2009. The all-time high of 23 mpg occurred in March 2011. Average fuel economy for new vehicles sold is now up about two miles per gallon from just four years ago. Read more ..


Edge on Bio-Fuels

Catalytic Fast Pyrolysis Boosts Biomass Transformation in Petrochemicals by 40 Percent

January 11th 2012

Energy Topics - switchgrass
Switchgrass

Chemical engineers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, using a catalytic fast pyrolysis process that transforms renewable non-food biomass into petrochemicals, have developed a new catalyst that boosts the yield for five key "building blocks of the chemical industry" by 40 percent compared to previous methods. This sustainable production process, which holds the promise of being competitive and compatible with the current petroleum refinery infrastructure, has been tested and proven in a laboratory reactor, using wood as the feedstock, the research team says.

"We think that today we can be economically competitive with crude oil production," says research team leader George Huber, an associate professor of chemical engineering at UMass Amherst and one of the country’s leading experts on catalytic pyrolysis. Read more ..


Edge on Bio-Fuel

Obama's Tax Cuts to Energize Burgeoning Brazilian Bio-Fuel Supplies

January 11th 2012

Farming - sugar cane

After decades of taxing foreign ethanol, the United States government decided to open up its market by allowing the federal tariff impost to expire on December 31, 2011. Previously, foreign ethanol producers had to forfeit USD 0.54 in taxes per gallon of ethanol exported to the U.S. In addition, Congress passed the country’s federal spending bill without renewing the VEEC subsidy that would have been granted to domestic U.S. ethanol producers. Brazil is quite interested in this change, as it is the biggest sugarcane ethanol producer on the globe. The revocation of the trading barrier represents a big win for the country’s ethanol industry, which seeks to maximize its production and exportation to the United States. Marcos Jank, President of UNICA (Union of the Sugarcane Industry), Brazil’s biggest representative of the sugar and bioethanol market, expects an increase of 12 billion liters of Brazilian ethanol exported to the U.S. until 2020.

Currently, the majority of the ethanol production in the U.S. comes from corn crops, which have heavily influenced world food price increases in recent years. This is because it takes a significant amount of corn to produce ethanol and, consequently, more land is needed for food production. On the other hand, Brazilian ethanol originates from sugarcane, which involves a cleaner production process and is 5 times better than corn ethanol. Also, since the use of ethanol reduces around 90 percent of pollutants compared to gas use, the aforementioned measures also represent a significant achievement for environmentalists. Read more ..


Edge of Electric Vehicles

CES: Mercedes foresees progress in batteries, composites

January 11th 2012

Environment Topics - S500 Hybrid
Mercedes S-500 Hybrid

While the German automaker talks up its rolling Facebook platform, serious alternative-vehicle research is going on behind the scenes. LAS VEGAS—In its keynote showcase at CES, Mercedes-Benz emphasized advances in telematics, which is seemingly turning its automobiles—like those of its competitors—into rolling social-media platforms. However, off the show floor, Daimler researchers interviewed by EE Times told a potentially more impactful story of research which could ultimately deliver serious weight reductions and range boosts for electric vehicles.

The keynote speech was given Jan. 10 by Dieter Zetsche, chairman of Daimler AG and head of Mercedes-Benz. Zetsche became famous in the U.S. a decade ago as "Dr. Z," the star of television commercials for Chrysler Corp., which Daimler owned at the time. At CES, Zetsche turned his Teutonic charisma to the task of marketing what he called the next level of auto mobility. That would be Daimler's telematics system, called mbrace2, which is making its first appearance in Mercedes' new SL, and will soon become standard on all its U.S. models.

Billed as cloud based, mbrace2 uses Daimler's Vehicle Backend Server to continuously stream navigation information to the car, and to enable connectivity to social media sites such as Facebook. In the other direction, it'll send real-time automotive diagnostics back to the dealer.  Read more ..


Israel and Jordan

Two Birds with One Pipeline

January 10th 2012

Contributors / Staff - Gal Luft

Jordan is facing a full-blown energy crisis. Its electricity demand is expected to double by 2020, yet, being heavily dependent on Egyptian natural gas for its electricity generation, its power system can barely supply its current needs. The country has been deeply affected by the repeated explosions caused over the past year by saboteurs in Sinai on the natural-gas pipeline there. These disruptions, though most likely directed at Israel, another purchaser of Egyptian natural gas, have already caused severe economic damage to the struggling Jordanian economy. According to Jordanian energy expert Ahmed Al-Azzam, switching to more expensive fuels, such as diesel and heavy fuel oil, would cost the kingdom more than $1.7 billion per year - around 4 percent of the country's gross domestic product.

This predicament has not escaped the eyes of the Middle East's natural gas giants, Iran and Qatar, both concerned, each for its own reasons, about the likely fall of the Syrian Ba'ath regime. For Iran, the loss of Syria as a regional ally and a land bridge to Lebanon would be a serious strategic setback. In preparation for such a contingency, Iran has been exploring ways to increase its presence and influence in the neighboring Hashemite kingdom in the hope of penetrating the West Bank via Islamist proxies, and furthering the encirclement of Israel. Tehran has therefore been courting Jordan since last summer, offering Amman to build a pipeline to carry Iranian gas there via Turkey or Iraq.

For Qatar, Jordan could serve a different purpose: becoming the next permanent home of Hamas' leadership, which recently left Syria. Qatar has long been a staunch political and financial supporter of Hamas and played an important role in the organization's takeover of the Gaza Strip in 2007. Last week, Qatar offered to award Jordan with natural gas in exchange for sheltering Hamas, and this week a Jordanian delegation visited Doha to discuss this option, which requires construction of a liquefied natural gas (LNG ) terminal off Jordan's Red Sea port of Aqaba. The presence in Amman of either Iranian or Hamas elements would undermine American and Israeli interests. More important, over time, such developments could destabilize the Jordanian regime which, as it is, confronts considerable challenges at home. Read more ..


The Race for Alternative Vehicles

Energy Dept. Pulls Plug on $730 Million Auto Loan

January 9th 2012

Automotive - car door

The Energy Department (DOE) has decided against providing a Michigan company with a $730 million loan to support the manufacture of high-strength automotive steel. The department last June gave Severstal Dearborn LLC — a subsidiary of Russian steel giant OAO Severstal — a conditional commitment for the loan to retool and expand facilities in Dearborn, Mich. But a DOE spokesman said the department, after a “thorough review,” has decided against moving forward with the loan. “Nevertheless, the project does have merit and has already had some success in obtaining private financing. We hope that the company will remain committed to its investment in Michigan,” spokesman Damien LaVera said.

The planned loan had come under attack from several GOP lawmakers, including House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), and some of Severstal’s steel industry competitors. Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) applauded the decision not to move forward. “This announcement is a victory for taxpayers and steel manufacturers in Indiana,” he said in a statement. “The Severstal loan commitment never passed the sniff test, as multiple producers are already manufacturing this high strength steel without taxpayer financing.” The rejection of the Severstal financing also comes amid wider GOP criticism of DOE loan and loan guarantee programs following the collapse of solar panel manufacturer Solyndra last year. Read more ..


Electricity Edge

Implanted Biofuel Cell Converts Bug's Chemistry into Electricity

January 6th 2012

Technology - Beetle Robot
VW Beetle Robot

An insect's internal chemicals can be converted to electricity, potentially providing power for sensors, recording devices or to control the bug, a group of researchers at Case Western Reserve University report.

The finding is yet another in a growing list from universities across the country that could bring the creation of insect cyborgs – touted as possible first responders to super spies – out of science fiction and into reality. In this case, the power supply, while small, doesn't rely on movement, light or batteries, just normal feeding.

The work is published in the online Journal of the American Chemical Society.

"It is virtually impossible to start from scratch and make something that works like an insect," said Daniel Scherson, chemistry professor at Case Western Reserve and senior author of the paper.

"Using an insect is likely to prove far easier," Scherson said. "For that, you need electrical energy to power sensors or to excite the neurons to make the insect do as you want, by generating enough power out of the insect itself." Scherson teamed with graduate student Michelle Rasmussen, Biology Professor Roy E. Ritzmann, Chemistry Professor Irene Lee and Biology Research Assistant Alan J. Pollack to develop an implantable biofuel cell to provide usable power. The key to converting the chemical energy is using enzymes in series at the anode. The first enzyme breaks the sugar, trehalose, which a cockroach constantly produces from its food, into two simpler sugars, called monosaccharides. The second enzyme oxidizes the monosaccharides, releasing electrons.

The current flows as electrons are drawn to the cathode, where oxygen from air takes up the electrons and is reduced to water. Read more ..


Edge on Energy

The Best Brains in America Aren't Enough to Unravel Energy Dilemma

January 5th 2012

Politics - Arun Majumdar
Arun Majumdar

Forbes magazine has provided a peek into the thinking of Arun Majumdar, the Energy Department official who oversees the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, which funds so-called high-risk, high-reward research into cutting-edge technology. Majumdar, who is also President Obama’s nominee for undersecretary of Energy, says in an interview that there’s good news and bad: The United States still has the “best brains” in science and engineering, but that’s not enough to solve the nation’s energy problems, and the clock is ticking.

Arun Majumdar said "We need to translate that brainpower into business. And we also have a strong ecosystem for entrepreneurship and for business, with the world’s best financial system and most open capital markets. If we can leverage the strength of each of these parts in an aligned way, and apply them to work in the energy field, we’ll be unbeatable. But we face a very competitive world."

Adding, "We’ve got to figure out how to create jobs and grow our economy sustainably, using our own resources and alternatives to oil imports. We have to look at ways to produce clean electricity, and we need to shift the paradigm within the next 10 to 15 years. Other nations realize this need, and they are investing heavily to make this transition as quickly as possible, because whoever gets there first will then figure out how to sell it to the rest of the world. Ultimately, we have to decide whether we’re going to be buyers of sustainable energy, or whether we’re going to be sellers." Read more ..


Oil Addiction

Oil Industry Threatens Obama with 'Huge Political Consequences' if Keystone Pipeline is Rejected

January 5th 2012

Energy / Environment - Keystone Pipeline

A top oil industry official delivered a clear warning to President Obama on January 4: approve the Keystone XL pipeline or face “huge political consequences.” American Petroleum Institute President Jack Gerard urged Obama to quickly approve the pipeline, which would carry oil sands crude from Alberta, Canada, to refineries along the Gulf Coast.

A payroll tax cut package signed into law by Obama last month includes a GOP-backed provision requiring the president to make a final decision on the pipeline within 60 days.

“I think it would be a huge mistake on the part of the president of the United States to deny the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline,” Gerard said during the powerful oil industry trade association’s annual “State of American Energy” event on January 4. “Clearly, the Keystone XL pipeline is in the national interest. A determination to decide anything less than that I believe will have huge political consequences.”

Gerard’s comments marked the latest attempt by proponents of the pipeline to pressure Obama to approve the project. Read more ..


Electric Avenue

Hybrid Diesel-Electric Buses Debut at University of Michigan

January 5th 2012

Automotive - hybrid bus

The University of Michigan debuted its first diesel-electric hybrid bus this week at its campus in Ann Arbor.  Sporting a maize-and-blue color scheme and new graphic treatment, the 40-foot buses use a roof-mounted battery system to supplement their diesel engines, allowing for better fuel mileage and lower emissions. Officials expect an improvement of 30 percent over a conventional bus.

The University of Michigan expects to have three more hybrid buses to be in use by mid-January, and three more in sevice this fall.

"The addition of hybrid buses to our fleet is another step in our commitment to sustainability," says Keith Johnson, associate director of transportation operations. "By the end of 2012, one in six buses on campus will be a hybrid." Read more ..


Energy Edge

DOE Researchers Achieve Important Genetic Breakthroughs for Cheaper Biofuels

January 2nd 2012

Energy Topics - switchgrass

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE's) Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) announced today a major breakthrough in engineering systems of RNA molecules through computer-assisted design, which could lead to important improvements across a range of industries, including the development of cheaper advanced biofuels. Scientists will use these new "RNA machines", to adjust genetic expression in the cells of microorganisms. This will enable scientists to develop new strains of Escherichia coli (E. coli) that are better able to digest switchgrass biomass and convert released sugars to form three types of transportation fuels – gasoline, diesel and jet fuels.

"This is a perfect example of how our investments in basic science innovations can pave the way for future industries and solutions to our nation's most important challenges," said Energy Secretary Steven Chu. "This breakthrough at the Joint BioEnergy Institute holds enormous potential for the sustainable production of advanced biofuels and countless other valuable goods." Read more ..


Oil Spills

NOAA Scientists Say Spilled Oil Unexpectedly Lethal to Fish Embryos in Shallow, Sunlit Waters

January 2nd 2012

Energy / Environment - Oil Spill

In a study published today in the scientific journal PNAS, NOAA scientists and their collaborators reported Pacific herring embryos in shallow waters died in unexpectedly high numbers following an oil spill in San Francisco Bay, and suggest an interaction between sunlight and the chemicals in oil might be responsible.

In November 2007, the container ship Cosco Busan released 54,000 gallons of bunker fuel, a combination of diesel and residual fuel oil, into the San Francisco Bay. The accident contaminated the shoreline near the spawning habitats of the largest population of Pacific herring on the West Coast.

In this study, scientists found that herring embryos placed in cages in relatively deep water at oiled sites developed subtle but important heart defects consistent with findings in previous studies. In contrast, almost all the embryos that naturally spawned in nearby shallower waters in the same time period died. When scientists sampled naturally-spawned embryos from the same sites two years later, mortality rates in both shallower and deeper waters had returned to pre-spill levels. Read more ..


Edge on Solar

North American Development Bank to Fund Solar Energy Projects on US-Mexico Border

December 29th 2011

Energy Topics - solar power plant

The Board of Directors of the North American Development Bank (NADB) has approved more than $136 million in new financing for environmentally-related initiatives on both sides of the US-Mexico borderline. In an announcement this month, the San Antonio-based bank listed four new projects that will receive NADB loans and grants.

More than half of the new money, or a $88.5 million loan, is set aside for a 20-megawatt solar energy park that will generate electricity for approximately 3,500 homes in the Tucson metropolitan area. The loan recipient will be the privately-owned SunEdison utility company.

Bank directors approved an $11 million loan for the city of Mexicali, Baja California, which plans to use the funding to pave roads and upgrade water and wastewater lines. The officials likewise gave the okay to a third loan of $36.6 million for infrastructure development of the Valle de las Palmas housing project near Tijuana, Baja California. Also in Mexico, a US Environmental Protection Agency grant of $549,488 will be channeled through the NADB to provide 600 residential potable water hookups and related necessities in the municipality of Praxedis Guerrero, Chihuahua, a violence-torn area located in the Juarez Valley across from Texas. Read more ..


The Race for Wind

Wind Industry Sees Good Prospects for Tax Credit Extension

December 28th 2011

Energy Topics - Wind Turbine

The wind industry sounded an optimistic note Tuesday about the prospects of extending a key tax credit next year, pinning its hopes on legislation that has won bipartisan backing in the House.

“The year is wrapping without the all-important extension of the federal Production Tax Credit (PTC), wind power’s primary policy driver, which expires at the end of 2012,” the American Wind Energy Association, the wind industry's trade group, said Tuesday in a statement. “But the PTC movement gathered momentum heading into next year.”

AWEA expressed disappointment that an extension of the Production Tax Credit for wind energy, which expires at the end of 2012, was not included in the package to extend the payroll tax cut. President Obama signed the payroll tax package last week after weeks of disagreement among Republicans and Democrats over the details of the legislation. The industry says an extension of the production tax credit, which provides a credit for each kilowatt-hour of electricity that is produced, is essential for wind power to flourish. AWEA touted House legislation to extend the tax credit by four years, sponsored by Reps. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.) and Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.). The bill has the support of 25 Democrats and 11 Republicans. “The clock is ticking, business decisions are being made and some damage is certain,” AWEA CEO Denise Bode said in a statement earlier this month. “However, when Congress addresses extenders next year, we are very confident that continuing the wind manufacturing success story will be a prominent objective.”

A study commissioned by AWEA released earlier this month says that expiration of the production tax credit could cost as many as 37,000 jobs. “American manufacturing jobs are coming back, with tens of thousands of new jobs from wind power,” Bode said. "But these jobs could vanish if Congress allows the Production Tax Credit to expire, in effect enacting a targeted tax increase, and sending our jobs to foreign countries." Read more ..


The Race for the Smart Grid

New Self-Healing System Restores Electrical Path in Failing Conductors

December 26th 2011

Energy Topics - self healing conductor

A team of University of Illinois engineers has developed a self-healing system that restores electrical conductivity to a cracked circuit in less time than it takes to blink. Led by aerospace engineering professor Scott White and materials science and engineering professor Nancy Sottos, the researchers published their results in the journal Advanced Materials.

“It simplifies the system,” said chemistry professor Jeffrey Moore, a co-author of the paper. “Rather than having to build in redundancies or to build in a sensory diagnostics system, this material is designed to take care of the problem itself.” As electronic devices are evolving to perform more sophisticated tasks, manufacturers are packing as much density onto a chip as possible. However, such density compounds reliability problems, such as failure stemming from fluctuating temperature cycles as the device operates or fatigue. A failure at any point in the circuit can shut down the whole device.

“In general there's not much avenue for manual repair,” Sottos said. “Sometimes you just can’t get to the inside. In a multilayer integrated circuit, there’s no opening it up. Normally you just replace the whole chip. It’s true for a battery too. You can’t pull a battery apart and try to find the source of the failure.” Read more ..


The Race for Solar

Nanoparticle-Based Paint-On Solar Cells Achieve One Percent Efficiency

December 24th 2011

Energy Topics - Solar Paint

A team of researchers at the University of Notre Dame (Indiana) is working on an inexpensive “solar paint” that uses semiconducting nanoparticles to produce energy. By incorporating power-producing nanoparticles, called quantum dots, into a spreadable compound, the researchers have made a one-coat solar paint that can be applied to any conductive surface without special equipment.

“We want to do something transformative, to move beyond current silicon-based solar technology,” says Prashant Kamat, John A. Zahm Professor of Science in Chemistry and Biochemistry and an investigator in Notre Dame's Center for Nano Science and Technology (NDnano), who leads the research. Read more ..


The Race for Solar

Solar PV Companies Shift Focus to Profitability Gains in 2012

December 21st 2011

Technology - Solar Cells

Financial challenges are forcing solar photovoltaic (PV) companies to prioritize a return to profitability and shift focus from seeking market share, finds NPD Solarbuzz’s latest Solarbuzz Quarterly report. The market analyst predicts that global demand is projected to grow 6% in 2012, so market declines in Europe will be offset by 43% growth outside that region. Solar companies will consequently face the challenge of re-building margins during a period of increasing diversity in end solar market mix.

In 2012, the top priority of PV companies will be to improve their financial position after losses across the industry in 2011 that were caused by over-production, excess inventories, and collapsing market prices. Cell manufacturers are poised to hold production flat in 2012, but Q1’12 is still forecast to drop 5% Q/Q as manufacturers manage inventory during seasonal weakness. Read more ..



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