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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

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 ..

Oil Addiction

Keystone Supporters Go Bananas Over Chiquita’s No-Oil-Sands Pledge

December 19th 2011

Energy Topics - Keystone pipe

Chiquita Brands International, the well-known banana company, is coming under fire from supporters of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline for the company’s decision to curb its reliance on fuels derived from Canadian oil sands crude.

ForestEthics, a nonprofit that works to protect endangered forests in the United States and Canada, said Thursday that Chiquita agreed to stop using fuel derived from oil sands, often called “tar sands” by environmental groups, to ship its bananas. “Canada’s tar sands is all risk and no benefit for leading American brands like Chiquita that are resolved to reduce environmental problems, so they are working hard to get tar sands out of their transportation footprint,” said Aaron Sanger, director of U.S. campaigns at ForestEthics, in a statement.

ForestEthics has been pressing Chiquita and other companies for months to abandon its reliance on oil sands crude. In a November letter to ForestEthics, Manuel Rodriguez, corporate responsibility officer at Chiquita, said that the company is “committed to directing our transportation providers to avoid, where possible, fuels from tar sands refineries and to adopt a strategy of continuous improvement towards the elimination of those fuels.” Read more ..

The Toxic Edge

Mercury Falling: Groundbreaking Power Plant Emissions Rule Imminent

December 17th 2011

Energy / Environment - carbon emissions

It’s an important moment for Americans who eat fish or use electricity. After more than two decades of delays, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is poised to issue a new regulation restricting some power plant emissions that have polluted the nation’s air and water.

Even though the rule won’t take effect until at least 2015, it’s a big deal. For the first time, all of America’s 150 oil-burning facilities and 1,500 coal-fired power plants would have to limit emissions of mercury and other air toxics — a class of nearly 200 hazardous, haphazardly regulated chemicals that have been the subject of the Poisoned Places series by the Center for Public Integrity’s iWatch News and NPR. The EPA is required to issue the new standard today, but some observers predict that the Obama administration will wait until Congress is out of session Monday to release the final language. Read more ..

Edge Energy

Kite Surfing Spurs Solar Energy Breakthrough

December 15th 2011

Energy Topics - Etenergy

A kite surfing engineer from Israel has found a way to turn his passion for the sea into more power from the sun. Eyal Dror's company Etenergy has developed a new kind of solar panel tracker, the Etracker, to help solar photovoltaic (PV) power plants soak in more energy from the sun.

PV solar panels that are fixed to the ground collect the most amount of energy when the sun hits them at a 90-degree angle. This usually happens at high noon, only once a day. Trackers that can move on one or two axes according to the angle of sun help optimize collecting the sun's rays, but they tend to be expensive. Dror's new invention, inspired by a "eureka" moment when kite surfing, aims to collect 40 percent more power from the sun on a daily basis, with an investment that costs about the same as a fixed panel installation. Choosing fixed or dual-axis tracking has turned into a no-brainer. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Lobbyists go to battle over Keystone pipeline

December 12th 2011

Energy / Environment - Keystone Pipeline

At least 42 lobbying firms, associations and companies have lobbied on the Keystone XL pipeline since 2009, Senate records show.

Lobbying on the controversial project accelerated this year as the pipeline became a hot-button political issue. Of the 42 entities that have lobbied since 2009 on Keystone, at least 33 of them lobbied on the issue in the most recent quarter, records indicate.

The pipeline began to draw widespread attention earlier this year when environmentalists staged a series of protests at the White House to try and stop the pipeline, which would carry oil sands crude from Canada to Texas. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

Solar Power Development in US Southwest Could Threaten Wildlife

December 12th 2011

Energy Topics - Solar panels

Government agencies are considering scores of applications to develop utility-scale solar power installations in the desert Southwest of the United States, but too little is known to judge their likely effects on wildlife, according to a recent sudy. Although solar power is often seen as a "green" energy technology, available information suggests a worrisome range of possible impacts. These concern wildlife biologists because the region is a hotspot of biodiversity and includes many endangered or protected species, notably Agassiz's desert tortoise. It and another tortoise, Morafka's, dig burrows that shelter many other organisms.

The study, by Jeffrey E. Lovich and Joshua R. Ennen of the US Geological Survey's Southwest Biological Science Center, notes that solar energy facilities are poised for rapid development and could cover hundreds of thousands of hectares. Read more ..

The Race for Nuclear

Top Nuke Regulators tell White House of ‘Grave Concerns’ with NRC Chairman

December 11th 2011

Energy Topics - Nuclear Regulatory Chairman
Gregory Jaczko

Members of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission have told the White House that NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko is causing “serious damage” to the agency that could harm the body’s ability to protect health and safety.

An Oct. 13 letter from Jaczko’s four NRC colleagues to White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley is a powerful, unified rebuke of the agency’s leader by his fellow commissioners, who cite “grave concerns” about his conduct and allege it’s increasingly “erratic.”

“We believe that his actions and behavior are causing serious damage to this institution and are creating a chilled work environment at the NRC,” states the letter to Daley from NRC commissioners Kristine L. Svinicki, George Apostolakis, William D. Magwood, IV, and William C. Ostendorff.

“We are concerned that this will adversely affect the NRC’s central mission to protect the health, safety and security of the American people,” the letter adds. Svinicki and Ostendorff are Republicans, the other three NRC commissioners, including Jaczko, are Democrats. The four NRC members laid out their concerns to Jaczko directly in an Oct. 13 memo that mirrors the complaints in their letter to Daley. The memo tells Jaczko of the letter to Daley and acknowledges it is an “extraordinary step,” while adding that Jaczko has left them without “viable alternatives.” Read more ..

The Race for Alt Bioenergy

Switchgrass as Bioenergy Feedstock Reduces Greenhouse Gases

December 10th 2011

Energy Topics - switchgrass

Scientists examined current knowledge about the potential contributions of bioenergy production from switchgrass to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Their findings conclude that the use of switchgrass bioenergy can contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions but encourage further research to address the significant sources of uncertainty, such as what type of land is converted to switchgrass.

According to the leading author, Dr. Andrea Monti, Research Scientist at the University of Bologna, Italy, "We reviewed over 100 articles on switchgrass, which found that this crop has a considerable ability to accumulate carbon in the soil compared to several other grasses, and especially row crops. Although switchgrass has recently received a lot attention as an environmentally beneficial energy crop, it is important to consider that switchgrass had not been planted as a monoculture crop until the mid 20th century. Information needed to make long term predictions on carbon sequestration, such as land use change, carbon turnover rate, and the economic life cycle length are lacking." Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Research Indicates China's Oil Demand To Equal US Demand By 2040

December 5th 2011

Energy / Environment - China Oil

Despite aggressive demand-management policies announced in recent years, China's oil use could easily reach levels comparable to today's U.S. levels by 2040, according to a new energy study by the Baker Institute.

The study's authors said this finding has timely significance because China's growing energy use could continue to pose a major challenge for global climate deliberations in South Africa this week.

The study, "The Rise of China and Its Energy Implications," finds that China's recent efforts at centralizing energy policy do not appear to be significantly more successful than the makeshift patchwork of energy initiatives devised by the United States. In fact, the study said, the U.S. system of open and competitive private sector investment is stimulating more innovation in the American energy sector than in the Chinese energy industry, especially in the area of unconventional oil and gas. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

Senegal's Shining Solution to Blackouts

December 3rd 2011

Energy / Environment - Solar Senegal

It's still early on in Senegal's nine-month-long dry season and, as usual, there's not a cloud in the sky. In a West African nation where growing energy demands far outweigh supply, such abundant sunlight, some say, is the obvious solution to crippling power cuts that result from its aging infrastructure.

Senegal's rolling power outages hinder progress in many sectors, especially in the administrative and financial capital of Dakar. But today a Spanish solar-power company, Prosolia, is installing panels on a vocational school that prepares youth for the city's booming construction industry.

According to Yerogallo Kamara, the school's director, when power goes out, students stop studying. Read more ..

The Race for Smart Grid

The High Cost of Latin America's Electrification Projects

December 3rd 2011

Energy / Environment - Itaipu Dam - Paraguay
Itaipu Dam - Paraguay

Are urbanization and efforts toward environmental sustainability and land preservation compatible? Can we imagine a development strategy that does not destroy territory and also respects the rights of local indigenous populations? These are the fundamental questions that are arising in Brazil, Bolivia, and Chile; each of which are going through various types of economic booms that require investment in energy and infrastructure. In these countries, some projects under discussion, although widely different from each other, have generated protests and clashes between citizens and their governments. Placing these distinct disputes into a global perspective presents a classic problem: the clash between two different methodologies of weighing the benefits of “progress.”

Brazil: Belo Monte Dam

The Belo Monte Dam, a proposed hydroelectric project on the Xingu River in Pará, Brazil, has been in the planning stage for thirty years. The first version of the dam dates back to 1975 when it was formerly known as Kararaô. The Kararaô project proposed six dams that, if built, would have flooded 20,000 square kilometers (km2) of rainforest, including protected areas and indigenous land. Read more ..

The Race for Smart Grid

Energy Defends Air Pollution Regulations, Says New Rules Won’t Crash Power Grid

December 2nd 2011

Energy / Environment - electric power lines

The Energy Department said Thursday that upcoming air pollution regulations will not threaten the reliability of the country’s electric grid, the latest effort by the Obama administration to counter claims by Republicans and industry officials that the rules could cause power outages.

The department released a report Thursday that analyzed the effects on the electric grid of two Environmental Protection Agency air regulations: the cross-state air-pollution rule and the mercury and air toxics standard.

The Obama administration has launched a full-court press this week to counter growing attacks by Republicans on EPA air regulations over the reliability of the electric grid just weeks before the agency is scheduled to finalize rules requiring that power plants install technology to reduce emissions of mercury and air toxics.


The Solyndra Scandal

Judicial Watch Sues Administration for Solyndra Documents

December 2nd 2011

Obama Admin Topics - Steven Chu
Energy Sec. Steven Chu

A conservative watchdog group is suing the Obama administration for documents related to the $535 million loan guarantee to failed California solar company Solyndra.

Judicial Watch said Thursday that it filed separate lawsuits with the Energy Department and the White House Office of Management and Budget after the agencies did not fully comply with a request for records related to the loan guarantee. The group said it filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests in September for “any and all records regarding, concerning or related to” the Solyndra loan guarantee.

The Energy Department released digital copies of documents in October and noted that “[a]dditional responsive documents exist and are being reviewed in preparation for public release,” according to Judicial Watch. But the group said the department has not provided additional documents. "While we cannot comment on pending litigation, the Department has consistently demonstrated our commitment to being fully open and transparent since the beginning of this investigation," Energy Department spokesman Damien LaVera said in a statement. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

Sludge Transformed into Electricity using Solar Power, Robots

November 29th 2011

Energy Topics - Sludge

Israeli startup Global Recycling Projects Ltd., is working on a system to treat sludge waste and transform it into energy and raw materials by harnessing solar energy to thermo-chemically transform the waste.

Toxic sludge, a byproduct of wastewater, is both bad for the environment and expensive to get rid of, requiring dewatering, conditioning, storage, hauling and disposal, either through dumping it in landfills, or incinerating it – neither option a particularly green one.

GRPL, however, has come up with a novel way of dealing with sludge, which not only disposes of the waste greenly, but also provides gas to power electricity-generating turbines in the process.

Using solar power to concentrate solar radiation using a field of tracking mirrors (called heliostats), GRPL directs the collected radiation to a solar tower where a solar biomass reactor has been placed. This then powers the reactor, which acts as a gasifier, capable of transforming the sludge into a gaseous state, which can be used to power electrical utility plants. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

When it Comes to Oil Industry, Self-Preservation is its Highest Skill

November 27th 2011

Energy Topics - Oil Barrels 400px

The oil industry is batting 1.000 this year when it comes to preserving its tax breaks.

The survival of billions in incentives, which President Obama and Democrats repeatedly have targeted this year, shows that the industry’s lobbying and political muscle remains intact even after a year that saw $4-per-gallon gasoline prices and strong profit reports.

The demise of the bipartisan deficit “supercommittee” robbed industry foes of their best opportunity this year to roll back the incentives, observers say. Read more ..

The Race for Fuel Cells

Fuel Cell Carmakers and Industry Highlight Zero Emission Mobility

November 27th 2011

Technology - hydrogen car

On 22 and 23 November, carmakers Daimler, Honda, Opel and Toyota have organized for the fourth time their Hydrogen Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle Drive 'n' Ride in Brussels. At the event, the companies demonstrate how zero-emission technologies such as hydrogen fuel cells tackle transport emissions, one of the European Commission's two environmental priorities for 2012.

During the Drive 'n' Ride, more than 100 EU officials and other high-level stakeholders have the opportunity to experience the reality of clean technology by driving or riding in one of eight fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) on display. In addition, for the first time in Brussels, a fully mobile and compact hydrogen station, provided by industrial gases vendor Linde AG and Daimler, will demonstrate the refuelling process. Read more ..

The Edge of Nature

UGA Scientists Invent Long-lasting Infrared-Emitting Material

November 23rd 2011

Science - Radio and Infrared Emission

In a paper just published in the early online edition of the journal Nature Materials, University of Georgia scientists describe a new material that emits a long-lasting, near-infrared glow after a single minute of exposure to sunlight. Lead author Zhengwei Pan, associate professor of physics and engineering in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences and the Faculty of Engineering, said the material has the potential to revolutionize medical diagnostics, give the military and law enforcement agencies a "secret" source of illumination and provide the foundation for highly efficient solar cells.

"When you bring the material anywhere outside of a building, one minute of exposure to light can create a 360-hour release of near-infrared light," Pan said. "It can be activated by indoor fluorescent lighting as well, and it has many possible applications."   Read more ..

The Fracking Problem

Pennsylvania Public Views Hydro-Fracking Gas Wells Warily

November 22nd 2011

Energy Topics - Marcellus gas well

Pennsylvanians have significant doubts about the credibility of the media, environmental groups and scientists on the issue of natural gas drilling using "fracking" methods, a new poll says.

Those surveyed also believe the state's governor, Tom Corbett, is too closely aligned with companies involved in fracking in Pennsylvania, which is on the frontline of a growing national and international debate about the industry.

The findings raise serious questions about where Pennsylvanians should seek credible information and leadership on an issue that is becoming increasingly important to the state's economy and environment.

The poll, one of the most extensive recent surveys on fracking, was conducted by the Muhlenberg Institute of Public Opinion in collaboration with the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan. Read more ..

Poisoned Places

Many Americans Left Behind in the Quest for Cleaner Air

November 18th 2011

Environment Topics - Smokestacks

For all of her 62 years, Lois Dorsey has lived five blocks from a mass of petrochemical plants in Baton Rouge. She worries about the health of people in her life: A 15-year-old granddaughter, recovering from bone cancer. A 59-year-old sister, a nonsmoker, felled by lung cancer. Neighbors with asthma and cancer.

She's complained to the government about powerful odors and occasional, window-rattling explosions—to no avail, she says. Pollution from the plants—including benzene and nickel, both human carcinogens, and hydrochloric acid, a lung irritant—continues.

“If anything," said Dorsey, herself a uterine cancer survivor, "it’s gotten worse."

Americans might expect the government to protect them from unsafe air. That hasn’t happened. Insidious forms of toxic air pollution—deemed so harmful to human health that a Democratic Congress and a Republican president sought to bring emissions under control more than two decades ago—persist in hundreds of communities across the United States, an investigation shows. Read more ..

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