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The Race for EVs

Better Place Inaugurates First Battery Swap Station in Denmark

July 5th 2011

Automotive - Danish EV
credit: Better Place

Denmark is the newest country to get Israeli innovator Shai Agassi’s battery-switching stations. The first of 20 long-planned Better Place battery swap stations slated for installation over the next twelve months was inaugurated June 30, CNet is reporting.

The EV battery switching station was installed in Gladsaxe, a town just outside of Copenhagen. The first battery swap was conducted on a Renault Fluence ZE, which, along with the Nissan Rogue SUV, is one of just two car models designed to accept the robotic battery swap technology designed by Agassi, so far. But that is not slowing Danish enthusiasm for Better Place. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

Here Comes the Sun: Israel Launches a Solar Power Field

July 5th 2011

Energy Topics - Israeli solar power field

It’s taken five years to get off the ground, thanks in part to the difficulty of coordinating between no less than 24 ministerial offices, but the first Israeli solar field was finally launched in June 2011 to fanfare, VIP barbecues, music, a religious rapper (who wrote a song for the occasion), and a picturesque setting sun.

Arava Power’s 4.95 megawatt solar field in Kibbutz Ketura marks a milestone for the state of Israel. The Jewish nation has been intent on branding itself as a clean-tech superhero, selling solar innovations like inverters and software abroad, yet not quite able to prove its commitment to renewable energy on its home turf. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Obama Releases Oil from Strategic Reserve

June 23rd 2011

Energy Topics - Oil Barrels 400px

The Energy Department has said that it will release 30 million barrels of oil from the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve, citing supply disruptions threatening the global economy and hailing from the unrest in Libya and other nations.

If all 30 million barrels are sold, it would be the largest sale from the reserve in history.

The release is part of a coordinated effort with other members of the International Energy Agency that will send a total of 60 million barrels of crude oil into world markets over the next 30 days, according to the Energy Department.

The decision comes amid signs that the economic recovery is faltering—which is a political threat to the White House heading into 2012—and concerns that high energy prices are acting as a brake on growth. Read more ..

Edge of Oil Addiction

Obama Administration Signals Higher Gas Royalties on Public Lands

June 22nd 2011

Energy / Environment - Offshore Oil Rig

The Obama administration may be readying for a fight with the energy industry as it prepares to raise royalty charges for oil and gas obtained from public lands—and tighten up practices that have allowed companies to pay less than they should.

Anticipated rollout in 2012 of new regulations to raise royalties could spark a fight with Republicans in an election year, and slightly reduce the spiraling deficit within a decade by adding nearly $1 billion to Interior Department collections.

The Interior Department has a poor track record of collecting royalties. As reported, the oil and gas industry regularly underpays what it owes, with a possible loss to taxpayers in the billions of dollars.

Oil and natural gas extraction from federal lands and waters make up one of the biggest sources of revenue for the government, behind taxes. In fiscal year 2010, Uncle Sam collected about $9.1 billion from oil and gas companies. Read more ..

Race for EVs

Inductive Charging for EVs Emerging as an New Alternative

June 19th 2011

Energy / Environment - Mia Electric Car

The charging interface for electric vehicles has been - and is - a subject to fierce discussion in the industry. AC and DC charging interfaces both have advantages and disadvantages. Now inductive charging is emerging as a surprise alternative.

All charging methods and interfaces for e-cars are characterized by tradeoffs between charging time, weight and installation space. Single-phase AC charging is convenient since it can be used in a private garage overnight. Read more ..

The Race for Thermal Energy

Neutron Analysis explains Dynamics behind the Best Thermoelectric Materials

June 15th 2011

Science - Oak Ridge boiling stuff

Neutron analysis of the atomic dynamics behind thermal conductivity is helping scientists at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory gain a deeper understanding of how thermoelectric materials work. The analysis could spur the development of a broader range of products with the capability to transform heat to electricity.

Researchers performed experiments at both of ORNL's neutron facilities -- the Spallation Neutron Source and the High Flux Isotope Reactor -- to learn why the material lead telluride, which has a similar molecular structure to common table salt, has very low thermal conductivity, or heat loss -- a property that makes lead telluride a compelling thermoelectric material. Read more ..

Edge on Transportation

Paved Surfaces and Urban Development Alters Weather Patterns

June 14th 2011

Transportation Topics - Man hole cover

New research focusing on the Houston, Texas, area suggests that widespread urban development alters weather patterns in a way that can make it easier for pollutants to accumulate during warm summer weather instead of being blown out to sea. The international study, led by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), could have implications for the air quality of fast-growing coastal cities in the United States and other mid-latitude regions overseas.

The reason: the proliferation of strip malls, subdivisions and other paved areas may interfere with breezes needed to clear away smog and other pollution. The researchers combined extensive atmospheric measurements with computer simulations to examine the impact of pavement on breezes in Houston.

They found that, because pavement soaks up heat and keeps land areas relatively warm overnight, the contrast between land and sea temperatures is reduced during the summer. This in turn causes a reduction in nighttime winds that would otherwise blow pollutants out to sea. Read more ..

The Race for More Oil

Will Israel Become The Next Oil Superpower

June 13th 2011

Israel Topics - Israeli oil find

Tiny Israel, long dependent on outsiders for its energy needs, is poised to become a major exporter of oil. That's according to Lawrence Solomon, writing in the Financial Post.

The new energy order is founded on rock – the shale that traps vast stores of energy in deposits around the world. One of the largest deposits – 250 billion barrels of oil in Israel’s Shfela basin, comparable to Saudi Arabia’s entire reserves of 260 billion barrels of oil – has until now been unexploited, partly because the technology required has been expensive, mostly because the multinational oil companies that have the technology fear offending Muslims.

“None of the major oil companies are willing to do business in Israel because they don’t want to be cut off from the Mideast supply of oil,” explains Howard Jonas, CEO of IDT, the U.S. company that owns the Shfela concession through its subsidiary, Israel Energy Initiatives. Jonas considers the Shfela deposit merely a beginning: “We believe that under Israel is more oil than under Saudi Arabia. There may be as much as half a trillion barrels.” Read more ..

Oil Addiction

OPEC Meeting Ends In Discord, Saudis Unable To Swing Production Increase Accord

June 9th 2011

Energy Topics - al-naimi and chavez

For the first time in its history, the Saudis were unable to get the other members of OPEC to agree to increase production to lower prices on crude.

The meeting reportedly ended in considerable turmoil and acrimony, and Ali al-Naimi, the oil minister for Saudi Arabia was quoted as saying, "We were unable to reach an agreement—this is one of the worst meetings we have ever had."

The Saudis are OPEC's biggest producer, and normally have enough clout to persuade the others to go along with them. But the meeting degenerated into a standoff between the Gulf Arab countries, who had undoubtedly trying to fulfill a request from the White House and Europe to get prices lowered before the oncoming election and anti-U.S. forces in the coalition led by Iran and Venezuela. Read more ..

Edge on Energy

Battle Royal is Between Obama Administration and Opponents of Oil Sands Pipeline

June 8th 2011

Energy Topics - Keystone pipe

State of Play: Opponents of a controversial proposed oil sands pipeline currently being reviewed by the Obama administration will blast the State Department’s environmental analysis of the project on June 7.

The National Wildlife Federation and the Pipeline Safety Trust plan to argue that the State Department’s environmental analysis of the project — the second such analysis conducted by the administration as part of an extended multi-agency review process — is inadequate because it doesn’t take into account key issues like pipeline safety.

The groups will also criticize the State Department for its review of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline project, for not allowing the public more than 45 days to comment on its environmental analysis.

Keystone XL would extend the existing Keystone pipeline, which carries oil sands from Alberta to Oklahoma, to refineries on the Texas coast.

Environmental and public lands groups have mounted an intense opposition campaign against Keystone XL, raising safety concerns and noting that oil sands production results in greater greenhouse gas emissions than conventional oil production. Read more ..

The Race for Power

Smart Grid Could Cost $476 Billion

June 5th 2011

Energy Topics - transformer farm

Costs and benefits of building a smart electric grid have more than doubled as the vision of a digital, networked power utility has expanded, according to a new report from the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI). Sensor networks are on the rise as one of the big and under-served opportunities in the diverse terrain of the smart grid.

The EPRI report estimated the cost of upgrading the U.S. grid could range from $338 to $476 billion, up from $165 billion in a 2004 forecast. Benefit estimates have also skyrocketed to a range of $1.2 to $2 trillion, up from $660 billion estimated in 2004.

EPRI's previous estimates did not include enabling plug-in electric and hybrid vehicles, renewable energy sources, grid-scale energy storage, distributed generation and demand response applications that let consumers adjust energy use based on changing energy prices. Benefits of a smart grid include reduced carbon emissions, energy savings and reduced blackouts that cost $10 billion per event. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Our Lack of Choice at the Pump Props Up the House of Saud

June 5th 2011

Contributors / Staff - Gal Luft

At a time when Americans are engaged in a heated debate about cutting domestic social services and entitlement programs, we are forced to fund more and more social programs—for other nations. How so?

In February, after seeing fellow Sunni Muslim regimes destabilizing throughout the Middle East, Saudi King Abdullah rushed back from New York, where he was recovering from a back injury, to the kingdom to stave off any potential spillover. After all, if Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak had been ousted, anyone could be. In an attempt to pacify its subjects, the House of Saud announced a “stimulus package” that included an increase in subsidies, a 15 percent salary raise to all government employees, and housing benefits to military and religious groups in exchange for support of his ban on protests.

In total, $133 billion was committed—equivalent to 86 percent of the Saudi regime’s $154 billion 2011 budget approved before the disturbances. (For the sake of comparison, the $787 billion economic stimulus plan implemented by the Obama administration constituted 25 percent of the U.S. federal budget.)

Saudi Arabia is not the only country where money was used to pacify disgruntled masses.

Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Ahmad Al Sabah increased his country’s budget liabilities by nearly 10 percent, committing to provide each of the country’s 1.12 million citizens some $3,572. In addition, he offered citizens free essential foodstuffs for one year, at the cost of $1 billion. Read more ..

The Race for Alt Fuel

Northwest Aviation Biofuels Industry Needs Political Boost

May 29th 2011

Transportation Topics - Frankfurt Airport

The Pacific Northwest has the diverse feedstocks, fuel-delivery infrastructure and political will needed to create a viable biofuels industry capable of reducing greenhouse gases and meeting the future fuel demands of the aviation industry. Creating an aviation biofuels industry, however, will depend upon securing early government policy support to prioritize the aviation industry in U.S. biofuel development. That's the conclusion announced in a 10-month study by Sustainable Aviation Fuels Northwest, the nation's first regional stakeholder effort to explore the feasibility, challenges and opportunities for creating an aviation biofuels industry in the Pacific Northwest. Boeing, Alaska Airlines, Portland International Airport, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Spokane International Airport and Washington State University partnered in a strategic initiative to identify the potential pathways and actions necessary to make safe, sustainable aviation biofuel commercially available to airline operators in the area. Read more ..

Edge on China

The New Silk Road: China’s Energy Strategy in the Greater Middle East—The Four Seas Strategy

May 28th 2011

China Topics - China Energy String of Pearls

As Beijing embarks on its “look west” Silk Road development strategy, Syria’s “look east” policy aims to meet China at the Caspian Sea. Since 2009, Syrian president Bashar al-Asad has promoted his Four Seas strategy to transform his country into a trade hub in the regions bordering the Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea, Persian Gulf/Arabian Sea, and the Caspian. Damascus has therefore been aligning with key countries that lie on these shores, namely Turkey, Iran, and Azerbaijan. According to one analyst, Syria’s economic relationship with Ankara lies at the center of this strategy, particularly the two countries’ efforts to connect their oil and gas infrastructure with the region’s expanding pipeline networks. With Turkey emerging as Syria’s most significant investor and trade partner and Iran remaining the guarantor of Syria’s security, the Ankara-Damascus-Tehran triangle has become the nucleus of an approach that aims to include Iraq and the Caucasus in a geographical continuum linking the Four Seas. Read more ..

Race for Alt Fuel

Hydrogen Fuel from Algae with Nanoparticle Catalysts

May 25th 2011

Science - Argonne lab algae

Algae can produce hydrogen fuel from water and sunlight, with a little boost from man-made nanoparticle catalysts, according to engineers at the U.S.Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory. By commandeering the photosynthesis mechanisms that enable algae to harness the energy of the sun, algae can produce abundant fuel to power an emerging hydrogen economy, they say. Led by Argonne National Lab chemist Lisa Utschig, working with colleague David Tiede, the team at Argonne's Photosynthesis Group recently demonstrated how its platinum nanoparticles can be linked to key proteins in algae to coax them into producing hydrogen fuel five times more efficiently that the previous world's record, Utschig said. Read more ..

The Race for Energy Storage

Activated Graphene Makes Superior Supercapacitors for Energy Storage

May 19th 2011

Science - Dong Su and Eric Stach of UT Austin
Dong Su and Eric Stach

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory have helped to uncover the nanoscale structure of a novel form of carbon, contributing to an explanation of why this new material acts like a super-absorbent sponge when it comes to soaking up electric charge.

The material, which was recently created at The University of Texas–Austin, can be incorporated into “supercapacitor” energy-storage devices with remarkably high storage capacity while retaining other attractive attributes such as superfast energy release, quick recharge time, and a lifetime of at least 10,000 charge/discharge cycles. “Those properties make this new form of carbon particularly attractive for meeting electrical energy storage needs that also require a quick release of energy—for instance, in electric vehicles or to smooth out power availability from intermittent energy sources, such as wind and solar power,” said Brookhaven materials scientist Eric Stach,. Read more ..

The Race for Alt Fuel

Oak Ridge National Laboratory Energy Harvesters Transform Waste into Electricity

May 19th 2011

Energy Topics - ORNL energy harvester

Billions of dollars lost each year as waste heat from industrial processes can be converted into electricity with a technology being developed at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

The high-efficiency thermal waste heat energy converter actively cools electronic devices, photovoltaic cells, computers and large waste heat-producing systems while generating electricity, according to Scott Hunter, who leads the development team. The potential for energy savings is enormous.

"In the United States, more than 50 percent of the energy generated annually from all sources is lost as waste heat," Hunter said, "so this actually presents us with a great opportunity to save industry money through increased process efficiencies and reduced fuel costs while reducing greenhouse gas emissions." Read more ..

The Race for Nuclear

After Decades, Preventable Fire Hazards Persist at Alabama Reactor

May 18th 2011

Energy / Environment - browns ferry plant after fire.jpg
Worker at Browns Ferry Nuclear Power Plant (credit: NRC)

Thirty-six years after federal overseers of safety at nuclear plants first recognized the serious risks of fires—when a candle ignited a major emergency at the Browns Ferry nuclear plant—preventable fire hazards still persist at the nation’s reactors, including Browns Ferry.

On Tuesday, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission was back at the site of the nation’s worst reactor fire, in 1975, this time to issue a rare “red” safety violation—considered a matter of “high safety significance.” A valve critical for reactor cooling in the event of a fire or other accident had failed. The valve may have been inoperable for more than two years. Read more ..

Edge on China

The New Silk Road: China’s Energy Strategy in the Greater Middle East—An Increasing Footprint

May 18th 2011

China Topics - China Energy String of Pearls

China’s widesspread energy investments have extended to most every corner of the Greater Middle East, particularly the Caspian Basin and key nodes such as Iran, Turkey, and Greece. In many cases, this growing economic foothold has translated into a military foothold as well, given the large-scale participation of Chinese army personnel in energy projects and the “strategic partnerships” that Beijing has formed with key states.

Caspian Sea

In the Caspian Sea Basin, China has invested most heavily in Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Iran, in addition to increasing its ties with Azerbaijan. Read more ..

The Race for Nuclear

Yucca Mountain Cancellation Creates Expensive Headaches for DOE, Navy

May 9th 2011

Energy / Environment - Worker contemplates nuclear waste

The Department of Energy is responsible for managing almost 13,000 metric tons of nuclear waste at sites in Colorado, Idaho, New York, South Carolina, and Washington. For the past three decades, DOE planned to permanently dispose nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, a geological repository in southwest Nevada. The cancellation of the project by the Obama administration in 2009 has left the department scrambling to come up with alternatives.

Since 1983, DOE has spent $14 billion to research potential sites, develop technical documents and apply to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a license for the Yucca Mountain repository, which was slated to open in 2020. When the administration decided to terminate the Yucca Mountain program and proposed cutting its funding, DOE tried to withdraw its license application from NRC. The commission declined to do so. As a result, the status of the Yucca Mountain program is still in limbo, but the DOE and Navy do not have backup plans in place for a different location the nuclear waster could be stored. Read more ..

The Race for Solar Energy

“Swiss cheese” Design Enables Thin Film Silicon Solar Cells Higher Efficiencies

May 8th 2011

Science - SEM electronics

A bold new design for thin film solar cells that requires significantly less silicon – and may boost their efficiency – is the result of an industry/academia collaboration between Oerlikon Solar in Switzerland and the Institute of Physics' photovoltaic group at the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic.

One long-term option for low-cost, high-yield industrial production of solar panels from abundant raw materials can be found in amorphous silicon solar cells and microcrystalline silicon tandem cells (a.k.a. Micromorph)—providing an energy payback within a year.

A drawback to these cells, however, is that the stable panel efficiency is less than the efficiency of presently dominate crystalline wafer-based silicon, explains Milan Vanecek, who heads the photovoltaic group at the Institute of Physics in Prague. Read more ..

Edge on China

The New Silk Road: China’s Energy Strategy in the Greater Middle East

May 8th 2011

China Topics - China energy sources 2008
China's Energy Sources (source: US EIA)

Since China became an energy importer in 1993, it has adopted a “go out” strategy to procure energy assets abroad. Enabled by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), Beijing is reviving the strong economic connection between China and the Middle East; for centuries, the trade carried along the Silk Road was important to the economies of both areas. Along much the same route as the Silk Road, and along the sea trade routes between China and the Middle East, Beijing is building a modern grid of pipelines, roads, and railways for its enegy supplies, in addition to addressing maritime concerns.

Snapshot of Current Energy Consumption

In August 2010, a report from the Paris-based International Energy Agency stated that China had become the world’s number-one energy consumer, surpassing the United States. Specifically, China consumed 2.252 billion tons of oil equivalent in 2009—about 4 percent more than the United States, which consumed 2.170 billion tons of oil equivalent. (The oil equivalent metric represents all forms of energy consumed: crude oil, nuclear power, coal, natural gas, renewable sources, etc.) Read more ..

The Race for EVs

Electric Cars Roll onto Israeli Streets This Summer

May 2nd 2011

Transportation Topics - Better Place electric car

Better Place will begin selling electric cars in Israel this summer according to an April 26 report in Israeli newspaper, Yediot Ahronot. The electric car infrastructure company founded by Shai Agassi, has reportedly closed its visitor's center near Tel Aviv and will convert it into a sales center. The first electric car to be sold to Israeli customers by Better Place is the Renault Fluence ZE. It will be followed by the Renault Zoe.

Israel is the first country in the world to install the cutting edge electric car network and will act as a pilot for a worldwide electric car grid. The Dor Alon gas station chain earlier signed an agreement to install battery replacement points for the electric vehicles at all of its gas stations. A sales center at Glilot Junction will be the company's flagship store, and will be built in a huge warehouse that was used previously to store fuel. Read more ..

Race for Solar

Highly-Efficient Nanotech Flat Panels Can Generate Solar-Thermal

May 2nd 2011

Energy Topics - Solar panels

High-performance nanotech materials arrayed on a flat panel platform demonstrated seven to eight times higher efficiency than previous solar thermoelectric generators, opening up solar-thermal electric power conversion to a broad range of residential and industrial uses, a team of researchers from Boston College and MIT report in the journal Nature Materials.

Two technologies have dominated efforts to harness the power of the sun's energy. Photovoltaics convert sunlight into electric current, while solar-thermal power generation uses sunlight to heat water and produce thermal energy. Photovoltaic cells have been deployed widely as flat panels, while solar-thermal power generation employs sunlight-absorbing surfaces feasible in residential and large-scale industrial settings. Read more ..

The Race for Pressure Energy

Micro Energy Harvester Generates Electricity from Vibrations

May 2nd 2011

Computer Topics - Piezo electric gizmo

Electrical engineers at the University of Michigan have built a device that can harness energy from vibrations and convert it to electricity with five to 10 times greater efficiency and power than other devices in its class. And it's smaller than a penny.

"In a tiny amount of space, we've been able to make a device that generates more power for a given input than anything else out there on the market," said Khalil Najafi, one of the system's developers and chair of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the Ann Arbor-based institution.

This new vibration energy harvester is specifically designed to turn the cyclic motions of factory machines into energy to power wireless sensor networks. These sensor networks monitor machines' performance and let operators know about any malfunctions. Read more ..

The Race for Biomass

Unlikely Polluters: “Green” Energy Not Always So Clean

May 2nd 2011

Energy / Environment - Detroit Trash-to-Power Plant

Just 12 miles apart in the belly of California, a pair of 12.5 megawatt power plants fouled the air with a toxic brew of pollutants — nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, ammonia, and particulate matter. They released thick plumes and visible dust. They failed to install proper monitoring equipment, and failed to file reports on their emissions.

Another instance of coal plants polluting the environment?

Not quite. These are biomass power plants, part of the so-called green wave of the future.

Pitched as a smarter, environmentally-friendly way to produce power, the electricity generating stations are spreading nationwide, spurred by hundreds of millions in stimulus dollars and big muscle support from members of Congress and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Generating electricity by burning trees, construction debris, poultry litter, and agricultural mass has become a key element in a larger push to develop sources of alternative energy, and popular because it’s been around for decades and is reliable. Read more ..

China on Edge

The New Silk Road: China’s Energy Strategy in the Greater Middle East

May 2nd 2011

China Topics - China's Energy Silk Road
Credit: IEA & National Pipeline Research Society of Japan

Over the past decade, China has increased its energy foothold in the Greater Middle East, encompassing the mainly Islamic countries of Central Asia, the Caucasus, Southwest Asia, and parts of the Balkans and North Africa. Much of this activity has been rooted in China’s tendency to view energy security in geopolitical and strategic terms rather than purely economic terms. In particular, Beijing has been concerned about countering Western energy initiatives in the region. As one Chinese scholar argued, projects such as the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline—the first regional pipeline directly supported and controlled by Western countries—imply American motives of containing Russia and China. Read more ..

BP After the Spill

BP’s Iris Cross Has Starred in Two Disaster PR Campaigns

April 27th 2011

Energy / Environment - Iris Cross, BP PR

Last fall, Iris Cross beamed into millions of homes, the friendly BP worker hailing from New Orleans who assured TV viewers that the oil giant wouldn’t stop cleaning up the worst oil spill in U.S. history “until we make this right.”

She became the very public face of BP, a soothing contrast to former CEO Tony Heyward, whose PR gaffes cemented public opinion against the oil company.

This is not the first time Cross sought to soothe public anger from a BP disaster. One of her efforts in 2006 so angered a judge that BP was accused of jury tampering and threatened with fines and contempt charges. Read more ..

The Race for Hydrogen

Cheaper Hydrogen Fuel Cells are Coming

April 25th 2011

Energy / Environment - Honda Clarity Fueling

Los Alamos National Laboratory scientists have developed a way to avoid the use of expensive platinum in hydrogen fuel cells, the environmentally friendly devices that might replace current power sources in everything from personal data devices to automobiles.

In a paper prepared by Los Alamos researchers Gang Wu, Christina Johnston, and Piotr Zelenay, joined by researcher Karren More of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, describe the use of a platinum-free catalyst in the cathode of a hydrogen fuel cell. Eliminating platinum—a precious metal more expensive than gold—would solve a significant economic challenge that has thwarted widespread use of large-scale hydrogen fuel cell systems. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Fact-Checking Washington's Rhetoric on Energy and Drilling for Oil

April 25th 2011

Energy Topics - Oil Barrels 400px

With gas prices rising, the rhetoric in Washington about drilling is becoming increasingly intense.

On one side of the battle, is President Obama. He recently outlined a proposal to reduce the country’s dependence on foreign oil by one-third by 2025, while continuing to drill responsibly, beefing up fuel-economy standards and promoting electric vehicles.

On the other side of the battle are Republicans and many drill-state Democrats. While they agree with Obama’s policy agenda broadly, they say the administration is not moving quickly enough to expand domestic oil and natural gas production. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

In Philadelphia, Plea for Safer Alternative at Refinery

April 25th 2011

Energy / Environment - Sunoco plant, Phila

Sunoco asserts that there is no “off-site impact” from clouds of toxic acid—to a skeptical audience.

The general manager of the Sunoco oil refinery in Philadelphia defended his company’s decision to keep using an extremely toxic, cloud-forming acid, saying on April 21 that in 40 years “there has not been a single, documented incident of off-site impact or injury to a member of the public.”

Testifying at a legislative hearing on risks posed to workers and neighborhoods by hydrofluoric acid, or HF, the manager, Mike Bukowski, did not find a sympathetic audience, even after explaining that Sunoco had spent $125 million to switch to a modified form of the acid, less likely than standard HF to travel long distances if discharged during an accident. Read more ..

Race for Bio-Fuel

Sugarcane Cools the Climate and Reduces Carbon Dioxide Emissions

April 25th 2011

Energy / Environment - Sugar Cane

Brazilians are world leaders in using biofuels for gasoline. About a quarter of their automobile fuel consumption comes from sugarcane, which significantly reduces carbon dioxide emissions that otherwise would be emitted from using gasoline. Now scientists from the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology have found that sugarcane has a double benefit. Expansion of the crop in areas previously occupied by other Brazilian crops cools the local climate. It does so by reflecting sunlight back into space and by lowering the temperature of the surrounding air as the plants "exhale" cooler water. The research team, led by Carnegie's Scott Loarie, is the first to quantify the direct effects on the climate from sugarcane expansion in areas of existing crop and pastureland of the cerrado, in central Brazil. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Newt Gingrich Faces Questions about Consulting Job and Support for Biofuels

April 25th 2011

Politics - Newt Gingrich 4_2011
Newt Gingrich

“I am not a lobbyist for ethanol,” Newt Gingrich declared in a mid-winter spat with the editors of The Wall Street Journal over his support for government subsidies for alternative fuel.

But Gingrich was a hired consultant to a major ethanol lobbying group—at more than $300,000 a year.

According to IRS records, the ethanol group Growth Energy paid Gingrich’s consulting firm $312,500 in 2009.The former House Speaker was the organization’s top-paid consultant, according to the records. His pay was one of the group’s largest single expenditures, as it took in and spent about $11 million to promote ethanol and to lobby for federal incentives for its use.

In a Growth Energy publication, Gingrich was listed as a consultant who offered advice on “strategy and communication issues” and who “will speak positively on ethanol related topics to media.” Read more ..

Race for Solar

Organic Photovoltaics face Stiff Headwinds

April 20th 2011

Energy Topics - Photovoltaic cells

Organic photovoltaics won't compete with conventional solar technologies, limiting its market potential due to comparatively poor conversion efficiencies and short lifetimes.

OPVs will almost certainly materialize over the next decade, driven by unique form factors and the potential for lower costs, according to a report from Lux Research, which projects a market that reaches $159 million in 2020. OPV modules use carbon-containing polymers or molecules to convert light to electricity. Read more ..

The Race for Batteries

Hidden Magnetic Effect could Yield Optical Battery Design

April 20th 2011

Energy Topics - Light magnet

A dramatic and surprising magnetic effect of light discovered by University of Michigan researchers could lead to solar power without traditional semiconductor-based solar cells. The researchers found a way to make an "optical battery," according to Stephen Rand, a professor in the departments of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Physics and Applied Physics. In the process, they overturned a century-old tenet of physics. "You could stare at the equations of motion all day and you will not see this possibility. We've all been taught that this doesn't happen," said Rand. "It's a very odd interaction. That's why it's been overlooked for more than 100 years."

Light has electric and magnetic components. Until now, scientists thought the effects of the magnetic field were so weak that they could be ignored. What Rand and his colleagues found is that at the right intensity, when light is traveling through a material that does not conduct electricity, the light field can generate magnetic effects that are 100 million times stronger than previously expected. Under these circumstances, the magnetic effects develop strength equivalent to a strong electric effect. Read more ..

Race for Solar

Japan’s Nuclear Crisis Stimulating Solar Markets in Europe

April 18th 2011

Energy Topics - Solar panels

“Reaction to the Fukushima nuclear crisis has been swift in Germany and Italy,” commented Henning Wicht, senior director and principal analyst for photovoltaic systems at IHS iSuppli. “Germany responded quickly by shutting down seven of its oldest reactors, potentially boosting the prospects for renewable energy in the country. Meanwhile, Italy indicated it might upgrade the role of solar within the country and accept higher volumes of sun-powered energy.”

IHS noted that, by the third quarter of 2011, it will be clearer whether the German government is likely to proceed with a rapid exit from nuclear power. In that case, renewable energy is expected to be promoted more strongly. Wind dominates current public discussions, but solar energy possibly could benefit as well. One possible course of action that could benefit the solar industry would boost the annual photovoltaic (PV) installation forecast. Read more ..

The Race for CNG

Study Shows Hydraulic Fracturing for Natural Gas Yields as Much Global Warming as Coal

April 18th 2011

Energy Topics - Hydrolic Fracking pollution
Containment pond for hydraulic fracking liquids

Cornell University professors will soon publish research that concludes natural gas produced with a drilling method called “hydraulic fracturing” contributes to global warming as much as coal, or even more. The conclusion is explosive because natural gas enjoys broad political support – including White House backing – due to its domestic abundance and lower carbon dioxide emissions when burned than other fossil fuels. Cornell Prof. Robert Howarth, however, argues that development of gas from shale rock formations produced through hydraulic fracturing – dubbed “fracking” – brings far more methane emissions than conventional gas production. Read more ..

Edge on Energy

Serious Environmental Concerns Voiced on State Department Report on Keystone Pipeline project

April 18th 2011

Energy Topics - Keystone Kapers Pipeline

Environmental groups blasted an updated environmental analysis released on April 15 by the State Department of a proposed oil pipeline project that would stretch from Alberta, Canada to Texas.

The updated review offered largely the same conclusions as a draft environmental impact statement issued by the State Department in April of last year. The draft review found that the project, known as Keystone XL, “would result in limited adverse environmental impacts during both construction and operation.”

The Keystone XL project, proposed by TransCanada, would transport Canadian oil sands from Alberta, Canada to refineries on the Texas Gulf coast. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

Scientists develop Golden Window Electrodes for Organic Solar Cells

April 11th 2011

Science - Warwick golden electrode

Researchers at the University of Warwick have developed a gold plated window as the transparent electrode for organic solar cells. The electrodes have the potential to be relatively cheap since the thickness of gold used is only 8 billionths of a meter. The ultra-low thickness means that even at the current high gold price the cost of the gold needed to fabricate one square metre of this electrode is only around $10.

Organic solar cells have long relied on Indium Tin Oxide (ITO) coated glass as the transparent electrode, although this is largely due to the absence of a suitable alternative. ITO is a complex, unstable material with a high surface roughness and tendency to crack upon bending if supported on a plastic substrate. The short supply of indium is making it relatively expensive to use. Read more ..

Edge on Computing

Hewlett-Packard Upgrades Data Center with 10K Energy Sensors

April 11th 2011

Computer Topics - Data center computer corridor

Hewlett-Packard has officially opened a new data center on March 30 that will both help run its internal business and act as a lab to research techniques to reduce consumption of energy in data centers. To that end, the building has been outfitted with nearly 10,000 networked sensors. The 50,000 square-foot facility in Fort Collins, Colorado, will house about 10,000 HP x86 and Itanium servers, consolidating work from several prior centers. It is a medium-sized facility, one of six HP uses for its internal applications, some of which are as large as 200,000 square feet. Read more ..

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