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The Battle for Libya

Libyan Revolution Makes Oil Markets Shudder and Promises More Shocks to Come

February 22nd 2011

Energy Topics - EIA Oil data table

Unlike energy produced in most African states, nearly all of Libya’s oil and natural gas is produced onshore. This reduces development costs but increases the chances that political instability could impact output — and Libya has been anything but stable of late.

Libya’s 1.8 million barrels per day (bpd) of oil output can be broken into two categories. The first comes from a basin in the country’s western extreme and is exported from a single major hub just west of Tripoli. The second basin is in the country’s eastern region and is exported from a variety of facilities in eastern cities. At the risk of oversimplifying, Libya’s population is split in half: Leader Moammar Gadhafi’s power base is in Tripoli in the extreme west, the opposition is concentrated in Benghazi in the east, with a 600 kilometer-wide gulf of nearly empty desert in between. Read more ..

The Race for Hydrogen

Mimicking Photosynthesis Path to Solar-derived Hydrogen Fuel

February 21st 2011

Energy / Environment - Hydrogen fueling

Inexpensive hydrogen for automotive or jet fuel may be possible by mimicking photosynthesis, according to a Penn State materials chemist, but a number of problems need to be solved first.

"We are focused on the hardest way to make fuel," said Thomas Mallouk, Evan Pugh Professor of Materials Chemistry and Physics. "We are creating an artificial system that mimics photosynthesis, but it will be practical only when it is as cheap as gasoline or jet fuel." Read more ..

Nuclear Edge

The US Can Enhance Energy Security and Independence through Nuclear Fuel Re-processing

February 21st 2011

Energy / Environment - Vetrified slag

Spent nuclear fuel is anything but waste and the time has come revive long-dormant reprocessing program. Failure to pursue a program for recycling spent nuclear fuel has put the U.S. far behind other countries and represents a missed opportunity to enhance the nation's energy security and influence other countries, the former chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said Sunday.

Dale Klein, Ph.D., Associate Vice Chancellor for Research at the University of Texas System, said largely unfounded concerns and "long-held myths" about the reprocessing of spent fuel have prevented the U.S. from tapping into an extremely valuable resource. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

Researchers Develop Cheaper, More Efficient Solar Cells

February 21st 2011

Energy / Environment - Project Better Place

The sun provides more than enough energy for all our needs, if only we could harness it cheaply and efficiently. Solar energy could provide a clean alternative to fossil fuels, but the high cost of solar cells has been a major barrier to their widespread use.

Stanford researchers have found that adding a single layer of organic molecules to a solar cell can increase its efficiency three-fold and could lead to cheaper, more efficient solar panels. 

Professor of chemical engineering Stacey Bent first became interested in a new kind of solar technology two years ago. These solar cells used tiny particles of semiconductors called "quantum dots." Read more ..

Edge on the Environment

Energy Industry Seeks to Rein in EPA on Coal Ash

February 21st 2011

Energy / Environment - KY ash spill

For months now, political pressure has mounted against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts to regulate for the first time the disposal of coal ash—an environmental hazard fouling water supplies and threatening communities across the country.

This week, the pressure on regulators took a new turn as two Republican congressmen inserted language in a must-pass spending bill that would stop the EPA from moving forward to protect the public and the environment from the hazards of coal ash. Reps. David McKinley of West Virginia and Cliff Stearns of Florida say they added the language because of concerns about lost jobs and other consequences of overregulation. Read more ..

After the BP Disaster

Scientific Study Finds Another BP Disaster in the Making in the Gulf of Mexico

February 14th 2011

Energy / Environment - oil platform fire

A new University of Georgia study that is the first to examine comprehensively the magnitude of hydrocarbon gases released during the Deepwater Horizon Gulf of Mexico oil discharge has found that up to 500,000 tons of gaseous hydrocarbons were emitted into the deep ocean. The authors conclude that such a large gas discharge—which generated concentrations 75,000 times the norm—could result in small-scale zones of "extensive and persistent depletion of oxygen" as microbial processes degrade the gaseous hydrocarbons.

The study was led by UGA Professor of Marine Sciences Samantha Joye, assisted by Ian MacDonald of Florida State University, Ira Leifer of the University of California-Santa Barbara and Vernon Asper of the University of Southern Mississippi. Read more ..

The Race for LED

California Researchers Find that LED lights Are not Necessarily Eco-Friendly

February 14th 2011

Energy Topics - LED lights

Those light-emitting diodes marketed as safe, environmentally preferable alternatives to traditional lightbulbs actually contain lead, arsenic and a dozen other potentially hazardous substances, according to newly published research.

“LEDs are touted as the next generation of lighting. But as we try to find better products that do not deplete energy resources or contribute to global warming, we have to be vigilant about the toxicity hazards of those marketed as replacements,” said Oladele Ogunseitan, chair of the University of California-Irvine’s Department of Population Health & Disease Prevention.

He and fellow scientists at UCI and UC Davis crunched, leached and measured the tiny, multicolored lightbulbs sold in Christmas strands; red, yellow and green traffic lights; and automobile headlights and brake lights. Their findings? Low-intensity red lights contained up to eight times the amount of lead allowed under California law, but in general, high-intensity, brighter bulbs had more contaminants than lower ones. White bulbs copntianed the least lead, but had high levels of nickel. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

Scientists Find How Hornets have Used Solar Energy for Millenia

February 14th 2011

Animals - Oriental hornet

While abundant resources are channeled to converting sunlight into power, it emerges that the common Oriental hornet has known the secret all along. Structures in the body of the Oriental hornet trap solar light and beam it into lower layers that keep energy bouncing between them, the yellow stripes contain a pigment that turns light into electrical energy.

"These structures are very complicated," explained researcher and graduate student Marian Plotkin. "To build something similar would be very expensive and complicated, but the insects do it naturally. Their cells secrete all the building blocks and they just do self-assembly." Read more ..

Egypt in Revolt

Terrorists Set the Mideast Alight with Attack on Egyptian Pipeline

February 6th 2011

Arab Topics - Egypt gas explosion

Egyptian state-controlled media reported on February 5 that unidentified masked terrorists detonated explosives at the El-Arish gas terminal in Egypt. The conflagration shot flames hundreds of feet into the air at the Sinai Peninsula facility, also effectively cutting off Israel’s supply of essential natural gas at least temporarily. The pipelines there transport gas from Egypt's Port Said on the Mediterranean Sea to Israel and Jordan. The gas pipeline to Jordan was damaged in the blast, according to Israel Radio. "It is a big terrorist operation", an Egyptian TV reporter said. Israel has stopped drawing gas as a precaution. Read more ..

The Race for Natural Gas

The Story of A Gas Well that Was Drilled in a National Forest

February 6th 2011

Energy Topics - Marcellus gas well
A typical gas well in a wooded area

A new report  by the U.S. Forest Service offers one of the most detailed accounts yet of how natural gas drilling can affect a forest – in this case the Fernow Experimental Forest, deep in the mountains of West Virginia.

The report traces the construction and drilling of a single well and an accompanying pipeline on a sliver of the 4,700 acre forest that federal scientists have been studying for nearly 80 years. It found that the project felled or killed about 1,000 trees, damaged roads, eroded the land and—perhaps most important—permanently removed a small slice of the forest from future scientific research.

The report said the drilling didn’t appear to have a substantial effect on groundwater quality. The scientists did not monitor the forest’s most sensitive ecosystems, including extensive caves, and did not evaluate the operation’s impact on wildlife. The authors also did not test for any of the chemicals added to drilling and hydraulic fracturing fluids. Read more ..

Edge on Energy

Louisiana Senator Accuses Obama Administration of Placing Ideology over Science in Oil Drilling Debate

February 6th 2011

Energy / Environment - Offshore Oil Rig

Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) is accusing the Obama administration of "leading with ideology and politics" instead of science on the deepwater oil drilling debate.

"Unfortunately, I think it is politics and ideology over sound science and common sense," Vitter said in an interview with the Fox Business Network. "The president...has also been attacking traditional energy, particularly oil and gas."

Vitter, a vocal critic of the administration's opposition to deepwater drilling, said he agreed with a recent court ruling that held the administration in contempt for its repeat imposition of a deepwater drilling moratorium. Read more ..

The Race for Electric Cars

Ford and Best Buy Getting the Jump on Electric Vehicle Charging Stations

February 6th 2011

Automotive - Ford Focus electric

Until recently, getting Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment (EVSE) installed in your home required you to go directly to the manufacturers of the equipment, or buy direct from your electric car dealer.

But in a deal announced at the January 2011 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Ford and Best Buy announced that they were revolutionizing the way electric car owners shop for their EVSE.  Coinciding with the unveiling of Ford’s 2012 Focus Electric, the Level 2 240-volt Ford-branded home charging station will be capable of providing up to 32-amps of current, providing the Ford Focus Electric with the full 6.6-kilowatts it needs to fully charge in under 4 hours.

Soon available 1,200 of the Best Buy stores throughout the U.S., the home charging stations will retail for around $1,499, including installation costs.  Consumers are already familiar with Best Buy as a retailer of electronics, cameras, and home appliances. Read more ..

Edge on Energy

Study Finds Energy Limits Global Economic Growth

February 6th 2011

Energy / Environment - electric power lines

A study that relates global energy use to economic growth, finds strong correlations between these two measures both among countries and within countries over time. The research leads the study's authors to infer that energy use limits economic activity directly. They conclude that an "enormous" increase in energy supply will be required to meet the demands of projected world population growth and lift the developing world out of poverty without jeopardizing standards of living in most developed countries. Researchers used macroecology to establish correlations across countries and over time. Read more ..

The Edge of Fracking

Philadelphia is Latest City to Call for Ban on New Gas Wells in Critical Watersheds

January 30th 2011

Energy Topics - Marcellus gas well

As the federal government continues to study a controversial gas drilling technique and the states tinker with their own regulations, some cities and towns are trying to halt local drilling. Philadelphia became the latest to do that on January 28, when city officials called for at least a temporary ban on new wells in the watershed that serves the city's taps.

The request was part of a set of recommendations in a report approved by the city council asking federal and state authorities to tighten drilling regulations. The report also urges the city-owned utility to avoid buying gas that comes from the Marcellus Shale, the layer of rock that stretches under much of Pennsylvania and is considered one of the world's largest gas fields. Read more ..

Race for natural Gas

Ecological Benefits of Natural Gas Production May Be a Vapor

January 30th 2011

Energy Topics - Hydrolic Fracking pollution
Pollutant containment pond

The United States is poised to bet its energy future on natural gas as a clean, plentiful fuel that can supplant coal and oil.

But new research by the Environmental Protection Agency—and a growing understanding of the pollution associated with the full “life cycle” of gas production—is casting doubt on the assumption that gas offers a quick and easy solution to climate change. Advocates for natural gas routinely assert that it produces 50 percent less greenhouse gases than coal and is a significant step toward a greener energy future. But those assumptions are based on emissions from the tailpipe or smokestack and don’t account for the methane and other pollution emitted when gas is extracted and piped to power plants and other customers. Read more ..

The Race for Wind

Israel Takes Another Big Step away from Petroleum Addiction

January 30th 2011

Israel Topics - Israel road sign to wind turbines

Israel approved a plan to develop technologies to reduce the global use of oil in transportation.  Following a meeting of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet, Israel is due to  invest approximately $ 407 million over the next decade while seeking to invest millions more from other sources.

According to a January 31 statement from the prime minister’s office, the plan is designed to decrease global  dependency on oil and oil-producing countries, such as Venezuela and Saudi Arabia, “which causes instability in the global economy and harms the environment through the emission of pollutants and greenhouse gases.” Read more ..

Oil on the Edge

Gaping Holes in Saudi Arabia's Oil Policies

January 24th 2011

Arab Topics - Saudi Oil

During the past three months, world prices for oil have steadily increased, leading to predictions that the $100 per barrel level will soon be breached. Although, in part, the increases reflect recovering demand in the world economy, the Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA) warned this week that prices are entering "a dangerous zone" that threatens economic recovery. In the past, Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil exporter, has been careful to avoid such criticism by using its market strength to influence prices. But owing to the poor health of many of its leaders, Saudi Arabia's ability to continue to manage this role effectively is open to scrutiny. Read more ..

The Race for Alt Fuel

Seismic Shift: Israel's Natural Gas Discoveries

January 24th 2011

Energy Topics - Levant Basin Natural Gas
Israel's Natural Gas Locations

On December 29, 2010, Houston-based Noble Energy announced a "significant natural gas discovery" in the Leviathan offshore license area eighty miles off the northern Israeli port of Haifa. According to the company, recent measurements confirmed initial estimates for the field of 16 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of gas, making it the world's largest deepwater gas discovery in ten years and increasing Israel's total natural gas reserves to as much as 26 tcf. Although the discovery adds less than 0.4 percent to the world's proven gas reserves, it is a significant boost for Israel's economy—indeed, exploiting the field and other possible finds in the Eastern Mediterranean could dramatically change the economic fortunes of Israel and its neighbors. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

Nature Shows how Moth Eyes Increase the Efficiency of Photovoltaics

January 24th 2011

Animals - Moth

The eyes of moths, which allow them to see well at night, are also covered with a water-repellent, anti-reflective coating that makes their eyes among the least reflective surfaces in nature and helps them hide from predators in the dark. Mimicking the moth eye's microstructure, a team of researchers in Japan has created a new film, suitable for mass-production, for covering solar cells that can cut down on the amount of reflected light and help capture more power from the sun. Read more ..

Fracking on the Edge

Congressional Opponents to Disclosure by Natural Gas Extractors Receive Big Industry Checks

January 18th 2011

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

Congress isn’t going to regulate hydraulic fracturing any time soon. But the Department of Interior might. For starters, Interior is mulling whether it should require drilling companies to disclose the chemicals they use to frack wells drilled on public lands, and already the suggestion has earned Interior Secretary Ken Salazar an earful.

On January 5, a bipartisan group of 32 members of Congress, who belong to the Natural Gas Caucus, sent Salazar a letter imploring him to resist a hasty decision because more regulations would “increase energy costs for consumers, suppress job creation in a promising energy sector, and hinder our nation’s ability to become more energy independent.”

A week later, 46 House Democrats followed up by signing a letter to Salazar urging him to at least adopt the disclosure requirement because, as Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., said, “communities across America have seen their water contaminated by the chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing process.”

“The public has a right to know what toxins might be going into the ground near their communities, and what might be leaking into their drinking water,” said the letter, which was sent by the three initial sponsors of now-stalled legislation to regulate fracturing, Hinchey, Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., and Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo. Read more ..

Oil on the Edge

Following Discovery of Oil, Ghana has a Lot to Learn From Nigeria

January 18th 2011

Africa Topics - Ghana oil

The news filtered around the international media recently that Ghana will start pumping its oil, estimated to be a minimum of 1 billion barrels in reserve. However, this news has been met with both joy and fear. Joy because this means Ghana now joins the league of oil producing countries, with the attendant streams of petroldollar in revenue.

There is the fear of the so-called oil resource ‘curse’ or the paradox of plenty - often used to describe a situation in which countries blessed with abundance of natural resources such as oil tend to have worse economic and development outcomes. This economic phenomenon is sometimes called the Dutch disease.

Macroeconomics traditionally offers some insights into how the ‘blessing’ of abundant natural resources might turned into a ‘curse’ overtime. This may occur when the revenue from oil exports initially leads to increase in real exchange rate and wages. This increase in turn will eventually damage the other productive or tradable sectors of the economy, such as the agriculture and manufacturing, as they become less competitive in world markets.

On the government front, the revenue from oil exports will more likely result in higher government spending (e.g. on education, health), but this is more likely to be financed through deficits in anticipation of higher oil revenue that are vulnerable to vagaries in world oil prices. Overtime, as the real sectors of the economy are exposed to international competition, the revenue from oil also becomes volatile due to exposure to global commodity market shocks, and this leaves the economy largely dependent on oil revenue. Read more ..

The Race for Alt Fuel

Power Plant: Algae as an Alternative Energy Source

January 10th 2011

Energy Topics - algae

Prof. Avihai Danon of the Weizmann Institute of Science’s Department of Plant Sciences has been working with algae—simple, photosynthetic life forms that can be found all over the world—for more than 20 years. Algae are diverse, having many thousands of species, and adaptive, thriving in a variety of conditions; these attributes can teach scientists a lot and make algae, as Prof. Danon says, “a great model system to study.” For example, in his research focusing on how they adapt to sunlight, Prof. Danon found that there is a very sophisticated level of regulation inside algae. “On the one hand, the plant utilizes sunlight for energy production through photosynthesis,” a process that, while beneficial, must be very carefully calibrated because “on the other hand, it can kill the plant in seconds,” he says. He likes to compare a plant’s ability to perform photosynthesis to having an atomic reactor in your stomach: the reactor can provide you with free energy, but if it’s not tightly controlled, then it can melt down. Read more ..

The Race for Biofuels

Biofuel Grasslands Better for Birds than Ethanol Staple Corn

January 10th 2011

Energy / Environment - Biofuel field

Developing biofuel from native perennials instead of corn in the Midwest’s rolling grasslands would better protect threatened bird populations, Michigan State University research suggests.

Federal mandates and market forces both are expected to promote rising biofuel production, MSU biologist Bruce Robertson says, but the environmental consequences of turning more acreage over to row crops for fuel are a serious concern.

Ethanol in America is chiefly made from corn, but research is focusing on how to cost-effectively process cellulosic sources such as wood, corn stalks and grasses. Perennial grasses promise low cost and energy inputs—planting, fertilizing, watering—and the new study quantifies substantial environmental benefits.

“Native perennial grasses might provide an opportunity to produce biomass in ways that are compatible with the conservation of biodiversity and important ecosystem services such as pest control,” Robertson said. “This work demonstrates that next-generation biofuel crops have potential to provide a new source of habitat for a threatened group of birds.” With its rich variety of ecosystems, including historic prairie, southern Michigan provided a convenient place to compare bird populations in 20 sites of varying size for each of the three fuel feedstocks. Grassland birds are of special concern, Robertson said, having suffered more dramatic population losses than any other group of North American birds. Read more ..

The Race for Alt-Fuel

Newly Bio-Engineered Yeast May Overcome Cellulosic Biofuel Production Obstacles

January 3rd 2011

Science - Funky Yeast stuff

A newly engineered yeast strain can simultaneously consume two types of sugar from plants to produce ethanol, researchers report.

The sugars are glucose, a six-carbon sugar that is relatively easy to ferment; and xylose, a five-carbon sugar that has been much more difficult to utilize in ethanol production. The new strain, made by combining, optimizing and adding to earlier advances, reduces or eliminates several major inefficiencies associated with current biofuel production methods. The findings, from a collaborative led by researchers at the University of Illinois, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the University of California and the energy company BP, are described in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Read more ..

Edge on Energy

Five Major Energy Stories that were Overlooked

January 3rd 2011

Energy / Environment - Wind Farm

The Gulf oil spill and the Senate’s failure to pass comprehensive climate change legislation have for good reason topped 2010’s list of top energy stories. Here are a few energy stories that flew under the radar.

Offshore wind:

With all of the talk about offshore drilling, offshore wind has gotten little mainstream attention. While the U.S. offshore wind industry has lagged behind other countries, the Obama administration is ramping up efforts to develop the country’s offshore wind resources. Read more ..

The Energy Edge

From Greenhouse Gases to Green Agenda: Five Energy Issues to Watch

December 27th 2010

Politics - Capitol Building at night

It’s been a dynamic past 12 months on the energy front. The massive Gulf oil spill dominated much of the news cycle. And while Democratic efforts to pass comprehensive climate change legislation in the Senate failed, the Obama administration is moving ahead with plans to use its existing powers to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

With the end of the year drawing close—the 111th Congress is over and President Obama is in Hawaii with his family for the holidays—it seems only fitting to turn our attention to next year. Without further ado, here are five things to watch out for in 2011.

Attempts to block the Environmental Protection Agency’s climate regulations:

On Thursday, just hours before most people in Washington left town for the holidays, the EPA made two major announcements in its efforts to reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. The agency laid out a timetable for phasing in emissions standards for power plants and refineries, and announced it would issue greenhouse gas permits in Texas, where the governor had refused to align with federal rules. On top of that, beginning in January the EPA will, on a case-by-case basis, begin phasing in rules that require large new industrial plants and sites that perform major upgrades to curb emissions. Read more ..

The Edge of Wind

Farmland Wind Turbines May Boost Crop Yields

December 21st 2010

Energy Topics - Wind machine on dairy farm

Wind turbines in Midwestern farm fields may be doing more than churning out electricity. The giant turbine blades that generate renewable energy might also help corn and soybean crops stay cooler and dryer, help them fend off fungal infestations and improve their ability to extract growth-enhancing carbon dioxide [CO2] from the air and soil.

Speaking at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union, a scientific society, in San Francisco today, a researcher at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory and his co-researcher from the University of Colorado announced the preliminary findings of a months-long research program aimed at studying how wind turbines on farmlands interact with surrounding crops.  Read more ..

Race for Alt Fuels

Corporate Disputes Holding Up National Switch to Natural Gas-fueled Vehicles

December 13th 2010

Automotive - Honda CNG Civic
Honda Civic CNG sedan

Business people met in Atlanta, Georgia on November 16 to discuss the possible growth of natural gas fueling stations in the metropolitan region. Among those attending the meeting were gas station owners and truck stop operators, public policy consultants, politicians and regulators, fleet managers, as well as executives and lobbyists from Atlanta Gas Light. Founded by billionaire Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens, it is the second largest utility in Georgia.

California-based Clean Energy, which is owned by Pickens, is the nation’s largest provider of compressed natural gas as vehicle fuel. The company owns one of the two natural gas stations in the metro Atlanta area, and also serves airport shuttles and other natural gas burning commercial vehicles. Read more ..

Oil and Africa

How Money Lubricates the Corrupt Machinery of African Petroleum Producers

December 6th 2010

Social Topics - Corruption

“Transparency works both ways and it is for the company as well as the countries; their people need to know and the more they know what is being done for their benefit, the more they will be supportive.”Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, World Bank Managing Director

Ensuring transparency in the extractive sector has never been a real priority of the state authorities of Ghana and commercial entities. As a result, the operation of the sector remains insufficiently transparent. It has always been the truth that the failures of oil-producing economies are legion and continuous. Read more ..

The Coal Hazard

Government and Utilities Conspire in Coal-Ash Poison

November 29th 2010

Energy / Environment - Kingston Plant Spill

Stand before the pond known here in southwestern Pennsylvania as Little Blue Run, and you’ll see nothing that resembles its bucolic-sounding name.

The one-time stream is now an industrial pond, filled with arsenic-laced waste from a coal-fired power plant. The pond spans nearly 1,000 acres of rolling, rural landscape in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, along the Ohio River. Millions of tons of coal ash have landed in the 35-year-old dump, looming over some 50,000 people in southeastern Ohio, held back by a 400-foot-tall dam, that federal regulators have deemed a “high hazard” to human life if it ever let loose.

Here in tiny Greene Township, where the pond consumes more than 10 percent of the total land, Little Blue Run seems a wasteland. Read more ..

Saudi Sucession

The Geriatric Politics of the Oil Kingdom

November 29th 2010

Arab Topics - Saudi Royals Dancing the Ardha
Saudi Royal Family (Credit: Ammar Abd Rabbo)

On  November 17, in the middle of the Eid al-Adha holiday, the Saudi Press Agency announced that Prince Badr, the long-serving deputy commander of the Saudi Arabian National Guard (SANG), had asked to be relieved from that role due to ill health. Minutes later, the agency announced that Badr’s request had been accepted and that King Abdullah’s son, Mitab, had been named SANG commander as well as a minister of state and a member of the Council of Ministers. Unstated was that King Abdullah, who had served as SANG commander since 1962, had given up the position. Read more ..

The Metal’s Edge

The Rare Earth Dilemma: China’s Market Dominance

November 22nd 2010

Energy / Environment - Chinse REE Researchers

This is the final article in the three-part series on rare earth elements. The first focused on the role of rare earth elements in energy security; the second, on the environmental implications of rare earth mining and production.

Rare earth elements (REE) play a key role in developing technology today, yet few people have ever heard of them or truly understand their significance. REEs were first discovered in 1787 by Lieutenant Carl Axel Arrhenius, a Swedish army officer. Since then there has been a great deal of interest in their chemical properties and potential uses. If it were not for REEs, technology would be vastly different. REEs have diverse chemical, nuclear, metallurgical, magnetic, optical, and electrical properties that have led scientists to pursue an ever increasing variety of applications for them. They are vital to hundreds of high tech applications including green technologies and critical military technologies. Read more ..

The Metal’s Edge

The Rare Earth Dilemma: China’s Rare Earth Environmental and Safety Nightmare

November 15th 2010

Energy / Environment - chinese processing minerals

Last week, the Cutting Edge News published the first article of a three-part series about rare earth elements, which focused on their role in energy security. This is the second of three articles, focusing on some of the environmental implications of rare earth elements.

The topic of rare earth elements (REE) has been drawing a lot of attention from the international media and at the Congressional level. China currently has an iron grip on the REE industry, supplying over 95 percent of the world’s needs. This is significant because REEs are used in hundreds of high tech applications, including cellular telephones, laptop computers, iPods, critical military applications, and green technologies. Read more ..

The Ancient Edge

Ancient Building Methods May Address Energy Consumption and Human Migration

November 15th 2010

Latin American Topics - Adobe house Brazil
Adobe house in Brazil

Are people who move because of climate change and/or extreme weather events migrants or refugees? Do older methods of farming and home-building hold key answers to the environmental challenges of the 21st century? These were among the questions addressed by international delegates meeting at the 4th Global Forum on Migration and Development in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, on November 10-11, 2010. Signaling U.S. interest in the debate, Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration Eric P. Schwartz represented the Obama administration at the event.

As part of the forum, representatives of non-governmental organizations spent two days strategizing solutions to the myriad problems confronting the world's more than 200 million international migrants. At a session on climate change and migration, delegates from Asia, Africa, Latin America and other parts of the world described how deforestation, extreme weather events, greenhouse gas emissions from the developed world, free trade, unequal development, and the erosion of public services all are combining to influence population movements in the 21st Century.  Read more ..

The EV Edge

Honda is Finally on Board with Plug-ins

November 8th 2010

Energy / Environment - Honda EV prototype
Honda EV Prototype

Many people new to the EV world may not understand the importance of Honda’s announcement about the inevitability of EVs. Honda’s new CEO, Takanobu Ito, stated in an interview with Reuters, “It’s starting to look like there will be a market for electric vehicles. We can’t keep shooting down their potential, and we can’t say there’s no business case for it.” The story needs some context.

Back when the big six car makers—GM, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, Nissan, and Honda—were told by California’s Air Resources Board (CARB) that they would have to build zero emission vehicles if they wanted to do business in California, there were howls of protest, ultimately resulting in most of these companies pursuing fuel cell technology as the end game for zero emissions. Read more ..

The Rail's Edge

Railroads Put Off Fixes That Would Prevent Train Collisions

November 8th 2010

Transportation Topics - graniteville train wreck #2
Train Derailment Aftermath in Graniteville, SC

Graniteville, S.C.—a tiny mill town—has a before, and it has an after. The two were split as crudely as the live oak tree on Main Street when the hot metal of a derailed locomotive severed it. Before that 2005 train wreck, Graniteville was dotted with azaleas and sweet gum trees. Horse Creek was full of channel catfish and redear sunfish, bluegill, and black crappies.

In the early morning hours of Jan. 6, a Norfolk Southern freight train traveling at about 47 mph approached the sleeping town. Read more ..

The Metal’s Edge

The Rare Earth Dilemma: Trading OPEC for China

November 8th 2010

Energy Topics - Scandium
Scandium, one of the rare earths

This is the first of a three-part series about rare earth elements.

In a quest to reduce dependence on foreign imported oil and natural gas, many countries are turning to green technologies. In July 2010, former CIA Director James Woolsey told a group of over 250 people at Temple Beth Jacob in Los Angeles that if the U.S. could undermine oil’s monopoly on transportation, then Americans can free themselves from having to kowtow to “dictators and autocratic kingdoms,” such as Saudi Arabia and other members of OPEC. Read more ..

The Edge of Safety

New Focus on Mining Dangers Won’t Save Mine Safety Legislation Any Time Soon

November 1st 2010

Energy / Environment - Massey Coal Mine Accident Response

The rescue of 33 Chilean miners captured the world’s attention and reminded the public of the dangers of mining, but mine safety legislation sponsored by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) has little prospect of passing.

The bill would give whistle-blower protection to non-union miners, increase criminal penalties for mine operators who tamper with safety equipment, require swift remedy of hazardous conditions, and expand the power for federal mine safety investigators to issue subpoenas. Democrats thought this summer the legislation had a good chance of passing but talks broke down in mid-September. Read more ..

Toxic Edge

Fracking Natural Gas Mobilizes Uranium and Concerns about Radioactivity

October 27th 2010

Environment Topics - Dirty Drinking

Scientific and political disputes over drilling in the Marcellus shale formation and elsewhere in the United States for natural gas have focused primarily on the environmental effects of pumping millions of gallons of water and chemicals deep underground to blast through rocks to release the natural gas.

But researchers at the University of Buffalo in New York State have now found that that process—called hydraulic fracturing or “fracking”—also causes uranium that is naturally trapped inside Marcellus shale to be released, raising additional environmental concerns.

Marcellus shale is a massive rock formation that stretches from New York through Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia, and which is often described as the nation's largest source of natural gas. “Marcellus shale naturally traps metals such as uranium and at levels higher than usually found naturally, but lower than manmade contamination levels,” says Tracy Bank, PhD, assistant professor of geology in UB's College of Arts and Sciences and lead researcher. Read more ..

Mining on the Edge

Dangerous Diesel Exhaust Adds to Miners’ Peril

October 18th 2010

Energy Topics - Miners

A long-delayed government epidemiological study of possible ties between diesel exhaust and lung cancer in miners may finally be published this fall— but only after a mining industry group, represented by the Washington lobbying powerhouse Patton Boggs, finishes a pre-publication review of the study’s drafts.

Eighteen years in the making and eagerly awaited by public health officials, the cancer study evaluates more than 12,000 current and former workers from eight mines that produce commodities other than coal. Read more ..

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