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The Bio-Fuel Edge

Plant Variants Accelerate Food-Plant By-Products as Fuel Sources

September 22nd 2014

Manufacturing biofuels from food crop by-products such as straw could be made quicker and cheaper thanks to the work of scientists in the UK and France.

Researchers funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) have discovered variant straw plants whose cell walls are more easily broken down to make biofuels, but which are not significantly smaller or weaker than regular plants.

The discovery could help ease pressure on global food security as biofuels from non-food crops become easier and cheaper to make.

The impact of carbon emissions on global warming is driving the need for carbon neutral biofuels. Many existing biofuels are produced from crops which can be used for food, and therefore have a negative impact on global food security. Read more ..

Fracking America

Fracking Natural Gas Wells Mean Too Many Hotel Rooms in Pennsylvania

September 19th 2014

Drilling in Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale region led to a rapid increase in both the number of hotels and hotel industry jobs, but Penn State researchers report that the faltering occupancy rate may signal that there are now too many hotel rooms.

"Demand is still high in many of the counties in the Marcellus Shale region, but the occupancy rate is starting to come down," said Daniel Mount, an associate professor in hospitality management. "The case could be made that this is a sign that hotels were overbuilt."

Marcellus drilling operations generated approximately $685 million in hotel revenues and added an extra 1,600 new hotel jobs since 2006, according to the researchers, who report their findings in the International Council on Hotel, Restaurant, and Institutional Education Penn State Research Reports. However, the latest figures show that demand for rooms may be decreasing. For example, in 2012, demand was flat and occupancy was down 4.1 percent. Read more ..

The Edge of Climate Change

Debating the EPA's Clean Power Plan Proposal: Abandoning the Clean Power Plan is the Wrong Move for U.S. Climate Policy

September 17th 2014


Phil Wallach’s latest post makes clear that no fix to EPA’s Clean Power Plan would address his concerns and that his real objection is to using existing legal authorities to tackle climate change. The Clean Air Act, he argues, is not "an adequate platform for the nation's climate policy -- legally, politically or economically." What is more, invoking the act is worse than doing nothing because it will only “disappoint“ those who care about climate change and “foreclose better options.” Wallach instead advocates sitting tight and waiting for a "broad and solid coalition" in support of legislation, which he believes would better reflect "democratic decision-making” than administrative measures under the act.

The Danger of Delay
Not surprisingly, Wallach provides no timetable for achieving this elusive legislative consensus and, as he surely knows, there is little reason for optimism on this score. Signs of bipartisan cooperation on climate emerged in the second George W. Bush term, with Senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman joining forces to advance legislation, but the Obama years have only resulted in increased polarization. House passage of the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill in 2010 occurred over nearly monolithic Republican opposition and, with the House now in Republican control, there is no foreseeable prospect of a new climate bill coming to the floor. This impasse is not a function of differing legislative approaches (for example, cap-and-trade vs. a carbon tax) but of deep-seated resistance to any congressional action at all. One hopes that this resistance will soften over time but, barring a major political realignment, climate legislation will remain a casualty of pervasive partisan gridlock on Capitol Hill. Read more ..

The Edge of Solar

Rwanda Solar Grid Capitalizes on Limited Sunshine

September 15th 2014

solar power plant

The biggest solar power plant in East Africa has just opened in Rwanda. It is the first grid level solar plant in the region - a 21-hectare field covered with panels.  Rwanda might not seem an obvious place to put it, as the country averages only about five hours of sunshine per day, and not much more where the plant is located. However, sunshine is not the whole story.

Until last month, South Africa was the only country in sub-Saharan Africa to have a substantial amount of solar power feeding into its grid. Ghana has great plans for solar energy, but cloudy Rwanda has overtaken the West Africans by actually completing a large scale photovoltaic (PV) solar park.

The one that just opened at the Agahozo Shalom village in eastern Rwanda has peak capacity of 8.5 megawatts, nearly seven percent of capacity on the national grid.  The government has signed a power purchase agreement (PPA) to pay for that electricity over 25 years. So why is Rwanda seizing the lead on solar power in East Africa? Owner and chief operating officer of Afritech, the firm that built the plant, Dan Klinck suggests some reasons.    Read more ..

The Race for Batteries

New Light on Why Batteries Go Bad

September 14th 2014


A comprehensive look at how tiny particles in a lithium ion battery electrode behave shows that rapid-charging the battery and using it to do high-power, rapidly draining work may not be as damaging as researchers had thought – and that the benefits of slow draining and charging may have been overestimated.

The results challenge the prevailing view that "supercharging" batteries is always harder on battery electrodes than charging at slower rates, according to researchers from Stanford University and the Stanford Institute for Materials & Energy Sciences (SIMES) at the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.

They also suggest that scientists may be able to modify electrodes or change the way batteries are charged to promote more uniform charging and discharging and extend battery life.

"The fine detail of what happens in an electrode during charging and discharging is just one of many factors that determine battery life, but it's one that, until this study, was not adequately understood," said William Chueh of SIMES, an assistant professor at Stanford's Department of Materials Science and Engineering and senior author of the study. "We have found a new way to think about battery degradation." Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Iowa Politics Behind Obama's Ethanol Moves

September 12th 2014

E85 Pump

Prominent oil lobby the American Petroleum Institute (API) said the Obama administration will likely boost the amount of biofuels refiners must blend into the nation's fuel supply to help out a Democrat in a tight Senate race.

Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley is running against Republican Joni Ernst for the open Senate seat left by retiring Sen. Tom Harkin (D) in Iowa, and the two are neck and neck.

If the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ups the levels of ethanol and other biofuels it requires refiners to blend in its final 2014 rule, it may be enough to push Braley ahead in the race, the oil lobby said. "It's clearly politics," said Bob Greco, director of API's downstream operations. "There is a strong linkage to what's going on in the Iowa Senate race."

"I think you are starting to see the political calculations. We are very concerned that the signals we are seeing from the administration is that the political calculations are outweighing sound fuels policy," Greco added. When the EPA proposed the 2014 renewable fuel mandate late last year, it retreated on the amount of biofuels that must be blended in the U.S. fuel supply, a clear victory for the oil industry, which fiercely opposes the mandate. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

PUMP Changes Everything About Fuel Addiction

September 10th 2014


Submarine Deluxe, in association with Fuel Freedom Foundation and iDeal Film Partners, have announced the limited theatrical release of PUMP this fall. The film will open in select cities on Friday, September 12th, 2014, and will expand to additional markets on September 19th.

see the PUMP trailer

Directed by Joshua Tickell and Rebecca Harrell Tickell, and narrated by Jason Bateman, PUMP is an inspiring, eye-opening documentary that tells the story of America's addiction to oil, from its corporate conspiracy beginnings to its current monopoly today, and explains clearly and simply how we can end it – and finally win choice at the pump.

see the PUMP website

Today oil is our only option of transportation fuel at the pump. Our exclusive use of it has drained our wallets, increased air pollution and sent our sons and daughters to war in faraway lands. PUMP shows us how through the use of a variety of replacement fuels, we will be able to fill up our cars – cheaper, cleaner and American made - and in the process, create more jobs for a stronger, healthier economy.

The film features notable experts such as John Hofmeister, former President of Shell Oil US; Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors; Peter Goldmark, former president of the Rockefeller Foundation; bestselling author Edwin Black, and other noteworthy figures who share their passionate views and knowledge. An important film for anyone who drives or owns a car, PUMP will inform the audience how to change their lives for the better: save money, create jobs and improve the environment. Read more ..

The Race for EVs

Why Electromobility Lags Behind Expectations

September 10th 2014

Electric car Israel

Has electromobility arrived in everyday live? Or better: Why is this not the case? Researchers of the Frankfurt University of Applied Science have questioned users of electric vehicles. Though the poll was conducted exclusively among German users, the results provide interesting insights into how e-card are used and why are the great break-through is still some time away.

Despite significant technological progress, the registration figures for electric vehicles stagnated at a low level, explains Dr.-Ing Petra K. Schaefer, manager of the specialized group New Mobility at the Frankfurt University of Applied Science. The most striking reasons for this lack of acceptance are the "infrastructural challenges", as Schaefer puts it. Other obstacles include high prices and a lack of perception in every day life. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

Sun-Powered Desalination for Villages in India

September 8th 2014

tap water

Around the world, there is more salty groundwater than fresh, drinkable groundwater. For example, 60 percent of India is underlain by salty water — and much of that area is not served by an electric grid that could run conventional reverse-osmosis desalination plants.

Now an analysis by MIT researchers shows that a different desalination technology called electrodialysis, powered by solar panels, could provide enough clean, palatable drinking water to supply the needs of a typical village. The study, by MIT graduate student Natasha Wright and Amos Winter, the Robert N. Noyce Career Development Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering, appears in the journal Desalination.

Winter explains that finding optimal solutions to problems such as saline groundwater involves "detective work to understand the full set of constraints imposed by the market." After weeks of field research in India, and reviews of various established technologies, he says, "when we put all these pieces of the puzzle together, it pointed very strongly to electrodialysis" — which is not what is commonly used in developing nations. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Nebraska High Court Hears Keystone Case

September 6th 2014

Keystone Pipeline

Proponents of the Keystone XL pipeline urged the Nebraska Supreme Court on Friday to reject a challenge from landowners fighting the project's route through the state.

Deputy Attorney General Katherine Spohn argued on behalf of Nebraska's Gov. Dave Heineman (R) and other state officials, claiming that the landowners have no standing to challenge a law that gives the governor authority to approve the pipeline’s route.

A lower court sided with the landowners and ruled that a 2012 law allowing Heineman to greenlight Keystone’s route was unconstitutional. That decision invalidated the pipeline’s path, forcing state officials to appeal the case to Nebraska’s high court. The lower court said a state agency should instead decide the route.

In her legal arguments, Spohn argued that Keystone XL is an "interstate" not "intrastate" pipeline, and that the lower court’s decision to label it a “common carrier” was a mistake. That designation led the lower court grant authority over the pipeline route to Nebraska’s public service commission. Read more ..

The Race for Natural Gas

Inside the Israel-Jordan: Natural Gas Agreement

September 5th 2014


With the start of a new millennium Israel had taken steps to secure a dependable supply of natural gas and end the nation's dependence on coal-fired plants.  The problem seemed resolved once Egypt began to produce natural gas from offshore fields found north of Port Said.  Egypt constructed a pipeline to move natural gas across the northern Sinai Peninsula to El Arish, located on the Mediterranean coast and very near the Gaza strip. 

Once that was completed, it was no great feat to construct an undersea pipeline to the coast of Israel north of Gaza.  The result was of dual benefit:  The gas provided a substantial economic return to Egypt, and it halved the Israeli cost for energy per kilowatt-hour.  While the Egypt natural gas pipeline is owned and administered by GASCO, its Israel length has been operated by the East Mediterranean Gas Company (EMG), an Egyptian-Israeli company.  In 2005 GASCO and EMG signed a 20-year deal which would provide Israel a continuous and dependable supply of natural gas. Read more ..

The Race for Alternative Fuel

Renewable Fossil Fuel Using Bacteria

September 2nd 2014


Researchers have engineered the harmless gut bacteria E. coli to generate renewable propane

The development is a step towards commercial production of a source of fuel that could one day provide an alternative to fossil fuels.

Propane is an appealing source of cleaner fuel because it has an existing global market. It is already produced as a by-product during natural gas processing and petroleum refining, but both are finite resources. In its current form it makes up the bulk of LPG (liquid petroleum gas), which is used in many applications, from central heating to camping stoves and conventional motor vehicles.

In a new study, the team of scientists from Imperial College London and the University of Turku in Finland used Escherichia coli to interrupt the biological process that turns fatty acids into cell membranes. The researchers used enzymes to channel the fatty acids along a different biological pathway, so that the bacteria made engine-ready renewable propane instead of cell membranes. Read more ..

The Race for Nuclear

Regulators Lift Nuke Plant Licensing Morotorium

September 1st 2014

Small Nuclear reactor

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) voted Tuesday to end a moratorium on issuing plant licenses that it had imposed while it considered nuclear waste storage issues.

The commission also voted to adopt a new rule reiterating that spent fuel rods can be stored at closed nuclear plants for long periods of time, the NRC said in a statement.

The NRC had voted in 2012 to stop issuing new reactor licenses, license renewals and spent fuel licenses. The vote followed a federal court decision ruling that the NRC should consider the possibility that the federal government will never establish a permanent nuclear waste storage facility. The court said NRC should analyze the environmental impact of permanently storing spent fuel at closed plants, including the possibilities of spent fuel pool leaks and fires.

The analysis adopted Tuesday through a rule concluded that “spent fuel can be safely managed in ... dry casks during the short-term, long-term and indefinite timeframes.” It reiterated the NRC’s previous position on spent fuel storage. Tuesday’s action did not itself approve any licenses. Read more ..

The Race for Natural Gas

To Recycle Fracking Water

August 30th 2014

Water Supply

Scientists have performed a detailed analysis of water produced by hydraulic fracturing (aka fracking) of three gas reservoirs and suggested environmentally friendly remedies are needed to treat and reuse it.

Rice University researchers performed a detailed analysis of “produced” water from three underground shale gas formations subject to hydraulic fracturing.

More advanced recycling rather than disposal of “produced” water pumped back out of wells could calm fears of accidental spillage and save millions of gallons of fresh water a year, said Rice chemist Andrew Barron. He led the study that appeared this week in the Royal Society of Chemistry journal Environmental Science: Processes and Impacts. The amount of water used by Texas drillers for fracking may only be 1.5 percent of that used by farming and municipalities, but it still amounts to as much as 5.6 million gallons a year for the Texas portion of the Haynesville formation and 2.8 million gallons for Eagle Ford. That, Barron said, can place a considerable burden on nearby communities. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Fracking the Antifracking Movement (Part 2)

August 29th 2014

Fracking gas well

While science was moving slowly, the Park Foundation moved quickly. By simultaneously funding an interlocking triangle of sympathetic scientists, anti-fracking nonprofits and media outlets, Park helped move along the idea that natural gas is environmentally unfriendly from the activist fringe to the mainstream. The foundation has continued to provide numerous grants (in the range of $50,000-$60,000) directly to Howarth and his research colleagues. And the Howarth argument–fracking releases methane gasses at a rate that makes shale gas extraction more dangerous than coal–despite its dismissal by scientists of various ideological stripes, has taken on immortal life among many progressive organizations that are supported by Park.

The foundation’s mostly unknown ties to scientists, journalists and activist groups were on display last September in the brouhaha over a methane gas and fracking study that contradicted Howarth’s claims. Researchers at the University of Texas-Austin released a study done in cooperation with the Environmental Defense Fund that found that the national rate of leakage of methane during natural gas production was equivalent to four tenths of one percent of total U.S. extraction, vastly lower than Howarth’s claims. This was the most comprehensive shale-gas emissions study ever undertaken, covering 190 well pads around the country. Read more ..

The Race for Bicycles

The Smart Bicycle is Coming

August 28th 2014

crash test dummy

Emergency call, stolen vehicle localisation, predictive maintenance - these electronic bells and whistles known from the automotive industry could soon conquer the bicycle market. At the Eurobike trade fair in Friedrichshafen (Germany), bike manufacturer Canyon and Deutsche Telekom introduced a high-tech bike equipped with the abovementioned features.

The two-wheeler is equipped with a GPS-based e-call system that detects a crash, and in the case the rider is unable to act, it automatically transmits the request for medical assistance and the location of the bicycle to a service station. During normal operation, the electronics unit communicates with the driver through a smartphone app which processes and displays data as to performance and status of wear parts. The centrepiece of the solution is a communication unit (on-board unit) that fits into the hollow space within the vehicle's frame. The unit contains a SIM card that identifies it for mobile communications, a microcontroller, a motion sensor and a GPS module. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Fracking and the Antifracking Movement (Part 1)

August 26th 2014

Hydrolic Fracking pollution

Dan Fitzsimmons remembers that blustery day in March 2011 when he traveled to the offices of the Park Foundation in Ithaca, New York, asking for help. He was hopeful and a little desperate. The landowners he represented in the southern tier of the state were in the grip not only of the Great Recession but of New York state’s long, suffocating economic decline. There was, however, one reason for hope, Fitzsimmons and his neighbors believed. Deep underneath the rolling hills of upstate New York lay a massive sheet of untapped wealth in the form of shale gas. They had witnessed their neighbors just over the border in Pennsylvania experience a remarkable economic recovery because of that state’s decision to tap its gas. Vast reserves existed under their property as well, but New York was—and is—in policy gridlock.

Fitzsimmons was hoping to get backing for an education campaign for homeowners interested in responsibly leasing their property, so any extraction could be done in accord with the wishes of the local community. It seemed in line with what he knew Park Foundation founder Roy Hampton Park had always supported—smart conservation that honored private enterprise and respected property values. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

New Solar Concentrator Offers Solar Energy that Doesn't Block the View

August 20th 2014

A team of researchers at Michigan State University has developed a new type of solar concentrator that when placed over a window creates solar energy while allowing people to actually see through the window.

It is called a transparent luminescent solar concentrator and can be used on buildings, cell phones and any other device that has a clear surface.
And, according to Richard Lunt of MSU’s College of Engineering, the key word is “transparent.”

Research in the production of energy from solar cells placed around luminescent plastic-like materials is not new. These past efforts, however, have yielded poor results – the energy production was inefficient and the materials were highly colored. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Silliness Quadrupled: The Center for American Progress on Keystone XL

August 18th 2014

Keystone Pipeline

Referencing a "new scientific paper," Emily Atkin at ThinkProgress argues that construction of the Keystone XL pipeline "could" result in "carbon" emissions "up to four times greater than the U.S. State Department estimated."

Put aside the use of the term "carbon," a central example of the political propaganda so beloved throughout the climate industry. Carbon dioxide is not "carbon"; the alternative phrase "greenhouse gases" would be both scientifically accurate and far less emotive and misleading.

And put aside the dreadful economic analysis underlying the conclusions derived in the "new scientific paper." The authors assume that construction of Keystone XL, by substituting cheaper pipeline transport in place of rail transport, somehow would reduce world crude oil prices. That is incorrect: It would increase the prices (net of transport costs) received by the Canadian producers; total world crude oil supply would remain essentially unchanged because the Canadian oil will be produced regardless of how it is transported. The purported reduction in prices derived by the authors is driven by their (incorrect) assumption that Keystone XL would yield an outward expansion of global oil supply attendant upon the Canadian production; but even in that analytic framework, oil investment, production and consumption are substitutable over time. Accordingly, it is straightforward to predict ancillary reductions in oil output elsewhere because of the assumed price decline: The Canadian oil would substitute for production elsewhere in both the short- and long runs. Therefore, even in their analytic framework, the magnitude of the assumed price decline and therefore the size of the assumed increases in consumption and greenhouse gas emissions are biased upward, a reality that the authors, and Atkin, simply do not understand. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Oil Wealth Attracts Businesses to North Dakota

August 16th 2014

Oil Shale plant

The state of North Dakota has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, thanks to a glut of jobs created by the oil boom in the western part of the state, which rests on one of the largest shale oil deposits in the country. The job market keeps growing as more businesses relocate to North Dakota, attracted by the promise of profits -- but not without challenges.

The once-sleepy town of Williston, North Dakota, is now a booming hub of business, thanks to new ways to extract oil from shale deposits in the region. And everyone wants a piece of the action.

“Williston right now is the fastest growing micropolitan in the nation -- that’s cities under 50,000,” said Shawn Wenko, the Assistant Director of the Williston Economic Development Office. He admitted his organization -- and the state of the North Dakota -- are having a hard time keeping up with the number of people and businesses pouring in to the region.

“You just see the construction that is going vertical is phenomenal. We’ve done over $1.2 billion in permit valuations in the last year in the city of Williston,” he said.

Vactor Manufacturing received one of those permits. The Illinois-based business makes large industrial vacuum systems mounted on trucks. Typically used by municipalities as way to clear out sewers and storm drains, Vactor’s equipment also can be used at oil rigs and storage tanks -- increasing the demand for its products in North Dakota’s oil fields. Read more ..

The Race for Batteries

Tattoo Biobatteries Produce Power from Sweat

August 15th 2014

Researchers University of California San Diego have designed a sensor in the form of a temporary tattoo that can both monitor a person’s progress during exercise and the tattoo biobatteries can also produce power from the perspiration. The research team described their work at the 248th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS). The device works by detecting and responding to lactate, which is naturally present in sweat. Lactate is a very important indicator of how you are doing during exercise, explained Wenzhao Jia, Ph.D.

In general, the more intense the exercise, the more lactate the body produces. During strenuous physical activity, the body needs to generate more energy, so it activates a process called glycolysis. Glycolysis produces energy and lactate, the latter of which scientists can detect in the blood. Professional athletes monitor their lactate levels during performance testing as a way to evaluate their fitness and training program. Read more ..

The Oil Addiction

Russia Gets a Helping Hand from Washington Lobbyists

August 15th 2014

Click to select Image

Russia's largest privately held gas producer has turned to a Washington, D.C., public relations firm to lobby the administration and Congress after one of its largest shareholders, an associate of Russian president Vladimir Putin, was targeted for sanctions by the United States.

OAO Novatek, the Moscow-based gas company, in July hired QorvisMSL LLC, which assigned two of its lobbyists to the account, according to a lobbying disclosure statement filed Aug. 11 with the Senate. On its website, Qorvis says it “crafts stories that need to be heard, champions issues that need to be debated, and manages reputations for corporations, governments and individuals.” Among its other clients are Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Sri Lanka and Bahrain. The news was first reported by the National Journal. Read more ..

The Nano Edge

Nanotubular Material Opens New Energy Harvesting Opportunities

August 14th 2014

Test Tubes

Researchers from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in California claim to have made a material that is 10 times stronger and stiffer than traditional aerogels of the same density opens new energy harvesting opportunities and support energy storage and conversion applications. The ultralow-density, ultrahigh surface area bulk material with an interconnected nanotubular makeup could be used in energy storage and conversion, thermal insulation, shock energy absorption and high energy density physics.

The three-dimensional nanotubular network architecture developed by the team also opens new opportunities in the fields of energy harvesting, catalysis, sensing and filtration by enabling mass transport through two independent pore systems separated by a nanometer-thick 3D membrane. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

New Concerns Raised over Content of 'Fracking' Fluids

August 13th 2014

Click to select Image

As the oil and gas drilling technique called hydraulic fracturing (or "fracking") proliferates, a new study on the contents of the fluids involved in the process raises concerns about several ingredients. The scientists presenting the work today at the 248th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS) say that out of nearly 200 commonly used compounds, there's very little known about the potential health risks of about one-third, and eight are toxic to mammals.

The meeting features nearly 12,000 presentations on a wide range of science topics and is being held here through Thursday by ACS, the world's largest scientific society.

William Stringfellow, Ph.D., says he conducted the review of fracking contents to help resolve the public debate over the controversial drilling practice. Fracking involves injecting water with a mix of chemical additives into rock formations deep underground to promote the release of oil and gas. It has led to a natural gas boom in the U.S., but it has also stimulated major opposition and troubling reports of contaminated well water, as well as increased air pollution near drill sites. Read more ..

The Race for Alt Energy

American Southerners Have a Different Take on Energy's Environmental Impact

August 13th 2014

Click to select Image

Southerners are less likely than Americans in other parts of the country to believe that energy affects the environment by at least a fair amount, according to the latest findings of the University of Michigan Energy Survey.

A joint effort of the U-M Energy Institute and Institute for Social Research, the quarterly survey gauges consumer perceptions and beliefs about key energy-related concerns including affordability, reliability and impact on the environment.

When asked if energy affects the environment, "not at all," "a little," "a fair amount" or "a lot," 69 percent of Southerners chose the latter two answers. The choices of "a fair amount" or "a lot" were given by 77 percent of consumers in the Midwest, 79 percent in the West and 82 percent in the Northeast. Read more ..

Alternative Energy Edge

New Catalyst Process Turns Stinky Gas into Useable Energy

August 12th 2014

A new technique that transforms stinky, air-polluting landfill gas could produce the sweet smell of success as it leads to development of a fuel cell generating clean electricity for homes, offices and hospitals, researchers say. The advance would convert methane gas into hydrogen, an efficient, clean form of energy.

The researcher's report is part of the 248th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS), the world's largest scientific society.

The meeting, attended by thousands of scientists, features nearly 12,000 reports on new advances in science and other topics. It is being held here through Thursday.

Recently, hydrogen has received much attention as a clean alternative to fossil fuels, which release carbon dioxide — the main greenhouse gas — when burned. Hydrogen, however, only emits water vapor when it is burned. For this reason, some companies are developing hydrogen fuel cells for automobiles and homes.

One way to do this is to convert methane, another greenhouse gas, to hydrogen by reacting it with carbon dioxide. And smelly landfills are excellent sources of these gases — microbes living in the waste produce large amounts of methane and carbon dioxide as by-products. Read more ..

Inside Politics

West Virginia Candidate Hits Romney on Coal

August 11th 2014

Coal ash

West Virginia Democratic Senate candidate Natalie Tennant accused her Republican rival of spurning the coal industry by bringing in former presidential nominee Mitt Romney (R) to the campaign.

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) announced Monday that Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, will come to West Virginia Aug. 19 to campaign with her and other Republicans.

Soon after her announcement, Tennant’s team dug up a Democratic talking point from the 2012 presidential campaign, reminding voters that in 2003, Romney said a coal plant in Massachusetts “kills people.”

“The fact that Congresswoman Capito would align herself with someone who believes coal ‘kills people’ just to make a quick buck shows how quickly she will turn her back on West Virginia coal miners to get Wall Street dollars,” Tennant spokeswoman Jennifer Donohue said in a statement. Read more ..

The Race for Alt Energy

Hybrid Solar Device Exploits the Best of Both Worlds

August 10th 2014

Sunrise or Sunset

Solar panels are becoming an increasingly common sight on rooftops. These panels are made up of photovoltaic cells, which absorb the photons from sunlight and energize electrons in the cell’s material, creating electricity. The current maximum efficiency of commercial photovoltaic cells is, however, about 20 percent. This low efficiency results from the fact that only photons with a certain amount of energy—that is to say, only part of the solar spectrum—can sufficiently energize the electrons to form the current; other photons are essentially wasted.
Sunlight can also be converted to thermal energy, or heat, which can then be used to generate electricity as well. The advantage is that none of the spectrum is wasted; all of them can be converted to heat. Generating electricity from solar-thermal energy, however, usually requires a large-scale system, with an array of mirrors that reflect and concentrate sunlight onto tanks or pipes filled with water or other liquids. The heated liquid is used to generate steam, which turns a turbine, generating electricity. Although the efficiency of these systems is higher than photovoltaic cells—around 30 percent in some cases—they can’t be scaled down to rooftop applications. Read more ..

The Race for Alt Energy

New Thermoelectric Device Turns Waste Heat into Energy

August 9th 2014

new cars close up

It’s estimated that more than half of U.S. energy — from vehicles and heavy equipment, for instance — is wasted as heat. Mostly, this waste heat simply escapes into the air. But that’s beginning to change, thanks to thermoelectric innovators such as Gang Chen at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 

Thermoelectric materials convert temperature differences into electric voltage. About a decade ago, Chen, the Carl Richard Soderberg Professor of Power Engineering and head of MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, used nanotechnology to restructure and dramatically boost the efficiency of one such material, paving the way for more cost-effective thermoelectric devices.

Using this method, GMZ Energy, a company co-founded by Chen and collaborator Zhifeng Ren of the University of Houston, has now created a thermoelectric generator (TEG) — a one-square-inch, quarter-inch-thick module — that turns waste heat emitted by vehicles into electricity to lend those vehicles added power. Read more ..

India on Edge

Narendra Modi's Power Obsession: Indian Energy Reform

August 8th 2014

transformer farm

When I interviewed Narendra Modi in early March 2012, what impressed me the most was that he was obsessed with power – as in, electricity.

Many Indian friends and observers had prepared me for Modi’s political ambitions – that he would soon put himself forward as the BJP’s candidate for prime minister. At the time, he was still chief minister of Gujarat, yet Modi’s obsessions were focused on a far more mundane form of power, but ultimately one that may be more important to India. He was impressively focused on how to bring electricity to people in his state. He proudly claimed: “Every village in Gujarat has 24/7/365  three-phase power.” He also spoke fluently about solar panels and water turbines, and about his ambitions on fighting climate change. 

If only the rest of India were so obsessed.  Five months later – on the last day of July in 2012, almost two years ago exactly – India lost power across its troubled heartland, stretching from its far eastern border with Burma to its northwest border with Pakistan. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

Spray-On Solar Cells Efficiencies Close to Silicon

August 7th 2014

solar power plant

To date the most efficient way of making solar cells is using silicon. Now a team of scientists at the University of Sheffield in the UK is the first to fabricate perovskite solar cells using a spray-painting process – a discovery that could help cut the cost of solar electricity.

Cutting the cost of solar energy, PV and CSP is the reason why last year was a record year for solar energy uptake globally – as we reported.

The Sheffield team found that by spray-painting the perovskite they could make prototype solar cells with efficiency of up to 11 per cent. Lead researcher Professor David Lidzey said: “There is a lot of excitement around perovskite based photovoltaics.

“This study advances existing work where the perovskite layer has been deposited from solution using laboratory scale techniques. It’s a significant step towards efficient, low-cost solar cell devices made using high volume roll-to-roll processing methods.” Read more ..

The Race for Solar

Semiconductor Advance Makes Ultra-Thin Solar Cells A Reality

August 6th 2014

Solar Panels

Researchers at Vienna University of Technology have created a semiconductor structure consisting of two ultra-thin layers that enables photovoltaic energy conversion and allows thin, semi-transparent, flexible solar cells to become a reality.

Several months ago, the team including Thomas Mueller, Marco Furchi and Andreas Pospischil, had already produced an ultra-thin layer of the photoactive crystal tungsten diselenide. Now, the semiconductor has successfully been combined with another layer made of molybdenum disulphide, creating a designer-material that may be used in future low-cost solar cells. With this advance, the researchers hope to establish a new kind of solar cell technology.

Ultra-thin materials, which consist only of one or a few atomic layers are currently a hot topic in materials science today. Research on two-dimensional materials started with graphene, a material made of a single layer of carbon atoms. Like other research groups all over the world, Thomas Mueller and his team acquired the necessary know-how to handle, analyse and improve ultra-thin layers by working with graphene. This know-how has now been applied to other ultra-thin materials. Read more ..

The Race for Energy Storage

Used-Cigarette Butts Offer Energy Storage Solution

August 5th 2014

cigarette in ashtray

A group of scientists from South Korea have converted used-cigarette butts into a high-performing material that could be integrated into computers, handheld devices, electrical vehicles and wind turbines to store energy.

Presenting their findings today, 5 August 2014, in IOP Publishing's journal Nanotechnology, the researchers have demonstrated the material's superior performance compared to commercially available carbon, graphene and carbon nanotubes.

It is hoped the material can be used to coat the electrodes of supercapacitors—electrochemical components that can store extremely large amounts of electrical energy—whilst also offering a solution to the growing environmental problem caused by used-cigarette filters. It is estimated that as many as 5.6 trillion used-cigarettes, or 766,571 metric tons, are deposited into the environment worldwide every year. Read more ..

China Rising

What a Transportation Revolution in China Looks Like

August 4th 2014

China Traffic

A shower of sparks and the crackle of electricity mark the beginning (or end) of a trip on a partially electrified bus in the capital of Shandong Province. "Spring City" lacks a subway system (due to its eponymous artesian springs) and so relies on buses to move its more than four million people across a city that now sprawls some 20 kilometers east to west. And those buses move thanks to everything from ammonia to electricity.

"You just want it to be convenient and cheap," says “Frank,” my host and translator, noting that speed is not the main concern for buses. ("Frank" is his adopted English name, which he chose because he wants to be frank, and I have omitted his last name in case any of his frankness would get him into trouble.) Read more ..

Oil Addiction

House GOP Urges Interior to Open Up New Offshore Drilling Areas

August 3rd 2014

Gulf oil spill

More than 160 House Republicans are urging the Obama administration to open up more areas to offshore drilling in a new five-year lease plan for oil and gas development.

The Republicans claim that opening areas of the Outer Continental Shelf that have otherwise remained off-limits, such as the Atlantic, Arctic, and parts of the Pacific oceans, would generate roughly $160 billion between 2017 and 2035.

The Interior Department is currently gathering comments from oil and gas companies, conservation groups and others to determine which parts of the seabed will be included in its lease sales for 2017–2022.

"We believe the Department must move forward with a five-year program that continue to lease in the Gulf of Mexico but also includes new areas with the greatest resources potential as well as areas such as the Mid-and-South Atlantic, or the Arctic, where there is strong bipartisan support from members of Congress, governors, state legislators, local leaders and the general public for allowing oil and natural gas development," the letter sent to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell on Friday states. Read more ..

The Coal Problem

W.Va. Coal Company Says EPA Regs Partially to Blame for 1.1K Layoffs

August 2nd 2014

coal mine

West Virginia coal company, Alpha Natural Resources, told 1,1000 workers to prepare for layoffs because 11 mines across the state are "subject to being idled."

The reason: weak market conditions and Environmental Protection Agency regulations, the company said.

The company notified the 1,100 employees late Thursday that "sustained weak market conditions and government regulations have challenged the entire Central Appalachian mining industry." The layoffs would not take place till mid-October, Alpha said.

"EPA regulations are at least partly responsible for more than 360 coal-fired electric generating units in the U.S. closing or switching to natural gas. Nearly one of every five existing coal-fired power plants is closing or converting to other fuel sources, and Central Appalachian coal has been the biggest loser from EPA's actions," Alpha Natural Resources said in a statement. Read more ..

The Race for EVs

Panasonic and Tesla Gigafactory Forges Ahead

August 1st 2014

Electric Car

Tesla Motors, Inc. has signed an agreement with Panasonic Corporation that lays out their cooperation on the construction of a large-scale battery manufacturing plant in the USA, known as the Gigafactory which will employ about 6,500 people by 2020. The Gigafactory will produce cells, modules and packs for Tesla's electric vehicles and for the stationary storage market. The Gigafactory is planned to produce 35 GWh of cells and 50 GWh of packs per year by 2020.

The agreement will see Tesla prepare, provide and manage the land, buildings and utilities while Panasonic will manufacture and supply cylindrical lithium-ion cells and invest in the associated equipment, machinery, and other manufacturing tools based on their mutual approval. A network of supplier partners is planned to produce the required precursor materials. Tesla will take the cells and other components to assemble battery modules and packs. To meet the projected demand for cells, Tesla will continue to purchase battery cells produced in Panasonic's factories in Japan. Tesla and Panasonic will continue to discuss the details of implementation including sales, operations and investment. Read more ..

The Race for EVs

Wireless Charging - More Cost-effective Approach

July 31st 2014

Mia Electric Car

The current in wireless charging for electric vehicles provides for inductor coils under the bottom of the vehicle; the corresponding charging coil typically is embedded in the ground.

This concept has its disadvantages: Because of the large distance between of up to 15 cm between the coils, the size of the coils needs to be rather large. This translates into high material costs. In addition, objects or animals can enter the gap between the coils; cats for example like the slightly warmed charging area in the ground for a nap. Particularly problematic are metallic papers like chewing gum or cigarette packaging materials; exposed to the magnetic alternating field they can heat up and even catch fire.

Researchers from the Fraunhofer IISB institute for integrated systems and components therefore adopted a different approach: Within the project 'Energy Campus Nuremberg' they developed a system that allows charging the vehicle from the front side rather than from the bottom. Read more ..

The Race for Alt Energy

High-Temperature Superconductivity Discovery Paves Way For Energy Superhighways

July 30th 2014

Traffic Jam

Physicists at University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) working with Cornell University and Brookhaven National Laboratory claim to have identified the 'quantum glue' that underlies a promising type of superconductivity. The discovery is a step towards the creation of energy superhighways that conduct electricity without current loss. The research, published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is a collaboration between theoretical physicists led by Dirk Morr, professor of physics at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and experimentalists led by Seamus J.C. Davis of Cornell University and Brookhaven National Laboratory.

The earliest superconducting materials required operating temperatures near absolute zero, or 459.67 degrees Fahrenheit. Unconventional 'High-temperature' superconductors function at slightly elevated temperatures and seemed to work differently from the first materials. Scientists hoped this difference hinted at the possibility of superconductors that could work at room temperature and be used to create energy superhighways. Read more ..

The Race for Batteries

Pure Lithium Anode Promises More Efficient Rechargeable Batteries

July 30th 2014


Researchers at Stanford University claim to have designed a pure lithium anode that could lead to the prospect of smaller, cheaper and more efficient rechargeable batteries. The research is described in an online paper entitled 'Interconnected hollow carbon nanospheres for stable lithium metal anodes' published in Nature Nanotechnology.

Lithium metal is an optimal choice as an anode material for batteries with higher energy storage density than existing lithium ion batteries because it has the highest specific capacity (3,860 mAh g–1) and the lowest anode potential of all. However, the lithium anode forms dendritic and mossy metal deposits, leading to serious safety concerns and low Coulombic efficiency during charge/discharge cycles.

Although advanced characterization techniques have helped shed light on the lithium growth process, effective strategies to improve lithium metal anode cycling remain elusive. The Stanford researchers have shown that coating the lithium metal anode with a monolayer of interconnected amorphous hollow carbon nanospheres helps isolate the lithium metal depositions and facilitates the formation of a stable solid electrolyte interphase. Lithium dendrites do not form up to a practical current density of 1 mA cm–2. The Coulombic efficiency improves to ∼99% for more than 150 cycles which is better than the bare unmodified samples that usually show rapid Coulombic efficiency decay in fewer than 100 cycles. Read more ..

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