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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 ..

The Race for Natural Gas

GAO Wants EPA To Do More on Fracking Wastewater

July 29th 2014


Congress’ watchdog agency faulted the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for its oversight of hydraulic fracturing wastewater injected into the ground, saying the agency doesn’t adequately work to mitigate emerging risks to drinking water.

The EPA cannot regulate the fracking process, because a 2005 law exempted from federal oversight the practice of injecting fluids into wells at a high pressure to break shale and retrieve oil and gas.

But the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said in a report made public Monday that the EPA should improve its oversight of other fluid injection practices including disposing of fracking wastewater in the ground and injecting fluids in wells to enhance oil or gas recovery. The GAO also said the EPA does not adequately consider potential seismic activity from fluid injection. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

Good Vibrations for Plants Improve Photosynthesis and Solar Power Prospects

July 27th 2014

Click to select Image

Biophysics researchers at the University of Michigan have used short pulses of light to peer into the mechanics of photosynthesis and illuminate the role that molecule vibrations play in the energy conversion process that powers life on our planet.

The findings could potentially help engineers make more efficient solar cells and energy storage systems. They also inject new evidence into an ongoing "quantum biology" debate over exactly how photosynthesis manages to be so efficient. Through photosynthesis, plants and some bacteria turn sunlight, water and carbon dioxide into food for themselves and oxygen for animals to breathe. It's perhaps the most important biochemical process on Earth and scientists don't yet fully understand how it works. Read more ..

The Race for Nuclear

Magnets for Fusion Energy: A Revolutionary Manufacturing Method

July 26th 2014


The National Institute for Fusion Science (NIFS), of the National Institutes of Natural Sciences (NINS) in Japan, has achieved an electrical current of 100,000 amperes, which is by far the highest in the world, by using the new idea of assembling the state-of-the-art yttrium-based high-temperature superconducting tapes to fabricate a large-scale magnet conductor.

NIFS is undertaking the development of a high-temperature superconducting coil that is appropriate for the fusion reactor magnet. Using the state-of-the-art yttrium-based high-temperature superconducting tapes which have been developed and produced in Japan through the new thinking that simply stacks the tapes, NIFS manufactured a conductor of exceptional mechanical strength. For the conductor joints, which are important for the production of the large-scale coils, NIFS developed low-resistance joint technology through collaborative research with Tohoku University.   Read more ..

The Race for Natural Gas

Families Turn to Scientists in Fracking Cases

July 26th 2014

Marcellus gas well

Like people in other regions transformed by the shale energy boom, residents of Washington County, Pennsylvania, have complained of headaches, nosebleeds and skin rashes. But because there are no comprehensive studies about the health impacts of natural gas drilling, it's hard to determine if their problems are linked to the gas wells and other production facilities that have sprung up around them.

A group of scientists from Pennsylvania and neighboring states has stepped in to fill this gap by forming a nonprofit — apparently the first of its kind in the United States — that provides free health consultations to local families near drilling sites. Instead of waiting years or even decades for long-term studies to emerge, the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project (SWPA-EHP) is using the best available science to help people deal with their ailments.


The Race for Nuclear

Nuclear Industry's Safety Measures are 'Inadequate'

July 25th 2014

Fukushima nuke plant

The U.S. nuclear industry is not prepared to prevent or handle the catastrophic damage a natural disaster could wreak on a nuclear power plant, according to a new report.

While the industry has made improvements in safety after the devastating earthquake and tsunami that created a melt-down at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in 2011, the National Academy of Sciences report warns more must be done.

The problem, according to the report, is U.S. safety regulations are focused on an operator's ability to respond to "specified failures" or "design-basis-events," like equipment failures, loss of power, or the inability to cool the reactor core. That isn't enough, according to the National Academy of Sciences, which was commissioned to investigate the Fukushima incident.

All of the most devastating nuclear disasters from Japan's, to Three Mile Island, and Chernobyl were spurred by what is called "beyond-design-basis events," the report states. "The overarching lesson learned from the Fukushima Daiichi accident is that the nuclear plant licensees and their regulators must actively seek out and act on new information about hazards that have the potential to affect the safety of nuclear plants,” said Joseph Shepherd, who sat on the committee for the report. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

New Sponge-Like Graphite Structure Converts Solar Energy to Steam

July 24th 2014

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A new material structure developed at MIT generates steam by soaking up the sun.
The structure — a layer of graphite flakes and an underlying carbon foam — is a porous, insulating material structure that floats on water. When sunlight hits the structure’s surface, it creates a hotspot in the graphite, drawing water up through the material’s pores, where it evaporates as steam. The brighter the light, the more steam is generated.

The new material is able to convert 85 percent of incoming solar energy into steam — a significant improvement over recent approaches to solar-powered steam generation. What’s more, the setup loses very little heat in the process, and can produce steam at relatively low solar intensity. This would mean that, if scaled up, the setup would likely not require complex, costly systems to highly concentrate sunlight.
Hadi Ghasemi, a postdoc in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, says the spongelike structure can be made from relatively inexpensive materials — a particular advantage for a variety of compact, steam-powered applications. Read more ..

The Race for Alternative Fuel

Spinach Could Lead to Alternative Energy More Powerful than Popeye

July 23rd 2014

the sun

Spinach gave Popeye super strength, but it also holds the promise of a different power for a group of scientists: the ability to convert sunlight into a clean, efficient alternative fuel.

Purdue University physicists are part of an international group using spinach to study the proteins involved in photosynthesis, the process by which plants convert the sun’s energy into carbohydrates used to power cellular processes.

“The proteins we study are part of the most efficient system ever built, capable of converting the energy from the sun into chemical energy with an unrivaled 60 percent efficiency,” said Yulia Pushkar, a Purdue assistant professor of physics involved in the research. “Understanding this system is indispensible for alternative energy research aiming to create artificial photosynthesis.”

During photosynthesis plants use solar energy to convert carbon dioxide and water into hydrogen-storing carbohydrates and oxygen. Artificial photosynthesis could allow for the conversion of solar energy into renewable, environmentally friendly hydrogen-based fuels. Read more ..

Inside Politics

A Fracking Problem for Dems

July 22nd 2014

Fracking gas well

Republicans love fracking in Colorado — and it could help them flip a critical Senate seat this fall.

The onslaught against Democratic Sen. Mark Udall (Colo.) reached a fever pitch this week when Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) had to cancel a special legislative session meant to keep two hydraulic fracturing initiatives backed by Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) off the November ballot.

Udall, who had stayed out of the fray on the two measures, was forced to take a side much to the GOP's glee. Now, with Colorado as one of the top natural gas producing states in the nation, the fracking controversy could be the issue that gives Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) the boost he needs in the tight-knit race of high importance in the battle for Senate control. Read more ..

The Race for Batteries

Chicago’s Argonne Lab Developing Battery of the Future

July 21st 2014


In 2012, the Department of Energy’s Office of Science awarded a $120 million grant to a new technology center focused on battery development - headquartered at Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago, Illinois. The Joint Center for Energy Storage Research brings together scientists and engineers from government, national laboratories, and industry to provide them with the tools, funding, and space to make the next technological breakthrough in energy storage.

Smaller. Lighter. Longer Lasting. That's what consumers want in the batteries they use to power personal electronics. At the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research, or J-CESR, researchers hope to meet the demand.

This is the birthplace of the lithium ion battery technology, but J-CESR scientists and engineers have bigger - and smaller - goals in mind. “Five times the energy density at one fifth the cost.” And all this is five years, according to deputy director Jeffrey Chamberlain. Cell phones, he says, are the devices where consumers will first notice a change. Read more ..

The Race for Nuclear

What You Should and Shouldn’t Worry about after the Fukushima Nuclear Meltdowns

July 19th 2014

nuke tower

The old saying goes where there's smoke, there's fire, but steam is a different story, even in the case of a nuclear power plant that suffered multiple meltdowns. Despite fresh worries about a new meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi complex in Japan, the steam that set off this concern is merely a result of atmospheric conditions—and a reactor that is still hot from having melted down in 2011.

Think of it as seeing your breath in cold weather. The damaged reactors at Fukushima are still hot, nearly three years after the disaster, thanks to the ongoing radioactive decay of the damaged nuclear fuel. This is why used nuclear fuel sits in cooling pools of waters for years after time spent fissioning in a reactor. The radioactive detritus at Fukushima is still throwing off roughly one million watts worth of heat, according to Fairewinds Energy, a nuclear safety advocacy group based in Burlington, Vt. That heat turns water into steam—and when the air is cold enough, as it is in winter in Japan, that steam is visible. "This also happened last year at this time, and periodically since the tsunami in 2011," notes David McIntyre, a spokesman for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). "We are in touch with the Japanese regulator and TEPCO [the utility responsible for Fukushima], and from what we've seen and heard there is no reason to suspect that this steam is an indicator of anything bad happening."


The Race for LED's

Phosphorescent LEDs offer cheap way to increase light efficiency

July 18th 2014

PHOLED - phosphorescent light emitting diode light green and face

The team of Jinsang Kim, a professor of materials science and engineering, has developed bright, metal-free, organic, phosphorescent light emitters that can also reveal the presence of water by changing color. Incandescent bulbs only turn five percent of the electricity they use into light, while fluorescent LEDs can produce light from up to 25 percent of the electrons that pass through them. Phosphorescent LEDs offer the potential to turn every electron into a ray of light, but it is difficult to achieve with inexpensive materials. Read more ..

The Race for Nuclear

Alternative Enery No Substitute for Clean Nuclear

July 15th 2014

Nuclear Reactors

Wind and solar power, once viewed as our best hope for abundant supplies of zero-carbon energy, are distracting us from what might be the real solution: nuclear power.

The time has come for states to reconsider their mandates requiring that a share of electricity come from renewable energy sources, and instead consider a more direct and sensible policy in support of nuclear power.

Currently 30 states have renewable power standards designed to promote the use of wind and solar power, which are carbon-free, non-polluting sources of energy. Among the most ambitious, California's standard mandates that the state generate one-third of its electricity from renewables by 2020. But the hype over wind and solar power as clean and renewable is undermined by their fatal flaw — intermittency. Read more ..

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