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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

Click to select Image

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 ..

The Race for Green Buildings

New Lab to Test Energy-Saving Technologies

July 14th 2014


Most of the electrical energy in the U.S. is consumed by buildings and the building sector has the fastest growing rate, but up to now the country did not have a facility for comprehensive testing of new technologies that aim to make buildings more energy efficient. That has changed with Thursday’s opening of a cutting edge laboratory, in California, for evaluating the efficiency of new building methods and materials.

In many buildings, windows and walls are poorly insulated, air conditioning and heating systems are inefficient and lighting is inadequate. According to the U.S. Green Building Council, buildings account for 36 percent of the nation's total energy use and create 30 percent of its greenhouse gasses. Technologies for lowering those numbers exist, but their effectiveness is hard to measure because the process requires real-life conditions. Read more ..

The Race for Alternative Energy

Getting Energy out of Water Droplets

July 13th 2014

Last year, MIT researchers discovered that when water droplets spontaneously jump away from superhydrophobic surfaces during condensation, they can gain electric charge in the process. Now, the same team has demonstrated that this process can generate small amounts of electricity that might be used to power electronic devices.

The new findings, by postdoc Nenad Miljkovic, associate professor of mechanical engineering Evelyn Wang, and two others, are published in the journal Applied Physics Letters.

This approach could lead to devices to charge cellphones or other electronics using just the humidity in the air. As a side benefit, the system could also produce clean water.

The device itself could be simple, Miljkovic says, consisting of a series of interleaved flat metal plates. Although his initial tests involved copper plates, he says any conductive metal would do, including cheaper aluminum. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Ecuador Resorts to Dirty Tricks in Eye-Popping PR Campaign

July 11th 2014

Click to select Image

The government of Ecuador is paying more than $6.4 million for the services of two U.S. public relations firms, a stunning figure in the niche business of foreign government lobbying.

The contract, which was revealed in forms released on Thursday by the Justice Department, states that the government of Ecuador is employing the American firms to improve the country’s image and combat “the activities of multi-national organizations and corporations to diminish the reputation of Ecuador.”

The documents show that the New York-based PR firm MCSquared has been working for the South American country since last year, and began partnering on the contract in December with Fitzgibbon Media — a firm that represents Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who received asylum in Ecuador. Read more ..

The Edge of Climate Change

American and German Approaches to Energy-Climate Policy

July 10th 2014

Wind Farm

In the past year the U.S. Government has intensified efforts to highlight climate change as a critical national policy issue. The White House unveiled a Climate Action Plan in June 2013 outlining three ways to address climate change, including reducing carbon emissions from power plants. In March 2014, the Department of Defense’s Quadrennial Defense Review 2014 concluded that the impacts of climate change are “threat multipliers.” In May, the Global Change Research Program released the National Climate Assessment, concluding that the U.S. is already experiencing the impacts of climate change, from drought, severe weather, ocean acidification and sea level rise. Then on June 2, 2014, the EPA issued its proposed rules to reduce carbon emissions from existing power plants by 30 percent by 2030.

This revitalized interest in crafting policy to address greenhouse gas emissions, in particular from the electric power sector, is in contrast to Germany which, for over a decade, has had a robust, comprehensive energy-climate policy centered on dramatically increasing the share of renewable energy in the electricity portfolio, and since Fukushima accelerating the phase-out of nuclear power. The cornerstone of the support for renewable energy is a feed-in tariff (FIT) providing a guaranteed above-market price and grid access for power generated from a renewable energy source over a fixed, long-term period (e.g. 20 years). Read more ..

The Race for Induction

Inductive Charging Takes Shape at BMW and Daimler

July 9th 2014

Better Place EV charging

BMW has granted an insight to its development of inductive charging schemes for electric vehicles. In the medium term, the company plans to launch series production for the technology. The project is conducted along with competitor Daimler; both companies plan to provide a uniform charging technology for the garage at home.

The system consists of two components: A primary coil integrated into a base plate which itself is placed beneath the vehicle, for instance in the floor of a garage or parking lot. This coil induces electric energy to the secondary coil in the car floor.

The arrangement of the coils, and consequently of the field pattern, is based on a design derived from their circular shape that offers a number of benefits such as a compact yet light construction as well as an effective spatial confinement of the magnetic field - a feature important to maintain high efficiency. The alternating magnetic field between the coils transmits the electric energy wirelessly at a power of up to 3.6 kW. BMW specifies the energy efficiency of this arrangement at 90%. The system aims at charging high-voltage batteries for plug-in hybrid and battery electric cars. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

Solar Energy Gets a 30 Percent Boost from 'Singlet Fission'

July 9th 2014

A perspective article published last month by University of California, Riverside chemists in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters was selected as an Editors Choice—an honor only a handful of research papers receive. The perspective reviews the chemists' work on "singlet fission," a process in which a single photon generates a pair of excited states. This 1->2 conversion process, as it is known, has the potential to boost solar cell efficiency by as much as 30 percent.

Applications of the research include more energy-efficient lighting and photodetectors with 200 percent efficiency that can be used for night vision. Biology may use singlet fission to deal with high-energy solar photons without generating excess heat, as a protective mechanism.

Currently, solar cells work by absorbing a photon, which generates an exciton, which subsequently separates into an electron-hole pair. It is these electrons that become solar electricity. The efficiency of these solar cells is limited to about 32 percent, however, by what is called the "Shockley-Queisser Limit." Future solar cells, also known as "Third Generation" solar cells, will have to surpass this limit while remaining inexpensive, requiring the use of new physical processes. Singlet fission is an example of such a process. Read more ..

The Transportation Edge

Daimler Introduces Robot Truck Concept

July 7th 2014

Traffic Jam

A large truck at full speed on the highway, and the driver is reading newspaper? What in the past was a certain recipe for a horror accident could be an entirely safe reality in the future. Carmaker Daimler has introduced a concept called "Future Truck 2025" that calls for autonomous freight traffic on the road within ten years. A test vehicle, the Mercedes Future Truck 2025, already operates on a section of German Autobahn A14 at full speed of 80 kmph.

The Future Truck 2025 is a near-series study based on existing semitrailer model Actros, developed within Daimler's Shaping Future Transportation initiative. The vehicle is controlled by a system Daimler calls "Highway Pilot". This system has a broad range of sensors and computing resources at its disposal. Among others, it is equipped with a radar sensor in the lower area of the front end which scans the road ahead at long and short range. The front radar has a range of range of 250 m and scans an 18-degree segment. The short-range sensor has a range of 70 m and scans a 130-degree segment. The radar sensor is the basis for the Proximity Control Assist and Emergency Braking Assist already available today. Read more ..

The Future of Natural Gas

New York Supreme Court Rules that Towns May Ban Hydraulic Fracking

July 7th 2014

Opponents of fracking are feeling emboldened by a ruling in New York’s highest court that found towns can outlaw the controversial drilling practice.

Environmentalists are cheering the decision against hydraulic fracturing as a major step toward more local control over the natural gas production. Industry groups, on the other hand, fear the ruling could results in a patchwork of local rules that slow development of the booming energy source. “I think it’s a really watershed moment for the movement,” said Deborah Goldberg, an attorney with Earthjustice who argued the New York case for one of the towns involved.

“People all over the country have been watching what’s been going on in New York, and what this says to them is that if you work with your neighbors and you educate yourself and you organize and you work with local government, you can stand up to industry and win.” Read more ..

The Race for Natural Gas

Court Ruling a 'Watershed Moment' for Foes of Fracking?

July 6th 2014

Hydrolic Fracking pollution

Opponents of fracking are feeling emboldened by a ruling in New York’s highest court that found towns can outlaw the controversial drilling practice.

Environmentalists are cheering the decision against hydraulic fracturing as a major step toward more local control over the natural gas production. Industry groups, on the other hand, fear the ruling could results in a patchwork of local rules that slow development of the booming energy source.
“I think it’s a really watershed moment for the movement,” said Deborah Goldberg, an attorney with Earthjustice who argued the New York case for one of the towns involved.

“People all over the country have been watching what’s been going on in New York, and what this says to them is that if you work with your neighbors and you educate yourself and you organize and you work with local government, you can stand up to industry and win.” Read more ..

The Race for Natural Gas

Oklahoma Earthquake Surge Linked to Gas Wastewater Wells

July 5th 2014

Fracking gas well

There's a surge in earthquakes in Oklahoma, and a new study finds injecting wastewater into the ground, a common practice in oil and gas operations, is triggering those quakes.

Katie Keranen was at home in 2011 when the 5.6-magnitude earthquake, the biggest ever recorded in Oklahoma, struck. “It shook my house pretty strongly. I was actually mildly scared," Keranen said. "You could look up and see the top of the roof shaking.”   

The earthquake certainly caught Keranen’s attention. Now a geophysics professor at Cornell University, she led a study to examine the huge expanding swarm of quakes in Oklahoma. 'We wanted to figure out what the root cause was, what was actually causing the entire part of central Oklahoma to light up,” she said. Read more ..

The Race for Wind

Europe's Offshore Wind Farms Struggle With Subsidy Cuts

July 4th 2014

London Array

The offshore wind industry has been concentrated in Europe, where North Sea winds provide excellent power generation conditions. Support from government subsidies in Denmark, Britain and Germany has helped create global leaders among turbine manufacturers and offshore wind farm builders and operators here.

But even as the industry embarks on an ambitious quest to significantly lower the cost of energy, wind power produced at sea still costs more than on land. And just as offshore wind is finally showing signs of life in other regions, like the United States and Japan, subsidies are being cut in Europe, raising worries about whether the industry will be able to grow and become self-sufficient.

Even Denmark, the birthplace of the offshore wind industry and homeland of the world's top two offshore wind turbine makers and the world's biggest offshore wind farm operator, is cutting down on state support for the technology. Europe has pioneered large-scale offshore wind farms to switch power grids to clean energy, but governments are beginning to cut helpful subsidies. Read more ..

The Race for LEDs

Glasgow Smartens City With Intelligent LED Street Lighting

June 30th 2014

London buses

Glasgow City Council has selected LED Roadway Lighting and its partner Silver Spring Networks, Inc. to deliver the Intelligent Street Lighting requirements for the Scottish city's innovative Future City Demonstrator initiative.

The project will use LED street lighting from LED Roadway Lighting’s NXT range of luminaires and Silver Spring’s IPv6-based smart city networking platform to integrate LED street lights, traffic cameras, and sensors into two adaptive lighting systems in the city center and along the River Clyde’s 'Clyde Walkway'. The adaptive lighting systems will monitor vehicle, bicycle, and pedestrian traffic and dynamically dim and increase illumination accordingly, increasing energy efficiency, urban sustainability and improving citizen safety. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Feds, Lawmakers Warn of Fire Risk from Oil Trains

June 28th 2014

train on fire

Officials are warning that crude oil of “all types and from all regions” poses a flammability risk during rail transport.

"Crude oil of all types and from all regions are flammable materials," acting National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Chairman Chris Hart wrote in a letter to Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden (D) and Jeff Merkley (D) released Thursday evening.

Hart’s letter comes after the Transportation Department in May issued an emergency order warning the public and first responders that crude oil coming out of the Bakken formation was more flammable and likely to set off an explosion than other types of crude.

Now, things have changed, according to Hart, who said the dangers from the increasing number of oil shipments by rail go beyond crude oil from just the Bakken formation in the Northern Plains. A number of accidents involving crude oil from other regions resulted in spills and "caused environmental damage and fires," Hart said in the letter. Read more ..

Lighting America

A Significant Advance made in Phosphorescent Organic Light-Emitting Diode Light

June 27th 2014

The most common kind of light bulb in the United States—the incandescent—is only about 5 percent efficient. The phosphorescent organic light-emitting diode, on the other hand, makes light out of 100 percent of the electricity that goes into it. They're good for smartphone screens and mood lighting, but they drop off in both efficiency and lifetime when they have to shine brightly.

University of Michigan researchers have found an elegant way to get around this problem—by arranging the PHOLEDs into a pyramid. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

CBO Predicts Higher Fuel Costs Due to Renewable Mandate

June 26th 2014

Traffic Jam

Gasoline’s price will increase up to 9 percent, and diesel fuel will rise by up to 14 percent by 2017 because of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) if Congress does not repeal it, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said Thursday.

The CBO’s analysis estimated that, in order to comply with the increasing mandates called for under the Energy Independence and Security Act, fuel refiners would have to more than triple their use of advanced biofuels by 2017, and would have to use much more ethanol in gasoline than the 10 percent blend that older vehicles can tolerate.

The agency predicted that the Environmental Protection Agency, which oversees the RFS, will keep the mandate levels similar through 2017, since increasing them “would require a large and rapid increase in the use of advanced biofuels and would cause the total percentage of ethanol in the nation’s gasoline supply to rise to levels that would require significant changes in the infrastructure of fueling stations.” Read more ..

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