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The Race for EVs

Tesla Waives all IP Claims to Spur Electromobility

June 13th 2014

Toyota Prius PHEV

In a surprising move, Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk announced to forego any claim resulting out of patents. In a blog post on the Tesla's web page, the pioneer of electric mobility said he would not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who uses the company's technology.

Musk hailed the open source movement as a means to foster technological and societal progress. "Yesterday, there was a wall of Tesla patents in the lobby of our Palo Alto headquarters", Musk wrote. "They have been removed, in the sprit of the open source movement, for the advancement of electric vehicle technology". With the move Musk intends to foster and fuel the development of electric mobility, motivated by the aggravation of the carbon crisis and the huge disproportion in the production of electric and conventional cars. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Deepwater Horizon Oil Still Coming Ashore Years After Oil Rig Disaster

June 13th 2014

Years after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil spill, oil continues to wash ashore as oil-soaked "sand patties," persists in salt marshes abutting the Gulf of Mexico, and questions remain about how much oil has been deposited on the seafloor. Scientists from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences have developed a unique way to fingerprint oil, even after most of it has degraded, and to assess how it changes over time. Researchers refined methods typically used to identify the source of oil spills and adapted them for application on a longer time frame to successfully identify Macondo Well oil, years after the spill.

"We were looking at two questions: how could we identify the oil on shore, now four years after the spill, and how the oil from the spill was weathering over time," explained Christoph Aeppli, Senior Research Scientist at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in East Boothbay, Maine, and lead author of the study reported in Environmental Science & Technology. Aeppli worked with his then-colleagues at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and University of California, Santa Barbara on the investigation and report. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Obama and the EPA: It's About Rewarding Friends and Punishing Enemies

June 10th 2014

Obama - Energy April '11

The Environmental Protection Agency published its Clean Power Plan Proposed Rule last week. By how much would the rule reduce future temperatures? If we apply the climate model developed at the National Center for Atmospheric Research — used by both the United Nations and the EPA —the new rule, even if implemented immediately, would reduce global temperatures in 2050 by less than a hundredth of a degree, and less than two-hundredths of a degree by 2100. Those trivial temperature effects are much smaller than the annual variability (11-hundredths of a degree) of the surface temperature record. They could not be measured reliably.

The supporters of the rule argue that it is just a part of a larger effort to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by an amount sufficient to limit temperature increases to 2 degrees. But under the assumptions of the plan's supporters, that would require a global emissions reduction of almost 80 percent, a goal impossible both economically and politically. Read more ..

The Race for Natural Gas

Ukraine, Russia Resume Gas Talks Amid Conflict

June 9th 2014

Gas pipe line

A Russian official says Ukraine and Russia are meeting Monday to resolve a natural gas dispute after Moscow threatened to cut-off supplies if Ukraine does not pay outstanding debts. The dispute adds to tension between the two countries, as Ukraine combats a pro-Russian insurgency in the east.

A spokeswoman for Russia's energy ministry said Ukrainian and Russian energy officials, as well as a representative of the European Union, are sitting down in Brussels for the negotiations.

The heart of the issue is a dispute between the two countries over how much Ukraine should pay for Russian gas. Moscow has threatened to cut off supplies as early as Tuesday if Ukraine does not pay its debts, a move that also would disrupt flows to Europe. In April, Russia nearly doubled the price of gas to Ukraine to $480 per 1000 cubic meters, a decision that followed the ousting of Ukraine's former Russian-backed president Viktor Yanukovych. Read more ..

The Race for Nuclear

How Nuclear Power Can Stop Global Warming

June 8th 2014

Davis Bessee nuke plant Ohio

When the Atlantic Navigator docked in Baltimore harbor earlier this month, the freighter carried the last remnants of some of the nuclear weapons that the Soviet Union had brandished in the cold war. During the past 20 years more than 19,000 Russian warheads have been dismantled and processed to make fuel for U.S. nuclear reactors. In fact, during that period more than half the uranium fuel that powered the more than 100 reactors in the U.S. came from such reprocessed nuclear weapons.

In addition to reducing the risk of nuclear war, U.S. reactors have also been staving off another global challenge: climate change. The low-carbon electricity produced by such reactors provides 20 percent of the nation's power and, by the estimates of climate scientist James Hansen of Columbia University, avoided 64 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas pollution. They also avoided spewing soot and other air pollution like coal-fired power plants do and thus have saved some 1.8 million lives. Read more ..

The Race for EVs

Japan Pushes for Joint EV Recharging Infrastructure

June 3rd 2014

Electric car Israel

Carmakers Toyota, Nissan, Honda and Mitsubishi have launched a joint venture dedicated to advance the roll-out of the-car charging infrastructure in Japan. The new company, Nippon Charge Service (NCS) will operate the charging stations for battery electric and hybrid electric vehicles.

In Japan's energy politics, vehicles with zero local emission play an important role. The four Japanese OEMs therefore promote electromobility together. In November 2013, an incentive program has been introduced to establish a nationwide network of charging stations with government subsidies. Operators of charging stations at publicly accessible places such as shopping centres or hotels are eligible to receive a grant. The same holds true for charging stations along trunk roads, for example at service areas, toll stations, parking areas or other places of interest. Read more ..

Energy and Environment

Obama Opens Up New Front in Climate Change War

June 2nd 2014

Click to select Image

President Obama is opening a climate change war with Republicans on Monday with the Environmental Protection Agency’s unveiling of sweeping new standards on carbon emissions from power plants.

The new rules are a central part of Obama’s climate change agenda meant to ensure he leaves behind a legacy on tackling global warming.

Republicans say the regulations on existing coal-powered plants represent a war on coal that will play out in midterm elections across the country.
They hope that anger over the rules will help them win back the Senate, which could let them curb Obama’s power in his final two years in office.

Power plants would need to cut their carbon emissions by 30 percent by 2030 under a new EPA rule, according to multiple reports.

Obama is just as determined to leave a mark by moving forward with regulation at a time when his legislative proposals appear dead on arrival at Capitol Hill. Read more ..

The Race for Batteries

Fire Risk Makes Panasonic Recall Laptop Batteries

May 30th 2014


More than 43,000 laptop battery packs have been recalled by Panasonic following three of the packs in Asia overheating and providing a fire. The company has also declared a separate recall in Europe as a safety precaution. Two of the overheating incidents occurred in Japan in 2014 and the third was in Thailand in 2013. The fire-risk batteries were sold to Asia-based consumers with two types of laptops - Panasonic's CF-S10 and CF-N10 series - between April and October 2011. The second recall involved battery packs sold with Panasonic's Toughbook CF-H2 tablets between June 2011 and May 2012.  Panasonic issued the following statement: "Because of a manufacturing problem, these particular battery packs may overheat and, in rare instances, cause the notebook to ignite."

Panasonic claimed that no-one had been hurt in any of the Japanese or Thai incidents. The Japanese electronics producer declared the companywill replace the batteries free of charge. Read more ..

The Race for Nuclear

How Nuclear Power Can Stop Global Warming

May 29th 2014

Nuclear waste overseas

When the Atlantic Navigator docked in Baltimore harbor soem months ago, the freighter carried the last remnants of some of the nuclear weapons that the Soviet Union had brandished in the cold war. During the past 20 years more than 19,000 Russian warheads have been dismantled and processed to make fuel for U.S. nuclear reactors. In fact, during that period more than half the uranium fuel that powered the more than 100 reactors in the U.S. came from such reprocessed nuclear weapons.

In addition to reducing the risk of nuclear war, U.S. reactors have also been staving off another global challenge: climate change. The low-carbon electricity produced by such reactors provides 20 percent of the nation's power and, by the estimates of climate scientist James Hansen of Columbia University, avoided 64 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas pollution. They also avoided spewing soot and other air pollution like coal-fired power plants do and thus have saved some 1.8 million lives.


The Race for Batteries

Can Graphene Make Large Scale Electricity Storage Viable?

May 28th 2014

Toyota Prius PHEV

n a new project entitled 'Electrochemical Energy Storage with Graphene-Enabled Materials' the university researchers are working with a number of commercial partners, including Rolls-Royce, Sharp and Morgan Advanced Materials. The commercial partnership is viewed as crucial for the development of the future applications of graphene. In total Graphene@Manchester is currently working with more than 30 companies from around the world on research projects and applications.

But before we build the batteries we need to know how graphene will interact with the chemical components specifically electrolytes, explained Professor Andrew Forsyth from the School of Electronics and Electrical Engineering. Read more ..

The Race for Nuclear

Niger Signs Long-Delayed Uranium Deal with Areva

May 27th 2014

Nukuler plants in Amerika

The government of Niger said Monday that it has renegotiated its expired mining contract with the French uranium company Areva, after more than two years of negotiations. Activists say they are cautiously optimistic about the terms of the new deal, in which Areva has promised to increase royalties to the country and invest in local infrastructure.

The exact terms of the new contract have not yet been made public, but according to a joint statement by Areva and Niger’s government, Areva has agreed to operate under the framework of the country’s 2006 mining code, which requires paying an increased share of profits to the government and has fewer tax exemptions.

Niger is one of the world’s largest producers of uranium and yet remains one of the poorest countries in the world. Activists say it is about time Niger got a fair share of the mining profits. Ali Idrissa is the national coordinator for Publish What you Pay (PWYP) Niger/ROTAB, a network of organizations that campaign for transparency and accountability in the mining sector. He said the signing of the contract is a promising step forward, but not enough.  Read more ..

The Race for Batteries

Recharging Batteries Wirelessly

May 26th 2014


Another area that innovation in wireless technology can help improve is in home entertainment and electronics, where the issue of batteries really comes to the fore.

Think of the amount of devices you have in your house that are battery-operated remote controls for TVs, Hi-Fi systems and games consoles, childrens toys and in some cases even electronic toothbrushes, razors and hairdryers.

That is a lot of technology that can just run out of power at any time, leaving you hoping that the famous 'turn the batteries around trick works or that you actually have a few spares lying hiding in the back of a drawer somewhere. Thankfully, weve seen some great ideas from finalists in the element14 Community Wireless Power Challenge, providing a far more practical solution to battery-operated equipment.

Hendrik Lipka and Martin Puig, both of Germany, have both addressed wireless power in the home in their entries; suggesting a charger station and wireless power solutions for battery-operated childrens toys and television remotes respectively. Read more ..

The Race for Biofuels

Straw from Oilseed as a New Source of Biofuels

May 25th 2014

wheat fields

The bright yellow fields of oilseed rape are a familiar sight at this time of year, but for scientists what lies beneath is just as exciting.

Researchers at the Institute of Food Research are looking at how to turn straw from oilseed rape into biofuel. Preliminary findings are pointing at ways the process could be made more efficient, as well as how the straw itself could be improved.

Straw from crops such as wheat, barley, oats and oilseed rape is seen as a potential source of biomass for second generation biofuel production. Currently the UK produces around 12 million tonnes of straw. Although much is used for animal bedding, mushroom compost and energy generation, there still exists a vast surplus.

Straw contains a mix of sugars that could be used as a source of biofuels that do not compete with food production but instead represent a sustainable way of utilising waste. However, the sugars are in a form that makes them inaccessible to the enzymes that release them for conversion into biofuels, so pre-treatments are needed. The pre-treatments make the complex carbohydrates more accessible to enzymes that convert them to glucose, in a process called saccharification. This is then fermented by yeast into ethanol. Read more ..

The Race for Natural Gas

What You Need To Know About Russia And China's Gas Deal

May 24th 2014

Iran-Pakistan pipeline

Russia and China have agreed to a 30-year natural-gas deal that will supply 38 billion cubic meters of gas annually to the world's most populous country, according to Gazprom. Here is what is known about the deal.

What did China and Russia agree to?
Gazprom and the China National Petroleum Corporation agreed to a 30-year deal that would supply the People's Republic with 38 billion cubic meters of natural gas annually, starting in 2018. The terms of the deal remain a secret.

Prior to the announcement of the deal, Russian and Chinese companies agreed to a series of projects that indicate further cooperation in the commercial sphere. Russia's state-owned United Aircraft Corporation and China's Comac signed a memorandum to create a large, long-haul airplane to compete with Airbus and Boeing. Russia and China also agreed to build a cross-border rail bridge over the Amur River by 2016.

What is the price of the deal
The price of natural gas under deal is also, surprise, a secret. Gazprom CEO Aleksei Miller said that the price was a "commercial secret." But he put the total value of the contract at $400 billion. Putin said Russia will invest $55 billion under the deal while China would invest at least $20 billion.

Putin said the price "satisfies both sides. It is pegged to the gas price and gas fuel price, as is the case with all of our international contracts with our Western partners, our partners in Western Europe." Read more ..

China and Russia

China and Russia Sign Major Gas Deal

May 23rd 2014

Gas pipe line

Russian state owned gas company, Gazprom, and China National Petroleum Corporation agreed to a landmark energy contract on Wednesday following a visit by President Vladimir Putin to Shanghai. Starting in 2018, Moscow has agreed to sell over $400 billion worth of natural gas to meet rising Chinese demand over a 30 year period. Although the exact terms of the deal remain unknown, the agreement helps Russia become less dependent on European energy demand.

After many years of negotiations, the finalized contract hands President Putin a much needed victory not only economically but politically as well. Recent trade sanctions and visa bans against Russian firms and officials in response to Moscow's actions in Ukraine have spooked Western investors. While not incredibly strong, the sanctions' symbolic significance probably helped put Russia into recession. Read more ..

The Race for Renewables

New, Fossil-Fuel-Free Process Makes Biodiesel Sustainable

May 21st 2014

Ram Chrysler diesel truck

A new fuel-cell concept, developed by an Michigan State University researcher, will allow biodiesel plants to eliminate the creation of hazardous wastes while removing their dependence on fossil fuel from their production process.

The platform, which uses microbes to glean ethanol from glycerol and has the added benefit of cleaning up the wastewater, will allow producers to reincorporate the ethanol and the water into the fuel-making process, said Gemma Reguera, MSU microbiologist and one of the co-authors.

“With a saturated glycerol market, traditional approaches see producers pay hefty fees to have toxic wastewater hauled off to treatment plants,” she said. “By cleaning the water with microbes on-site, we’ve come up with a way to allow producers to generate bioethanol, which replaces petrochemical methanol. At the same time, they are taking care of their hazardous waste problem.” Read more ..

The Race Garbage to Fuel

Eagerly-Awaited Technology Turns Garbage into Fuel

May 19th 2014

Garbage plow

When a garbage truck dumps its smelly cargo onto the tipping floor at the Fiberight company’s pilot plant in southern Virginia, manager Randy Garrett sees fuel in the making.

“This is the truly remarkable part,” he said. “This was slated for the landfill. This was going to be buried.”

Fiberight is one of several companies that plans to turn garbage ‒ and in other cases, corn stalks and wheat straw ‒ into biofuel ethanol that can power vehicles, in a development that lends credence to the old adage, "one person's trash is another's treasure."

 It's one of the most eagerly awaited technologies in alternative fuel and is expected to break into the mainstream this year.

The biofuel is known as cellulosic ethanol, and if successful, supporters say it could provide an abundant source of energy while quieting critics who say the growth of the biofuel business has put a strain on food prices and the environment.

Ethanol makes up about 10 percent of the U.S. fuel supply and is expected to grow under a 2007 law.

Nearly all of it, however, has been made from corn. Critics say the demand for corn ethanol has created competition between food and fuel that is raising food prices. Environmentalists say farmers are plowing more land to grow corn and using more fertilizers and pesticides, generating more pollution. Read more ..

The Race for EVs

Magnetic Fields from EVs Pose No Danger

May 18th 2014

Electric car Israel

The research results show that none of the vehicle types, including electric-powered cars as well as those powered by hydrogen, petrol and diesel fuels, expose passengers to higher electromagnetic fields than those recommended in international standards. In fact, field intensity is well below the recommended value.

SINTEF led the research project which involved nine other European companies and research institutes.

In addition to improving the publics confidence when it comes to magnetic fields in electric cars, the goal of the project was primarily to create a standardised method for measuring electromagnetic fields in such vehicles. The International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) defines the limiting values of acceptable exposure to magnetic fields at different frequencies. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

Winners for NREL's 24th Solar and Lithium Ion Car Races

May 18th 2014

Tesla Car

Indy-500-style checkered flags, high-tech neoprene rubber tracks, and of course, sponsor decals graced the site of today's Junior Solar Sprint and Lithium Ion Battery car competitions for Colorado's middle schoolers. Nearly 300 students on 74 teams from 21 Colorado schools converged on Dakota Ridge High School to vie for a spot in the final races using solar and lithium ion battery powered vehicles they designed and built themselves.

"We went for lightweight and aerodynamic," Matthew Heitmann with the team from Calhan Middle School. "I'm coming back next year for sure, it's fun."

Each year, the Energy Department's (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and other local sponsors host the races to show middle-school students that science, engineering, and design can be rewarding and to encourage them toward careers in STEM -- science, technology, engineering, and math. The batteries used in the competition are supplied by the DOE and teams purchase authorized solar panels, then design and build the rest of their cars themselves. Solar and lithium ion battery power are highlighted at the competition since they are important research focuses for NREL and DOE. Read more ..

The Race for Natural Gas

Iran Says Ready To Supply Natural Gas To Europe

May 15th 2014

Gas well fire

Good diplomats find opportunities in crises, and Iran's policymakers seem to be following the rule.

Amid rising tensions between the European Union and Moscow over Ukraine, Iranian oil officials have repeatedly said Tehran is ready to supply natural gas to Europe, which currently gets 30 percent of its gas imports from Russia.

The offer by Iran, which has the world's second largest natural-gas reserves after Russia, might seem surprising when the EU currently bans the import of Iranian natural gas as part of sanctions over Tehran's nuclear program.

But Iran may hope the energy offer will add incentives for lifting the international sanctions as Tehran and world powers hold talks in Vienna this week aimed at solving the nuclear crisis.

Ghoncheh Tazimi, a scholar at SOAS in London, says "Iran's case has been somewhat strengthened with the Ukraine crisis" because Tehran is "able to shape the future energy market" and help Europe diversify away from Russia. She adds, Iran knows that "energy has always been Russia's bargaining chip and is Europe's Achilles heel." Read more ..

The Race for Batteries

Dual Carbon Battery Charges 20x Faster Than Lithium-Ion Batteries

May 14th 2014


Japanese start-up Power Japan Plus has launched a new battery technology that claims to offer a more sustainable, safer, longer-lasting and cost-effective battery technology with an energy density comparable to a lithium ion battery.

The Ryden dual carbon battery makes use of novel chemistry that sees both the anode and the cathode made of carbon.

Power Japan Plus is a materials engineering company for a new class of carbon material that balances economics, performance and sustainability in a world of constrained resources, said Dou Kani, CEO of Power Japan Plus. The Ryden dual carbon battery is the energy storage breakthrough needed to bring green technology like electric vehicles to mass market. The Ryden battery claims to balance a breadth of consumer demands previously unattainable by single battery chemistry, including performance, cost, reliability, safety and sustainability. Read more ..

Broken Government

US Energy Efficiency Bill Falls to Congressional Dysfunction

May 13th 2014


A bill with strong bipartisan support to make the United States more energy efficient has been blocked in the Senate. The Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act failed to get the three-fifths backing required to proceed to a final vote, becoming the latest victim of partisan warfare on Capitol Hill.

The idea is simple: the U.S. government, as well as homes and businesses across America, should use energy more frugally. Pro-environment Democrats like the bill’s potential to reduce greenhouse gases. Fiscally minded Republicans like the bill’s long term potential to reduce government expenditures on power and fuel. Members of both parties applaud the bill’s potential to boost American jobs. The bill has the backing of environmental and business groups alike. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, summed it up this way: Read more ..

The Race for Power Security

The Largest Electrical Networks Are Not the Best

transformer farm

In 1928, the British biologist and geneticist John Haldane wrote the essay “On being the right size” in which he stated that “For every type of animal there is a most convenient size, and a large change in size inevitably carries with it a change of form”. The application of Haldane’s Principle spread to fields like physiology and paleontology, and there was speculation that it could be used with institutions and social organizations, as well. And that is precisely what these researchers have done with social infrastructures as complex as electrical networks. In light of Haldane’s comments, the scientists wondered if the expansion of these networks should continue or if, on the contrary, there is an optimum adequate size for their correct functioning. The answer is yes, according to the results of the power network model that these UC3M scientists, in collaboration with researchers at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and Iowa State University (both in the USA), used in the study, which was recently published in the journal Chaos. Read more ..

The Race for Ethanol

Corn-Based Ethanol Hits a Figurative Wall

May 11th 2014

Click to select Image

When U.S. drivers fill their tanks with ethanol, they are essentially buying fermented corn grown by American farmers.

A 2007 law requires gasoline makers to add increasing amounts of the biofuel to the U.S. fuel supply. With petroleum-based fuels contributing to climate change, advocates have backed plant-based biofuels as a greener source of energy. However, rising costs and competition for resources have led some regulators to propose a reduction in the ethanol requirement.

Ethanol boom

The 2007 law sparked an ethanol boom that has boosted rural economies. Another benefit, according to Bob Dinneen, head of the ethanol trade group the Renewable Fuels Association, is that corn absorbs the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide as it grows. “We are produced from agricultural crops and residues that are taking carbon out of the air, something petroleum can’t claim,” Dinneen said.

But ethanol has a flock of critics. Poultry and other meat producers say their animals are now competing with ethanol for the corn supply. That has raised corn prices and costs for raising livestock. Read more ..

The Battle for Ukraine

Why The Russia-Ukraine Gas Dispute Is Making Europe Worried

May 8th 2014

Keystone Pipeline

The European Union gets about one-third of its natural gas from Russia, and about half of that gas arrives in Europe via pipelines passing through Ukraine. Moscow is threatening to cut off natural-gas deliveries to Ukraine unless Kyiv promptly pays its outstanding bills. And that means the EU could potentially be caught in the cross fire. 

Here are five things to know about the situation.

Why Should The EU Worry

One reason is empty natural-gas storage facilities in western Ukraine. Summer is when Ukraine usually fills its giant storage facilities with Russian gas to provide for peak usage periods during the winter, when the real-time gas flow from Russia is not enough to meet local demand.

But there is no guarantee the tanks will be filled this summer as Kyiv and Moscow quarrel over gas prices. That is troubling because if Ukraine's winter tanks are not full, there is a danger it might compensate for winter shortages by siphoning off Russian natural gas intended for Europe. Read more ..

The Race for Clean Electricity

Discovery Offers New Possibilities for Clean Energy Research

May 7th 2014

transformer farm

University of Houston physicists have discovered a new thermoelectric material offering high performance at temperatures ranging from room temperature up to 300 degrees Celsius, or about 573 degrees Fahrenheit.

"This new material is better than the traditional material, Bismuth telluride, and can be used for waste heat conversion into electricity much more efficiently," said Zhifeng Ren, M.D. Anderson Chair professor of physics at UH.

Ren, who is also principal investigator at the Texas Center for Superconductivity at UH, said the work could be important for clean energy research and commercialization at temperatures of about 300 degrees Celsius.

Bismuth telluride has been the standard thermoelectric material since the 1950s and is used primarily for cooling, although it can also be used at temperatures up to 250 C, or 482 F, for power generation, with limited efficiency. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

Stained-Glass See-Through Solar Cells are a Beautiful Development

May 6th 2014

Click to select Image

Colorful, see-through solar cells invented at the University of Michigan could one day be used to make stained-glass windows, decorations and even shades that turn the sun's energy into electricity.

The cells, believed to be the first semi-transparent, colored photovoltaics, have the potential to vastly broaden the use of the energy source, says Jay Guo, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science, mechanical engineering, and macromolecular science and engineering at U-M. Guo is lead author of a paper about the work newly published online in Scientific Reports. See video here. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

Getting the Lead Out of Promising New Solar Cells

May 5th 2014

Click to select Image

Northwestern University researchers are the first to develop a new solar cell with good efficiency that uses tin instead of lead perovskite as the harvester of light. The low-cost, environmentally friendly solar cell can be made easily using "bench" chemistry -- no fancy equipment or hazardous materials.

"This is a breakthrough in taking the lead out of a very promising type of solar cell, called a perovskite," said Mercouri G. Kanatzidis, an inorganic chemist with expertise in dealing with tin. "Tin is a very viable material, and we have shown the material does work as an efficient solar cell."

Kanatzidis, who led the research, is the Charles E. and Emma H. Morrison Professor of Chemistry in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.

The new solar cell uses a structure called a perovskite but with tin instead of lead as the light-absorbing material. Lead perovskite has achieved 15 percent efficiency, and tin perovskite should be able to match -- and possibly surpass -- that. Perovskite solar cells are being touted as the "next big thing in photovoltaics" and have reenergized the field. Read more ..

The Race for EVs

Tesla's Chinese Gigafactory Lithium Battery Plan faces Environmental Concerns

May 5th 2014

Click to select Image

Ironically one potential wrinkle in Tesla’s $5 billion Gigafactory lithium-ion battery strategic plans could turn out to be an environmental one.

Saving the environment of the planet is supposed to be one of the key reasons why people should be switching to battery-powered electric vehicles in the future. The argument goes that battery-powered EVs cause less pollution than their petrol-powered rivals but as western societys more environmentally conscious citizens consider whether to switch to so-called eco-friendly EVs we now realize that damaging forms of air and water pollution are blighting large tracts of China. Unfortunately a contributory factor in the Chinese pollution syndrome is caused by a vital constituent of EV batteries namely graphite. Read more ..

The Race for Natural Gas

EU Urges Russia, Ukraine to Settle Energy Dispute

May 4th 2014

Oil Pipes2

Russia's confrontation with the West over the growing unrest in eastern Ukraine could lead to another energy crisis in the European countries that are dependent on Russian energy.  Europe gets about one-third of its gas supplies from Russia, and about half of it is dispatched through Ukraine.  Europeans are increasingly looking into alternative sources of energy to reduce their reliance on Russia.  Meanwhile, the EU is mediating a deal between Russia and Ukraine that would secure a steady gas supply for next winter.

The Ukrainian military effort to regain cities under pro-Russian rebel control has not gone as well as the government in Kyiv expected.  Acting President Oleksander Turchynov said the military has had to act with restraint in order to spare civilians.

"I would like to underline that the operation did not progress as quickly as hoped for, and was complicated by the fact that terrorist bases are situated in heavily populated cities, and that they were hiding behind citizens, hiding behind hostages and firing from apartment blocks," he said. Read more ..

The Coal Problem

DOL Cuts Miner's Coal-Dust Exposure

April 30th 2014

Coal miner

The Labor Department announced Wednesday that it is finalizing a long-delayed rule to cut the amount of coal dust to which miners can be exposed.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) rule will reduce coal-dust exposure limits by a quarter for underground mines and improve requirements for air sampling and monitoring in an attempt to reduce respiratory disease. It will take advantage of new technology to provide real-time monitoring of dust levels, which would allow miners and supervisors to avoid periods of high coal dust.

“Today we advance a very basic principle: you shouldn't have to sacrifice your life for your livelihood,” Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said in a statement. “But that's been the fate of more than 76,000 miners who have died at least in part because of black lung since 1968.”

In a notice scheduled to be published May 1 in the Federal Register, MSHA said chronic coal-dust exposure causes lung diseases such as coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, emphysema, silicosis and chronic bronchitis, together known as black lung. “These diseases are debilitating and can result in disability and premature death,” the safety group said. Read more ..

Iran on Edge

Iranians Go Online To Vent Anger After Cut In Gasoline Subsidies

April 26th 2014

Gas Station line

Iranians have gone online to vent their frustration at the government after it slashed state subsidies on gasoline, a move that has seen the price at the pump skyrocket by up to 75 percent.

The dramatic price hikes, which took effect at midnight on April 25, are expected to test President Hassan Rohani’s support among a population fed up with stubborn inflation, rising costs, and high unemployment.

Observers see it as a risky move. There were riots at some gas stations in 2007 when fuel rationing was imposed for the first time. While there have been reports of no violence or protests after the latest price hikes, police have been put on alert. Iranians on social networking sites have criticized the government’s move, part of a second phase of government plans to remove energy subsidies and revive the country’s flatlining, sanctions-hit economy. Read more ..

India on Edge

Shocking Connections between Indian Politics and Electrical Grid

April 24th 2014

About a third of India's electricity is lost each year. It just never gets billed. Some is stolen or disappears because of technical problems. It's enough power to light up all of Italy for a year. The problem gets especially bad during elections when electricity is used to win votes, a new University of Michigan study shows. The research focused on state elections in Uttar Pradesh—the country's largest state—and found that power losses increased by three percentage points just before the polls.

"Our paper offers a political explanation on electricity loss and why it persists in plain sight," said Brian Min, assistant professor of political science. "In short, elected political leaders benefit at the polls when their constituents receive more electricity." The study highlights two big challenges in the world's most populous democracy: rampant corruption and wobbly infrastructure. Both are frequently blamed for the recent slowdown in India's economy—a major issue in the general elections that wrap up May 12. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Oil Spill Clean Up in U.S. Arctic Waters Requires Increased Infrastructure to Use Full Range of Response Methods

April 23rd 2014

Alaska oil drilling

A changing climate is increasing the accessibility of U.S. Arctic waters to commercial activities such as shipping, oil and gas development, and tourism, raising concern about the risk of oil spills.  A new report from the National Research Council says that a full suite of proven oil response tools is needed to address potential oil spills in U.S. Arctic waters, but not all of them are readily available.  While much is known about both oil behavior and response technologies in ice-covered environments, there are areas where additional research would enable more informed decisions about the most effective response strategies for different Arctic spill situations, the report adds.

The Arctic poses several challenges to oil spill response, including extreme weather and environmental settings, limited operations and communications infrastructure, a vast geographic area, and vulnerable species, ecosystems, and cultures.  The report finds that there is a need to validate current and emerging oil spill response technologies under these real-world conditions, and recommends that carefully controlled field experiments that release oil in the U.S. Arctic be conducted as part of a long-term, collaborative Arctic oil spill research and development program that spans local, state, and federal levels. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Nanoreporters Tell 'Sour' Oil from 'Sweet'

April 22nd 2014

oil pump

Scientists at Rice University have created a nanoscale detector that checks for and reports on the presence of hydrogen sulfide in crude oil and natural gas while they’re still in the ground.

The nanoreporter is based on nanometer-sized carbon material developed by a consortium of Rice labs led by chemist James Tour and is the subject of a new paper published this month in the American Chemical Society journal ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces.

Limited exposure to hydrogen sulfide causes sore throats, shortness of breath and dizziness, according to the researchers. The human nose quickly becomes desensitized to hydrogen sulfide, leading to an inability to detect higher concentrations. That can be fatal, they said.

On the flip side, hydrogen sulfide is also a biologically important signaling molecule in processes that include pain and inflammation. Tour said chemists have synthesized fluorescent probes to detect it in the body. The Rice team capitalized on that work by using the probes to create downhole detectors for oil fields. Read more ..

The Race for Bio-Fuel

Doubts Cast on Climate Benefits of Bio-Fuels from Corn Residue

April 21st 2014

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Using corn crop residue to make ethanol and other biofuels reduces soil carbon and can generate more greenhouse gases than gasoline, according to a study published today in the journal Nature Climate Change.

The findings by a University of Nebraska-Lincoln team of researchers cast doubt on whether corn residue can be used to meet federal mandates to ramp up ethanol production and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Corn stover -- the stalks, leaves and cobs in cornfields after harvest -- has been considered a ready resource for cellulosic ethanol production. The U.S. Department of Energy has provided more than $1 billion in federal funds to support research to develop cellulosic biofuels, including ethanol made from corn stover. While the cellulosic biofuel production process has yet to be extensively commercialized, several private companies are developing specialized biorefineries capable of converting tough corn fibers into fuel. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Keystone Decision Pushed Back

April 19th 2014

Keystone pipe

The Obama administration on Friday extended its review period for the Keystone XL pipeline, potentially delaying a decision on the project until after the midterm elections.

With just 14 days left in a 90-day review, State Department officials said they were stopping the clock due to litigation in Nebraska over the pipeline's proposed route.

State declined to provide a specific timeline for restarting the review process, effectively putting the project in limbo.

The delay could disarm a political land-mine for President Obama, who had found himself caught between rival factions of his Democratic base.

While Keystone has significant support from industry groups and some labor unions, it is staunchly opposed by environmentalists, who say its approval would be a betrayal and a stain on the president's climate change legacy.

Those dynamics made the Keystone decision a lose-lose situation for the White House, with any decision bound to alienate core supporters that Democrats need to turn out this fall.

The pipeline is a project of the developer TransCanada and would carry oil sands from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries.

A senior State Department official said that while the agency is essentially freezing the review process to wait for more information on the situation in Nebraska, it may start the clock back up before the state's supreme court makes a ruling. Read more ..

The Coal Problem

In Picturesque Thailand, Coal Plant Draws Protests

April 17th 2014

coal fired power plant

Environmental activists in Thailand are protesting plans to reopen an 800-megawatt coal plant in a coastal region, Krabi, that is popular with eco-tourists. The controversy pits Thailand’s growing energy needs against its image as a seaside paradise.

Along the southwestern coast, tourism is big business, worth more than $40 million a year.

Despite rapid development, Krabi, a coastal province, is still recognized as a green tourism zone and its wetlands are included on an international conservation list.

To meet rising demand for electricity, authorities are planning to restart a local power plant, which will bring ships hauling coal near parks and beaches popular with tourists. Near the power plant’s location in Krabi town, fisherman Manit Bootpheaw remembers the health problems from the 90's when it was last active. Read more ..

The Race for Batteries

Battery Design: Key To Improving Wearable Medical Devices

April 15th 2014

Eyeball Surveillance

Google has recently celebrated 15 years since its launch. While still in its teens, Google has dramatically changed the way most people see and use the internet and has become an integral part of daily life. In similar ways, new technologies which were the reserve of Sci-fi less than ten years ago are currently being developed for both consumer markets and the professional world. What Google has done for the internet, wearable and implantable technologies may well do for medicine.

According to a piece of research published by IMS in 2012, the wearable technology market is expected to reach $6 billion by 2016. IMS defines wearable technologies as products that are worn on the user's body for an extended period of time, contain advanced circuitry, as well as wireless connectivity, that can process data.

The medical field is one of the leading professional sectors when it comes to investments in research and product design. Portable devices such as nebulisers or infusion pumps and wearable devices like endoscopy recorders or blood pressure and glucose monitors are only a few of the technologies which are now available to the public. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Report Offers Grim Predictions For South Texas Air Quality Amid Eagle Ford Oil Boom

April 14th 2014

Oil Barrels

What might the oil- and gas-rich Eagle Ford Shale region of South Texas look like in 2018?

A newly released but largely unnoticed study commissioned by the state of Texas makes some striking projections:

***The number of wells drilled in the 20,000-square-mile region could quadruple, from about 8,000 today to 32,000.
***Oil production could leap from 363 million barrels per year to as much as 761 million.
***Airborne releases of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) could increase 281 percent during the peak ozone season compared to 2012 emissions. VOCs, commonly found at oil and gas production sites, can cause respiratory and neurological problems. Some, like benzene, can cause cancer.
***Nitrogen oxides — which react with VOCs in sunlight to create ground-level ozone, the main component of smog — could increase 69 percent during the peak ozone season. Read more ..

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