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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 ..

Oil Addiction

Libya’s Oil Output Drops Further

June 25th 2014

oil pump

Libya has much of the world’s highest quality crude oil. But since the fall of long-time leader Moammar Gadhafi in 2011, production has been sporadic and on the decline.

After assessing Libya’s political instability, violence and armed groups battling for control, John Kingston summed up prospects for the country’s oil industry this way: “There’s essentially no good news there.”

Kingston is director of news for Platts, which provides information on the global energy, petrochemical, metals and agriculture industries. He said during Gadhafi’s rule, Libya produced about 1.6 million barrels a day.

“Their quality of crude is extremely high. So, for production of transportation  fuels, like gasoline and diesel, if you lose a barrel out of Libya, you have to produce more than a barrel of heavier crude somewhere else to make up for it. Not all barrels are alike. And a Libyan barrel is more equal than others,” he said. But not much is getting to market these days. Read more ..

The Race for EVs

Solar-Powered Ford Aims to Drive Off-Grid

June 22nd 2014

Sunrise or Sunset

Solar-powered cars have been little more than a novelty to date, experimental vehicles resembling photovoltaic-laden surfboards designed mostly for racing across deserts. Expensive batteries, relatively inefficient PV energy conversion and the lack of intense sunlight in many places have made sun-powered passenger vehicles impractical.

Ford is looking to change that with a version of its plug-in hybrid C-MAX Energi that would allow drivers to charge the hatchback’s lithium-ion battery via PV panels mounted on the roof. Other carmakers already sell models that use solar cells to power cabin ventilation (Toyota) or accessories (Nissan).  The C-MAX Solar Energi Concept—which Ford will showcase at next week’s International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas—would be the first mass-produced, commercially available automobile to offer drivers the ability to recharge a depleted battery via solar power or by plugging into an outlet. Read more ..

Ukraine on Edge

Russia vs. Ukraine: A Gas War Like No Other

June 19th 2014

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Russia has halted gas supplies to Ukraine -- a major escalation of a dispute in which Russia's state-owned gas giant Gazprom is demanding that Kyiv settle its huge gas debt. But in many ways, what many have dubbed the third "gas war" between the two countries is different than previous disputes in 2006 and 2009. Here's why.

This gas row is a lot more political: The gas conflict is taking place against the backdrop of deadly fighting in eastern Ukraine between government troops and separatist insurgents widely believed to be supported by Moscow. Relations between Moscow and Kyiv are at rock bottom; there have been suggestions on both sides to sever diplomatic ties. Read more ..

The Race for Alt Power

Canada, United Kingdom, and Taiwan to Fund Controversial HAARP Installation

June 19th 2014

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One of the most wide-spread conspiracy theories of recent years has concerned a radio-frequency facility in a remote part of Alaska, started by the military in 1993 and known by its acronym HAARP. Critics allege the government was trying to control the weather or even people’s minds. Scientists who worked there say the fears are completely unfounded, though, and they now are fighting to preserve the project from being shut down.

The late inventor Nikola Tesla, whose ideas and designs contributed to our modern electricity supply system, claimed it is possible to send power through the air. Dennis Papadopoulos, a Professor of Electrical Engineering at the University of Maryland, said Tesla was a genius. “He had a lot of wonderful ideas. About 10 percent were great and the 90 percent ended up being crack-pottish,” said Papadopoulos. Read more ..

The Race for Alt Energy

Stationary Fuel Cells See 50 percent Annual Growth

June 18th 2014


Annual shipments of stationary fuel cell systems will grow from almost 40,000 in 2014 to 1.25 million in 2022 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 51.7 percent forecasts market intelligence analyst Navigant Research. Driven by the growing need to enhance grid resiliency and the accelerating adoption of distributed generation (DG) technologies, the stationary fuel cell market is poised for rapid growth over the next decade.  The stationary fuel cell sector represented more than 70 percent of global fuel cell revenue at the beginning of 2014, and is expected to continue to lead the overall fuel cell market in the coming years.  Read more ..

The Race for Batteries

NREL Bolsters Batteries with Nanotubes

June 17th 2014


Researchers at the Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) are turning to extremely tiny tubes and rods to boost power and durability in lithium-ion batteries, the energy sources for cell phones, laptops, and electric vehicles. If successful, the batteries will last longer and perform better, leading to a cost advantage for electric vehicles.

Transportation and communication around the world increasingly rely on lithium-ion batteries, with cell phones ubiquitous on six continents, and electric vehicles on pace to accelerate from a $1 billion worldwide market in 2009 to $14 billion by 2016, according to analysts Frost and Sullivan.

NREL's Energy Storage group is working with the Energy Department, automotive battery developers, and car manufacturers to enhance the performance and durability of advanced lithium-ion batteries for a cleaner, more secure transportation future, said Energy Storage Group Manager Ahmad Pesaran. "The nanotube approach represents an exciting opportunity—improving the performance of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries while make them last longer," Pesaran said. "Increasing the life and performance of rechargeable batteries will drive down overall electric vehicle costs and make us less reliant on foreign sources of energy." Read more ..

The Battle for Ukraine

Russia Strangles Gas Supplies to Ukraine

June 16th 2014

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Russian energy giant Gazprom says it is cutting gas supplies to Ukraine following Kyiv's failure to meet a June 16 deadline to pay nearly $2 billion of its outstanding debt. Gazprom says Ukraine must now pre-pay for any natural gas after missing the deadline.

On the same day, Gazprom filed a lawsuit in a Stockholm arbitration court to try to recover Ukraine's entire $4.5 billion debt. The Ukraine see this as yet another Russian provocation, including the annexation of Crimea and pro-Russian insurgency in eastern Ukraine. Read more ..

The Race for Ethanol

The Figurative Wall is a Fictional Wall

June 13th 2014


My business partner just called my attention to a story that recently appeared on the online publication TheCuttingEdgeNews.com*, titled "Corn Based Ethanol Hits A Figurative Wall." The story was written by Steve Baragona, a science and health reporter for the Voice Of America. The story takes a swipe at the so-called ethanol "blend wall" and then touches on a couple of other negative myths about ethanol, which I can only presume were added in because there was no real information as to why or how corn based ethanol has hit this figurative wall. Rread the story here.
As an aside, I'm sort of puzzled as to why Mr. Baragona chose to bother writing this story, even though it's relatively short length must have taken no more than a few minutes to compose. If I wanted to be really suspicious I would say that he must have received a missive from someone in the oil lobby that said they were paying a few hundred dollars to anyone in the media who wanted to write something negative about ethanol. And with the advent of summer, he figured it would be nice to have some extra walking-around money. However, I hope he only tackled the topic because he or his editors felt it was news-worthy. In any event, whatever the reason for the story, the headline as well as the negative comments about ethanol are incorrect; that's why my headline states that the "figurative wall" is a fictional wall. 

The essence of the ethanol blend wall argument posed by Big Oil is that with the decline in gasoline usage in America (due to improved engine MPG and less driving) that government regulations calling for increased national ethanol usage can't be safely met. And the reason that the increased national ethanol usage can't be safely met - according to the oil lobby - is that the only way to comply with the Federal regulations is to increase the blend level of ethanol in every gallon of gasoline, which they claim can damage a vehicle's engine. Read more ..

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

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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 ..

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