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The Race for Solar

Uganda's Newest Utility: Pay-as-you-go Solar Power

February 28th 2014

Photovoltaic cells

In Uganda, telecom provider MTN and a company called Fenix are gearing up this year for a nationwide rollout of pre-paid electricity, similar to pre-paid airtime, but using solar kits. Uganda has one of the lowest electrification rates in Africa - a continent where some 600 million people are off the power grid.

​The village of Kiwumu lies less than 32 kilometers from the Ugandan capital, Kampala. But the bright lights of the city seem worlds away. Like the vast majority of Uganda, Kiwumu is off the electrical grid, and teacher Michael Mugerwa does not expect things to change any time soon.

"I'm not dreaming of having grid power here in the next 15 years, because power distribution is influenced by government, and government seems to have preference elsewhere. So it's not easy to get grid in these residential communities," he said. Read more ..

The Race for Wind and Sun

Green Energy Expansion in Germany Comes at a Hefty Price

February 27th 2014

Wind Farm

Germany is one of the top producers of renewable energy in the world. Since the year 2000 the country’s production of clean electricity jumped from a modest 6 percent to 25 percent last year in an effort to shift the German economy from nuclear power and fossil fuels towards wind and solar energy. Despite the progress, German consumers pay among the highest electricity prices in the European Union. 

Lissy Ishang started turning off appliances to save energy when she moved away from home a decade ago. Back then, Lissy’s family was paying half the price Germans pay today for electricity and this year German consumers are expected to pay even more.

Today an average family of four in Germany spends about $107 a month for electricity. This year, their monthly bill will be $129, almost three times more than a family in the United States. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Individual Property Rights Trump Keystone XL in Nebraska

February 26th 2014

Keystone Pipeline

Should a Canadian corporation be allowed to take land rights from a small Nebraska rancher? Should conservatives side with Big Government and Canadians over private landowners?

A court in Nebraska has put the brakes on the Keystone XL pipeline in a case that started with land rights. The plaintiffs were landowners in Keystone's path who didn't want to sell, and so became victims of eminent domain to benefit Keystone.

The Keystone XL pipeline, being built by TransCanada, has generated dozens of passionate arguments on both sides. Keystone opponents say the pipeline will disrupt habitats. The pipeline has also become a totem for oil, and thus a symbol of so many things hated on the Left: profits, pollution, climate change, and Republicans. Read more ..

Petroleum Addiction

US Methane Leaks are Significantly Undercounted

February 25th 2014

About 50 percent more of the greenhouse gas methane has been seeping into the atmosphere than previously thought, according to far-reaching findings that synthesize two decades' worth of methane studies in North America. People who go out and actually measure methane pretty consistently find more emissions than we expect. Methane is the main ingredient in natural gas.

The study was a broad-based effort led by Stanford University that involved researchers from the University of Michigan, MIT, Harvard University and 11 other institutions and national laboratories. It's the first to integrate studies that looked at both individual ground-based components and continental-scale observations.

"People who go out and actually measure methane pretty consistently find more emissions than we expect," said Adam Brandt, an assistant professor of energy resources engineering at Stanford University. Read more ..

The Race for Electric

Chinese Electric Bus Company Charges into US

February 25th 2014

Dashboard for electric car

In the heart of southern California, home of packed freeways and major smog problems, help may be on the way from an unexpected source - China. The Chinese company BYD is trying to make an impact while overcoming new obstacles.

Outside the BYD U.S. headquarters in the heart of Los Angeles, Auto Marketing Manager Lifang Yan agilely moved a 12-meter-long BYD electric-powered bus. “Zero emissions, zero pollution, lower fuel costs, and lower maintenance costs," she said.

BYD, which is short for “Build You Dreams”, is the first Chinese company to manufacture cars in the United States. Its battery-powered buses should be a dream come true for a city with constant traffic jams and serious air pollution like Los Angeles.  And so far, the company has three small orders from southern California transit agencies. But now,  it needs to convince buyers to make larger orders. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Obama Hints at Quick Keystone Decision

February 24th 2014

Obama with baseball bat

President Obama told governors gathered at the White House on Monday he expects to make a decision on the Keystone XL oil pipeline within the next couple of months, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin said.

Fallin and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, both Republicans, said they raised the issue in a closed question-and-answer session with the president. "He anticipates an answer one way or another in a couple of months," Fallin said.

If the timeline holds, it means Obama would make a decision on the controversial project before the midterm elections. The pipeline has been championed by Republicans and vulnerable Senate Democrats, including Sens. Mary Landrieu (La.) and Mark Begich (Alaska), who say it would create construction jobs.

White House press secretary Jay Carney declined to comment on the conversation between the president and the governors. "I don't have a timetable to give to you," Carney said. "I'd refer you to the State Department." Read more ..

Oil Addiction

New Deal Reached to Slow Freight Trains Carrying Crude

February 23rd 2014

Graniteville Train Wreck

The Department of Transportation and Association of American Railroads (AAR) announced an agreement Friday to lower the speed limit for freight trains carrying crude oil. They also agreed to inspect tracks more frequently as part of a new safety effort.

The voluntary reforms follow the high-profile December derailment of a train in Casselton, N.D., that resulted in 400,000 gallons of crude oil being spilled and prompted a push for more stringent federal regulation of freight rail shipments involving hazardous materials.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said increasing the safety of freight rail oil shipments was a goal for both the DOT and the freight rail industry. “DOT and the Association of American Railroads (AAR) both recognize that the United States has experienced a significant growth in the quantity of petroleum crude oil being shipped by rail in recent years,” Foxx wrote Friday in a letter to AAR President Ed Hemberger. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Oil Money: Texas Legislature Saved Industry from Pollution Rule

February 22nd 2014

Oil Refinery

In January 2011, with air quality worsening in Texas’ booming oil and gas fields and the federal government beginning to take notice, state environmental regulators adopted rules to reduce harmful emissions. The industry rebelled. So did the state legislature.

A few months later, the legislature overwhelmingly approved SB1134, a bill that effectively prevented the new regulations from being applied in the Eagle Ford Shale region of South Texas, the fastest-growing oil shale play in the nation and maybe the world. Since then, more than 2,400 air emissions permits have been issued in the Eagle Ford without additional safeguards that would have reduced the amounts of benzene, hydrogen sulfide, formaldehyde and other toxic chemicals that drift into the air breathed by 1.1 million people. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Obama's New Opening to Delay Keystone

February 21st 2014

Oil Pipes2

Green groups say a Nebraska county judge’s ruling this week striking down the Keystone XL pipeline’s route through that state provides an opening for President Obama to delay his decision on the project.

The question, observers say, is whether Obama is interested in another delay during a midterm election year, where delay or rejection of Keystone could hurt Democratic Senate candidates.

Lancaster County Judge Stephanie Stacy’s ruling should put off the State Department’s determination on whether the pipeline is in the national interest, says Melinda Pierce of the Sierra Club.

“I can't imagine State can move forward on the national interest determination when the route is in question,” said Pierce, who added that she can’t envision a scenario where State would move forward until the issues in Nebraska are resolved. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Don't Derail Crude-By-Rail Shipments of Shale Boom

February 20th 2014

Graniteville Train Wreck

Spurred by rapid growth in crude oil shipments in the last few years, America's freight railroads are gaining a new lease on life.

Small amounts of domestic crude have always been transported by rail, but since the recent shale oil boom, the increase in shipments has been enormous. Last year, about 400,000 carloads of crude oil traveled by rail, up from only 9,500 carloads in 2008, according to the Association of American Railroads. At about 714 barrels of crude oil per railcar, that's more than 782,000 barrels of America's crude oil transported every day last year by rail.

To grasp the revolutionary change in the logistics of crude-oil transit, consider that more than 71 million barrels of crude oil were shipped by rail in just the last quarter of 2013. That's 52% more oil than trains hauled during all of 2011, and more than 10 times the volume of oil shipped in 2008. Read more ..

The Race for Nuclear

New Nuke Facilities Being Built but Old Questions Remain

February 19th 2014

Nuclear Reactors

In the midst of the current debate over whether to build the Keystone oil pipeline from Canada into the United States and the efforts to develop solar and wind power, nuclear energy is hardly being discussed. However, the Nuclear Energy Institute - an industry lobbying group --   reports the number of nuclear power plants in the United States is growing.

The big news is new facilities. Four are currently being constructed: two each in South Carolina and Georgia. The Nuclear Energy Institute said there are 12 additional applications to build nuclear power plants. Steve Byrne, of South Carolina Electric and Gas, said that for his company, nuclear was a good option.

“Coal was in disfavor. The price of natural gas relatively high, so nuclear made a lot of sense to us. So we were a company that already operated a nuclear facility, had a tremendous site for adding new nuclear capacity, so we made the decision to go nuclear,” said Byrne. Read more ..

The Global Warming Edge

Embarking on Geoengineering, Then Stopping Would Speed Up Global Warming

February 18th 2014

Irene hits NYC 08/29

Spraying reflective particles into the atmosphere to reflect sunlight and then stopping it could exacerbate the problem of climate change, according to new research by atmospheric scientists at the University of Washington.

Carrying out geoengineering for several decades and then stopping would cause warming at a rate that will greatly exceed that expected due to global warming, according to a study published Feb. 18 in Environmental Research Letters.

“The absolute temperature ends up being roughly the same as what it would have been, but the rate of change is so drastic, that ecosystems and organisms would have very little time to adapt to the changes,” said lead author Kelly McCusker, who did the work for her UW doctoral thesis.

The study looks at solar radiation management, a proposed method of geoengineering by spraying tiny sulfur-based particles into the upper atmosphere to reflect sunlight. This is similar to what happens after a major volcanic eruption, and many experts believe the technique is economically and technically feasible. But continuous implementation over years depends on technical functioning, continuous funding, bureaucratic agreement and lack of negative side effects. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Harper Will Press Obama on Keystone

February 17th 2014

Keystone Pipeline

When President Obama heads down to sunny Toluca, Mexico next week, he might feel an unusual chill in the air.

The president is slated to hold economic and trade discussions with Mexican President Pena Nieto and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper — the latter of whom is expected to give President Obama an earful over approval of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.

The Canadian government has vocally advocated for the $5.4 billion construction project, with Harper recently calling the extension "inevitable.” That effort has only intensified since the release less than a month ago of the long-awaited State Department's final environmental analysis, which said the pipeline wouldn't significantly increase greenhouse gas emissions. Read more ..

The Race for Nuclear

Nuclear Waste: Cost of South Carolina Fuel Plant Goes Up By Billions of Dollars--Again

February 16th 2014

Nuclear Reactors

A confidential study by the Energy Department has concluded that completing a controversial nuclear fuel factory in South Carolina may cost billions of dollars more than the department has previously promised, according to government officials and industry sources briefed on its results.

The study, conducted for Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, also found that finishing and then operating the factory to help get rid of Cold War-era plutonium as part of a nonproliferation arrangement with Russia would likely cost a total of $25 billion to $30 billion on top of the $4 billion spent on its construction so far, the sources said.

That amount is so high, the officials said, that the Obama administration is leaning towards embracing what one described as “some other option” for dealing with the 34 tons of weapons plutonium that the so-called Mixed Oxide (MOX) nuclear fuel plant at Savannah River was supposed to help eliminate. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Mideast Wary Over Iraq-Iran Plan to Unite in Oil Market

February 14th 2014

Arab Oil Derick

Iraq is planning to triple its oil-producing capacity by 2020, hoping to leverage its natural resources in a power arrangement with Iran that could challenge Saudi Arabia’s domination of the world oil market.

So far, most of the talk has come from Iraqi officials who have been expressing confidence the country can again become a major regional player despite an upsurge in violence that killed 1,000 people last month, and nearly 9,000 last year.

In London last week, Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister for Energy Hussain al-Shahristani announced that Iraq plans to triple its oil output to nine million barrels per day by the end of the decade. And he hinted that is just part of Iraq’s plans. "Iran has been in touch with us," al-Shahristani told the London Telegraph. "They want to share our contracts model and experience." Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Landrieu's Gavel Comes With Risk

February 13th 2014

US Capital Day

Sen. Mary Landrieu’s (D-La.) new powers as chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee could end up being a double-edged sword for her already-difficult reelection chances.

The Bayou Democrat took over the plum post on Wednesday evening, which could allow her to push legislation popular back home that boosts the oil industry, all while distancing herself from an unpopular President Obama.

But it also raises the pressure on her to deliver for home-state constituents. If she falters, her pitch risks ringing hollow as voters questions her ability to deliver. Republicans like Louisiana GOP Chairman Roger Villere are already pledging to make her chairmanship a liability.

“For years she has donated to anti-energy Senators and helped keep Harry Reid and his anti-energy team in control of the Senate,” Villere said in a release to be issued Thursday. “She has consistently put special interests above what’s best for Louisiana’s energy economy,” added Villere, who called Landrieu’s chairmanship “the epitome of hypocrisy.” Read more ..

The Coal Problem

Same State, New Spill

February 12th 2014

Coal ash

West Virginia is facing another chemical spill, but this time it's coal slurry.

On Tuesday, coal slurry from a line in the Patriot Coal facilities spilled into Fields Creek -- a tributary of the Kanawha River near Charleston.

The slurry blackened six miles of the creek and inspectors are testing water to determine how much leaked, CNN reports. They believe roughly 100,000 gallons spilled.

Patriot Coal began cleanup and containment immediately, said Janine Orf, a vice president at Patriot Coal.

State Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Tom Aluise said the water in eastern Kanawha County is safe to drink. Still, West Virginia American Water released a "do not use" alert for the area for pregnant women for the separate Jan. 9 spill into Elk River from a Freedom Industries' site. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Industry Rallies Behind Landrieu-Led Panel

February 11th 2014

Oil Refinery

Sen. Mary Landrieu starts her chairmanship on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday.

Hours after being notified that she would take the helm, the Louisiana Democrat shared the news with a room full of utility regulators Tuesday morning.

"I was just told I will be head of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee at 1 p.m. today," Landrieu said on Tuesday. And the oil-and-gas industry, along with coal advocates, let its excitement be known.

“She has been an outspoken critic of EPA’s misguided carbon regulations, often breaking with party lines in order to voice her concerns about the rules’ devastating economic consequences," the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity said in a statement.  Read more ..

The Auto Age

U.S. Vehicle Emissions Now at Best Level Ever

February 10th 2014

Gas mileage of new vehicles sold in the U.S. improved in January 2014, while emissions are now at their best mark ever, say researchers at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.

Average fuel economy (window-sticker values) of cars, light trucks, vans and SUVs purchased last month was 24.9 mpg, up 0.1 mpg from December and up 4.8 mpg since October 2007, the first month of monitoring, according to UMTRI's Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle.

In addition to average fuel economy, Sivak and Schoettle issued a monthly update of their national Eco-Driving Index, which estimates the average monthly emissions generated by an individual U.S. driver. The EDI takes into account both the fuel used per distance driven and the amount of driving—the latter relying on data that are published with a two-month lag. Read more ..

The Grid on Edge

Attack Last Year on California Power Station Raises Alarm

February 9th 2014

transformer farm

An unsolved sniper attack last year on an electrical power substation in California that knocked out 17 giant transformers has mobilized industry leaders to beef up physical security at these vital installations. The incident also has some experts worried that parts of the U.S. power grid are similarly vulnerable.

On April 16, 2013, attackers cut fiber optic cables in an underground vault and then fired more than 100 rounds from at least two high-powered rifles on Pacific Gas and Electric's Metcalf power transmission station near San Jose, California.

The attack did not cause major power disruptions because officials were able to reroute electricity remotely during the 27 days it took to repair the installation and get it back on line, according to PG&E spokesman Brian Swanson. Read more ..

The Race for Batteries

New Chewing-Gum-Like Material May Reduce Lithium Battery Fire Hazard

February 6th 2014

Researchers at Washington State University have developed a chewing gum-like battery material that is claimed could reduce the fire hazard potential of lithium ion batteries. The development is timely following UK's Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) recent declaration that the huge growth in people carrying lithium batteries on aircraft is posing a growing fire risk. Led by Katie Zhong, Westinghouse Distinguished Professor in the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, the researchers reported on their work in the journal, Advanced Energy Materials.

The biggest potential risk for high performance lithium batteries comes from the electrolyte in the battery, which is made of either a liquid or gel in all commercially available rechargeable lithium batteries. The liquid acid solutions can leak and pose a fire or chemical burn hazard. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Baghdad Legally Challenges Oil Exports from Iraqi Kurdistan to Turkey

February 4th 2014

Arab Oil Derick

With oil now flowing from Iraqi Kurdistan to Turkey after the two sides signed a groundbreaking agreement late last year, Baghdad is mounting an international legal challenge to the deal.

In a deepening row over control of Iraq’s energy, Baghdad has announced it is employing an international law firm to block the sale of oil piped from semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan to Turkey. Last year, Ankara signed a wide-ranging energy agreement with the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, and last December, oil from the region started flowing through a newly-constructed pipeline to the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan.

But Iraq's central government insisted only it had the right to sign agreements on exporting energy. Dr. Emre Iseri, an energy politics expert at Izmir’s Yasar University, said the legal challenge posed a threat to the agreement. "It’s a problem. You are talking about international law, it's about legitimacy.  If you act against international law, that means your maneuvering space is limited," he said. Read more ..

The Race for Biofuels

New Technique Makes "Biogasoline" from Plant Waste

February 3rd 2014

Pond Scum

Gasoline-like fuels can be made from cellulosic materials such as farm and forestry waste using a new process invented by chemists at the University of California, Davis. The process could open up new markets for plant-based fuels, beyond existing diesel substitutes.

"What's exciting is that there are lots of processes to make linear hydrocarbons, but until now nobody has been able to make branched hydrocarbons with volatility in the gasoline range," said Mark Mascal, professor of chemistry at UC Davis and lead author.

Traditional diesel fuel is made up of long, straight chains of carbon atoms, while the molecules that make up gasoline are shorter and branched. That means gasoline and diesel evaporate at different temperatures and pressures, reflected in the different design of diesel and gasoline engines.

Biodiesel, refined from plant-based oils, is already commercially available to run modified diesel engines. A plant-based gasoline replacement would open up a much bigger market for renewable fuels. Read more ..

Nature and Energy

Researchers: Birds Know Flying in V-Formation is Energy-Efficient

February 2nd 2014

cranes in flight

Scientists at the Royal Veterinary College in London have solved a centuries-old puzzle: why do some birds fly in a formation resembling the Latin letter V. Using modern technology, they confirmed that it's all about conserving energy.

Most drivers know that following a large truck saves gas because the truck is pushing a lot of air around it, creating a partial vacuum behind it, so the car encounters less resistance.

According to Steven Portugal, a researcher at London’s Royal Veterinary College, birds knew that long before humans did. 

Using a flock of Northern Bald Ibises, Portugal and his team attached small devices to the back of each bird - a GPS navigation device and an accelerometer, to track wing movements. The recordings showed that the birds were able to use the upward airstream created by the wingtip of the bird just in front of it. Read more ..

The Coal Problem

EPA to Regulate Coal Ash Amid Court Settlement

January 31st 2014

Coal ash

For the first time, the Environmental Protection Agency is agreeing to regulate the disposal of coal ash as part of a settlement in a lawsuit filed against the agency by environmental groups.

In a consent decree Wednesday, the agency sets December 19 as its deadline for “taking final action regarding EPA’s proposed . . . regulations pertaining to coal combustion residuals.” The settlement follows an earlier judicial order, issued last fall, partly ruling in favor of Earthjustice and 10 other groups in a lawsuit challenging the slow pace of EPA’s regulatory action.

The agency is now weighing how to regulate coal ash, waste from the production of electricity. One of the nation’s largest refuse streams at 136 million tons a year, coal ash has fouled water supplies and threatened communities across the country. In a series of stories, the Center for Public Integrity highlighted the consequences of coal ash.  Read more ..

The Race for Batteries

Sodium Ion Battery Tchnology: Flexible Molybdenum Disulfide Electrodes

January 29th 2014


A Kansas State University engineer has made a breakthrough in rechargeable battery applications.

Gurpreet Singh, assistant professor of mechanical and nuclear engineering, and his student researchers are the first to demonstrate that a composite paper -- made of interleaved molybdenum disulfide and graphene nanosheets -- can be both an active material to efficiently store sodium atoms and a flexible current collector. The newly developed composite paper can be used as a negative electrode in sodium-ion batteries.

"Most negative electrodes for sodium-ion batteries use materials that undergo an 'alloying' reaction with sodium," Singh said. "These materials can swell as much as 400 to 500 percent as the battery is charged and discharged, which may result in mechanical damage and loss of electrical contact with the current collector." Read more ..

The Race for Wind

Active Power Control of Wind Turbines Can Improve Power Grid Reliability

January 28th 2014

Green Mtn wind farm

The Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), along with partners from the Electric Power Research Institute and the University of Colorado have completed a comprehensive study to understand how wind power technology can assist the power grid by controlling the active power output being placed onto the system. The rest of the power system’s resources have traditionally been adjusted around wind to support a reliable and efficient system. The research that led to this report challenges that concept.

The study, “Active Power Controls from Wind Power: Bridging the GapsPDF”, finds that wind power can support the power system by adjusting its power output to enhance system reliability. Additionally, the study finds that it often could be economically beneficial to provide active power control , and potentially damaging loads on turbines from providing this control is negligible. Active power control helps balance load with generation at various times, avoiding erroneous power flows, involuntary load shedding, machine damage, and the risk of potential blackouts. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Lawmakers Demand Stricter Oil Train Regs

January 26th 2014

train on fire

Lawmakers are calling for a comprehensive review of the nation’s rules that govern freight rail shipments of crude oil cargo following a string of rail accidents in recent months, and after receiving a warning from safety regulators that inaction could lead to a "major loss of life."

Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) and John Hoeven (R-N.D.) are pushing the Department of Transportation (DOT) to enact more stringent rules for oil-by-rail shipments, in the wake of a December derailment in their home state that spilled 400,000 tons of crude oil.

The accident near Casselton, N.D., which caused no casualties, was followed in January by a derailment in New Brunswick, Canada, which caused evacuations but also no casualties. Six months earlier, the oil train derailment in Lac-Megantic in Quebec province, Canada, on July 6, 2013, killed 42 people and incinerated 30 buildings, There have been several other oil train accidents in North America since. Read more ..

The Coal Problem

Green Group Asks Pro-Coal Lawmaker to Return Campaign Donation

January 24th 2014

Alma coal-fired plant Wisconsin

The League of Conservation Voters is asking Rep. William Enyart (D-Ill.) to return a campaign contribution for backing a coal-friendly bill.

The green group's action fund donated $5,000 to Enyart's campaign in 2012 after he promised in a candidate questionnaire sent out by the group to defend the Clean Air Act if elected to Congress.

Enyart's offense: co-sponsoring the bill H.R. 3826, which seeks to reign in what the GOP claims is the Environmental Protection Agency's overreach on greenhouse gas emission standards for coal-fired power plants.

The bill ensures that "regulations are based on technology that is proven and commercially available for use," said Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), co-author of the legislation with Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.). In a letter to Enyart on Thursday, the League of Conservation Voters calls the bill "one of the broadest attacks on the environment we've seen yet from the Republican leadership." Read more ..

The Race for Solar

Collecting Solar Infrared Radiation Improves Efficiency of Photovoltaic Cells

January 23rd 2014

Click to select Image

A new approach to harvesting solar energy, developed by MIT researchers, could improve efficiency by using sunlight to heat a high-temperature material whose infrared radiation would then be collected by a conventional photovoltaic cell. This technique could also make it easier to store the energy for later use, the researchers say.

In this case, adding the extra step improves performance, because it makes it possible to take advantage of wavelengths of light that ordinarily go to waste. The process is described in a paper published in Nature Nanotechnology, written by graduate student Andrej Lenert, associate professor of mechanical engineering Evelyn Wang, physics professor Marin Soljačić, principal research scientist Ivan Celanović, and three others.

A conventional silicon-based solar cell “doesn’t take advantage of all the photons,” Wang explains. That’s because converting the energy of a photon into electricity requires that the photon’s energy level match that of a characteristic of the photovoltaic (PV) material called a bandgap. Silicon’s bandgap responds to many wavelengths of light, but misses many others. Read more ..

The Race for BioFuel

There is More to Biofuel Production than Corn Crop Yields

January 23rd 2014

Click to select Image

When it comes to biofuels, corn leads the all-important category of biomass yield. However, focusing solely on yield comes at a high price. In the current issue of the Proceedings for the National Academy of Sciences, Michigan State University researchers show that looking at the big picture allows other biofuel crops, such as native perennial grasses, to score higher as viable alternatives.

“We believe our findings have major implications for bioenergy research and policy,” said Doug Landis, MSU entomologist and one of the paper’s lead authors. “Biomass yield is obviously a key goal, but it appears to come at the expense of many other environmental benefits that society may desire from rural landscapes.”

Oil Addiction

Greens Blast Obama as Oil Flows Through Southern Keystone Leg

January 22nd 2014

Keystone Pipeline

Oil shipments on Wednesday began to flow through Keystone XL's southern leg.

TransCanada announced the start of oil deliveries to Gulf Coast refineries on Wednesday morning. The shipments run from Cushing, Okla. to Nederland, Texas.

While not as controversial as its northern leg, which is still under review by the State Department, the decision by the Obama administration to allow the flow of oil through the southern Keystone leg is stirring controversy. Green groups like the Sierra Club blasted the administration for failing to adequately review the pipeline.

“Today’s announcement is a painful example of President Obama’s all of the above energy plan at work: polluted air and water, carbon pollution, and the ever present threat of poisoned drinking water for millions of Texas and Oklahoma families," Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in a statement. Read more ..

The Race for Batteries

The Energy-Dense Sugar Battery

January 21st 2014

Sugar Cane

'Sugar is a perfect energy storage compound in nature,' Y.H. Percival Zhang said. 'So it's only logical that we try to harness this natural power in an environmentally friendly way to produce a battery.'

A Virginia Tech research team has developed a battery that runs on sugar and has an unmatched energy density, a development that could replace conventional batteries with ones that are cheaper, refillable, and biodegradable.

While other sugar batteries have been developed, this one has an energy density an order of magnitude higher than others, allowing it to run longer before needing to be refueled, Zhang said.

In as soon as three years, Zhang's new battery could be running some of the cell phones, tablets, video games, and the myriad other electronic gadgets that require power in our energy-hungry world, Zhang said. "Sugar is a perfect energy storage compound in nature," Zhang said. "So it's only logical that we try to harness this natural power in an environmentally friendly way to produce a battery." Read more ..

The Race for Nuclear

To Balance Energy Demand, We Need Nuclear Power

January 20th 2014

Nuclear Reactors

Should America's new growing dependence on natural gas for electricity production be a cause for concern? Despite America's abundance of natural gas from shale production, some parts of the country have already had warnings that over-dependence on gas for electricity generation exposes consumers to soaring prices for electricity.

The problem is the declining use of coal and nuclear power, the two sources of electricity that provide the greatest price stability and serve as a hedge against wide fluctuations in gas prices. For the power industry to become increasingly dependent on a fuel with a history of price volatility could be problematic.

Take PJM, the regional grid operator that covers the mid-Atlantic and parts of the Midwest. When plunging temperatures in the recent cold snap drove up demand for gas, spot prices for electric power in New Jersey, Delaware and large parts of Pennsylvania skyrocketed to $1,500 per megawatt-hour, well above the typical price of $40 or $50. Read more ..

The Coal Problem

Company Behind West Virginia Chemical Spill Files Bankruptcy

January 18th 2014

coal mine

he company blamed for a chemical spill that left 300,000 West Virginia residents without clean water filed for federal bankruptcy protection on Friday.

Freedom Industries, which owns the tank that ruptured Jan. 9 and sent 7,500 gallons of chemicals into the Elk River, has been hit by a slew of lawsuits and a federal investigation in the week since the incident, according to news reports.

Residents of nine counties were told by state officials not to use water for any purpose except flushing toilets as they cleaned up the mess, which forced businesses to close. Water restrictions have since been lifted for all residents, but officials suggest that pregnant women avoid drinking the water. The company, whose parent firm is Chemstream Holdings Inc. of Pennsylvania, filed for Chapter 11 protection, which will temporarily halt any lawsuits against Freedom. Read more ..

The Coal Problem

Coal Industry Blamed for West Virginia Chemical Spill

January 17th 2014

Coal ash

There are new calls for increased oversight of the powerful chemical and coal industries in West Virginia following a major chemical spill that cut off water to more than 300,000 people.  The state's governor has promised to investigate the accident, but environmentalists say the state has been reluctant to regulate and enforce pollution controls on these industries, which are so crucial to the region's economy.

As residents line up for bottled water, many like Chase Tavaraz want to know why there was no state oversight of the chemical company that contaminated the local drinking water.

“As far as what I understand, if it would have been inspected - I guess 23, 26 years it hasn’t been inspected.  So if it had been certified every year like they are supposed to do, they would have avoided this whole situation,” he said. Nearly a week after a storage tank at a Freedom Industries site leaked chemicals into the Elk river, clean tap water is slowly being restored to affected areas. Read more ..

The Race for Biofuels

Renewable Chemical Ready for Biofuels Scale-Up

January 16th 2014


Using a plant-derived chemical, University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers have developed a process for creating a concentrated stream of sugars that's ripe with possibility for biofuels.

"With the sugar platform, you have possibilities," says Jeremy Luterbacher, a UW-Madison postdoctoral researcher and the paper's lead author. "You've taken fewer forks down the conversion road, which leaves you with more end destinations, such as cellulosic ethanol and drop-in biofuels."

The research team has published its findings explaining how they use gamma valerolactone, or GVL, to deconstruct plants and produce sugars that can be chemically or biologically upgraded into biofuels. With support from the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF), the team will begin scaling up the process later this year. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

GOP Senator Blasts Rail Cars Regs Delays

January 15th 2014

train on fire

A Republican senator expressed disappointment Wednesday in the Department of Transportation's decision to delay stronger regulations for rail cars that are carrying oil.

Sen. John Hoeven (D-N.D.) said he is considering legislation that would speed up the regulations for rail cars. He also plans to meet with Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, Office of Management and Budget Director Sylvia Burwell and industry leaders to determine a more appropriate timeline for new rail car regulations.

“The federal agencies working on this issue need to devote the necessary resources to get it done in a timely way,” he said in a statement. This comes after a train carrying oil derailed last month in North Dakota and spilled more than 400,000 gallons of crude oil in the senator's home state, according to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Murkowski Pushes Obama on Keystone XL, Crude-Export Ban

January 14th 2014

Oil Pipes2

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) wants President Obama to get on board with her push for lifting the U.S. ban on crude exports and approving the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

In a letter sent to Obama on Tuesday, Murkowski called on the president to take executive action.

"While I believe you retain the executive authority necessary to lift the ban on crude exports, if you need legislative support from the Congress in order to do so, you will always have a willing partner from Alaska," Murkowski wrote in the letter on Tuesday.

Last week, she released a white paper on the benefits associated with expanding the country's energy trade, with a specific look at crude exports. Along with crude exports, Murkowski mentions the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline as a means of expanding the nation's energy infrastructure — reminding Obama that he has broadly promised to champion such issues. Read more ..

The Race for Gas

Israel's First Natural Gas Customers to be Palestinians

January 13th 2014

Gas Well Israel

Israel’s Leviathan Partners natural gas production consortium has signed its first gas export agreement with a Palestinian power company.

The agreement, signed last Sunday in Jerusalem at the American Colony Hotel, involves the Palestine Power Generation Company (PPGC) which will purchase around 4.75 billion cubic meter of natural gas during a 20 year period.

The gas will  fuel a to be constructed power plant in the West Bank city Jenin that will have a 200-megawatt capacity. Total estimated cost of the deal is said to be $1.2 billion USD, according to the Jerusalem Post. The agreement was signed between Palestinian Energy Minister Dr. Omar Kittaneh and  executives from the gas field’s partners: the Delek Group, Noble Energy and Ratio Oil Exploration. Read more ..

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