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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

algae

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 ..


Oil Addiction

Obama Will Approve Keystone

January 12th 2014

Keystone Pipeline

Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) said he thinks President Obama will approve the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

In the wake of multiple crude-by-rail train accidents in North Dakota -- leaving railcars ablaze and nearby residents at risk --Hoeven said on "Platts Energy Week" that the U.S. needs more pipelines.

The U.S. needs pipelines "not only to improve conditions in terms of rail, but trucks," Hoeven said on Sunday. "With the Keystone pipeline, we'd take 500 trucks a day off our roads in western North Dakota."

"So clearly pipelines are a part of the solution. But also we have to do everything we can in terms of  safety when we talk about running crude by train or by truck," he added. With U.S. crude oil production reaching near 20-year highs, the country's energy infrastructure -- specifically transportation -- has become a looming concern. Read more ..


Transportation on Edge

US Energy Infrastructure in Focus

January 11th 2014

Graniteville Train Wreck

THE LITTLE ENGINE THAT CAN'T: As the number of derailments by trains carrying crude oil escalates, lawmakers are pressing the Obama administration to act.

For one, each time one of the trains transporting crude oil has derailed or collided with another train, it sets off an explosion, leaving railcars ablaze. And those explosions are forcing nearby residents to evacuate their homes.

The accidents are feeding growing concerns over whether crude oil from sites like the Bakken formation should be transported by rail at all. But a group of senators are pushing the Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and other federal departments to act, and act fast.

In a meeting with lawmakers Thursday, Foxx said he would investigate the incidents. Regulators will test the crude oil coming from the Bakken formation and a Texas site to determine whether the oil being produced is more flammable than other, more conventional crude. Read more ..


The Race for Natural Gas

Tamar Natural Gas Field Worth $52 Billion to Israeli Economy

January 10th 2014

Tamar-gas

The natural gas in Israel’s Tamar field is worth some $52 billion to the Israeli economy, accountants Ernst & Young Israel said in a new report. The CPA firm will present their report at a gas and energy conference in Tel Aviv next week, according to Israel’s Globes business daily.

The initial findings of the study found that Tamar, which began production less than a year ago, boosted Israel’s GDP by almost 0.5 percentage points, and is projected to boost GDP by 1.5 percentage points for 2014.

Ernst & Young  found that $42 billion of the total was the result of savings to the economy over the 28-year lifespan of the gas field. The new domestic gas costs Israel Electric Corporation about $6 per million BTU, or a third of the price of diesel, industrial oil, and liquefied natural gas, all of which have to be imported. The direct savings impacts one of the major costs for manufacturers to do business, meaning lower prices, improved competitiveness, and stronger corporate profits. Read more ..


Oil Addiction

Saudi Prince Warns Countrymen About the Threat of American Oil and Natural Gas

January 7th 2014

Click to select Image

Saudi Arabian Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal expressed fears that the production of shale oil and natural gas in the United States and other countries, especially through the process known as “fracking” is a competitive threat to “any oil-producing country in the world.” For Saudi Arabia, said Alwaleed, this is a “matter of survival.”

Alwaleed, speaking in an interview with The Globe and Mail newspaper, added “It is a pivot moment for any oil-producing country that has not diversified. Ninety-two percent of Saudi Arabia’s annual budget comes from oil. Definitely it is a worry and a concern.”

Alaweed is the nephew of King Abdullah of the oil kingdom. Noting that Saudi leadership may not understand the economic threat posed by American shale oil and natural gas production, he vowed to influence leaders in his country. Speaking in November 2013, he said “I will make them get it, there is no doubt about that."

“I’ll make them get it. It is a matter of survival. There is no choice but to get it. I will keep pushing until they do.” Read more ..


The Race for Wind

Stop Wasting $60B on Wind Energy Tax Break

January 6th 2014

Smoky hill wind farm

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said Congress should not renew the $60 billion wind energy tax credit. Instead he said the money would be better spent reducing the federal debt.

“The massive taxpayer subsidy to windmill developers expired Jan. 1,” Alexander said. “A good way to celebrate the New Year would be to not renew it and to reduce the federal debt by $60 billion, an amount about equal to the spending in the recent budget agreement.”

Alexander argued that the tax break is outdated since the wind industry is now fully developed. He also said wind turbines are a “scar on the landscape.”

“At least in our part of the country, windmills are a huge scar on the landscape — you can see their flashing lights for 20 miles,” Alexander said. “You would have to stretch wind turbines the entire length of the Appalachian Trail, from Maine to Georgia, to equal the power produced by eight nuclear plants on one square mile each.” Tennessee is home to a nuclear power plant and the state also produces coal. Read more ..


The Race for Solar

Simple, Cheap Way to Increase Solar Cell Efficiency

January 5th 2014

Solar Array

Researchers from North Carolina State University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences have found an easy way to modify the molecular structure of a polymer commonly used in solar cells. Their modification can increase solar cell efficiency by more than 30 percent.

Polymer-based solar cells have two domains, consisting of an electron acceptor and an electron donor material. Excitons are the energy particles created by solar cells when light is absorbed. In order to be harnessed effectively as an energy source, excitons must be able to travel quickly to the interface of the donor and acceptor domains and retain as much of the light’s energy as possible.

One way to increase solar cell efficiency is to adjust the difference between the highest occupied molecular orbit (HOMO) of the acceptor and lowest unoccupied molecular orbit (LUMO) levels of the polymer so that the exciton can be harvested with minimal loss. One of the most common ways to accomplish this is by adding a fluorine atom to the polymer’s molecular backbone, a difficult, multi-step process that can increase the solar cell’s performance, but has considerable material fabrication costs. Read more ..


Oil Addiction

Officials Warn Bakken Crude May Pose Greater Flammability Risk

January 4th 2014

oil shale

Crude oil coming out of the Bakken formation in North Dakota might be more flammable than previously thought, U.S. officials said.

Rail derailments have become a somewhat frequent event in North Dakota. On Monday, the latest accident set off a series of explosions and left 21 railcars ablaze. Residents of Casselton, N.D. were asked to evacuate early Tuesday morning.

The recent derailment is the fourth in North America over a span of six months, prompting the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to issue a safety alert on Thursday. The alert warned the public, emergency responders and carriers that Bakken crude oil might be more likely to set off an explosion than other types of crude.   Read more ..


The Coal Problem

Court Sides with Law Firm in Black Lung Case, but Finds Actions 'Hardly Admirable'

January 3rd 2014

Coal

A federal appeals court ruled Friday that the withholding of evidence by a prominent coal industry law firm in a black lung benefits case, while “hardly admirable,” did not reach the extraordinary level of “fraud on the court.”

In its decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit agreed with an administrative appeals board that the actions of the law firm Jackson Kelly PLLC didn’t amount to a carefully orchestrated scheme that undermined the integrity of the entire judicial process — a standard, the court said, that wouldn’t be met even by perjury or fabricated evidence.

The court, however, did not address whether the conduct constituted basic fraud — a key question to be resolved in an ongoing civil suit in West Virginia state court.

The case involved the claim of miner Gary Fox for federal black lung benefits, which was featured in the Center for Public Integrity series Breathless and Burdened. Fox lost a claim in 2001 after lawyers at Jackson Kelly withheld two reports from pathologists of their own choosing that found a sample of Fox’s lung tissue consistent with the most severe form of black lung, known as complicated coal workers’ pneumoconiosis. The firm instead allowed its consulting physicians to rely on a report from a hospital pathologist who had made a vague diagnosis after a procedure meant to rule out cancer, apparently unaware that Fox was a miner.

Fox was unable to find a lawyer and had no idea the other reports, written by prominent experts whose opinions commonly aided coal companies, existed. He had little choice but to return to work, his health steadily deteriorating until he had to retire in 2006. Read more ..


The Race for Nuclear

"Cheap" Nuclear Power a Myth, Suggests Economist

January 3rd 2014

Nuclear Waste

The long-touted economic benefits of using nuclear energy may turn out to have been a pipe dream for customers of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station and other nuclear plants nationwide, according to newly released findings from economic analyst Mark Cooper of the Vermont Law School Institute for Energy and the Environment.

Missing from calculations regarding the true cost of nuclear energy, Cooper says, are the dollars spent by consumers dealing with the long-term storage of radioactive waste generated by power plant reactors. According to his research, such overlooked expenses increase the cost of nuclear power by at least $10 and by as much as $20 per megawatt hour — the federal Energy Information Administration says that as of 2012, total nuclear costs were $25.48 to produce the equivalent amount of energy. Read more ..


The Race for Biofuels

New Cellulose Digestion Mechanism by a Fast-eating Enzyme

January 2nd 2014

switchgrass

Researchers at the Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have discovered that an enzyme from a microorganism first found in the Valley of Geysers on the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia in 1990 can digest cellulose almost twice as fast as the current leading component cellulase enzyme on the market.

If the enzyme continues to perform well in larger tests, it could help drive down the price of making lignocellulosic fuels, from ethanol to other biofuels that can be dropped into existing infrastructure. A paper reporting this finding, "Revealing Nature's Cellulase Diversity: The Digestion Mechanism of Caldicellulosiruptor bescii CelA" appears in the journal Science.

The bacterium first found in heated freshwater pools, Caldicellulosiruptor bescii, secretes the cellulase, CelA, which has the complex arrangement of two catalytic domains separated by linker peptides and cellulose binding modules. Read more ..


The Race for Batteries

Batteries as They Are Meant to be Seen

January 1st 2014

Batteries-small-assorted

Researchers have developed a way to microscopically view battery electrodes while they are bathed in wet electrolytes, mimicking realistic conditions inside actual batteries. While life sciences researchers regularly use transmission electron microscopy to study wet environments, this time scientists have applied it successfully to rechargeable battery research.

The results are good news for scientists studying battery materials under dry conditions. The work showed that many aspects can be studied under dry conditions, which are much easier to use. However, wet conditions are needed to study the hard-to-find solid electrolyte interphase layer, a coating that accumulates on the electrode's surface and dramatically influences battery performance. Read more ..


Oil Addiction

Train Transporting Oil Derails in North Dakota

December 31st 2013

Oil well

A train carrying crude oil derailed in North Dakota, forcing thousands of residents to flee the possible toxic fumes on Tuesday.

The BNSF Railway Co. train caused a series of explosions after derailing, but none of the train's crew was injured, according to reports from the the railway company, Bloomberg reports.

Residents of Casselton, N.D., were told to evacuate early Tuesday morning. The train derailed Monday afternoon, but as of 9:20 p.m. Monday 21 railways were ablaze.

“There is still a small blaze out there,” Haaland said at about 4 a.m. on Tuesday. “We are waiting for sunrise to evaluate whether they will go in and extinguish the fire, or if it will burn itself out.” Read more ..


The Race for Batteries

Batteries Can Now be Viewed Microscopically in Action

December 30th 2013

Researchers have developed a way to microscopically view battery electrodes while they are bathed in wet electrolytes, mimicking realistic conditions inside actual batteries. While life sciences researchers regularly use transmission electron microscopy to study wet environments, this time scientists have applied it successfully to rechargeable battery research.

This is good news for scientists studying battery materials under dry conditions. The work showed that many aspects can be studied under dry conditions, which are much easier to use. However, wet conditions are needed to study the hard-to-find solid electrolyte interphase layer, a coating that accumulates on the electrode's surface and dramatically influences battery performance. Read more ..


The Race for Hydro

The Nile River and Who's Giving a "Dam" Over its Future

December 28th 2013

Three Gorges Dam/Hydro Plant

Egypt has been in danger of losing a part of its water lifeline the Nile River. Ethiopia is dead set on constructing a giant dam over their part of the mighty river. And both parties still don’t see eye to eye.

This project, which was planned for the Blue Nile by Ethiopia, is just a part the water problems of population dense Egypt; which also loses a significant part of Nile River water from other sources: evaporation, leaky water pipe infrastructure, and from vegetation growing on the banks of the Nile and on river islands.

Talks between water resource ministers of three of the countries that share the Nile’s water resources, Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan, ended inconclusively this week in Khartoum, with the participants agreeing to meet meet again next month.

The ‘successful’ Egypt-Ethiopia talks failed to end differences over Nile water. A number of unresolved issues still remain to be solved. They revolve around Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam project on Ethipia’s upstream portion of the Nile, called the Blue Nile. Many water experts say this project could ”damn Egypt’s development future”. Bur Ethiopia feels that this water is their energy right. Read more ..


The Race for Wind

Wind Turbines Killed 600,000 Bats Last Year

December 27th 2013

Green Mtn wind farm

More than 600,000 bats were killed by wind energy turbines in 2012, a serious blow to creatures who pollinate crops and help control flying insects, according to a new study from the University of Colorado Denver.

"The development and expansion of wind energy facilities is a key threat to bat populations in North America," said study author Mark Hayes. "Dead bats are being found underneath wind turbines across North America. The estimate of bat fatalities is probably conservative."

The study, which analyzed data on the number of dead bats found at wind turbine sites, will be published next week in the journal BioScience. Hayes said areas near the Appalachian Mountains like Buffalo, Tennessee and Mountaineer, West Virginia had the highest bat fatality rates. Little information is available on bat deaths at wind turbine facilities in the Rocky Mountain West or the Sierra Nevadas. Read more ..


The Race for Smart Grid

Feds Reach Deal to Cut Enery Use of TV Boxes

December 25th 2013

3D tv

The Department of Energy has reached a deal with environmental and business groups on new energy efficiency standards for cable and satellite television boxes.

The agreement will save about $1 billion in energy costs for more than 90 million American homes each year, the department said, but won’t lead to new regulations. Instead, the energy efficiency standards will be voluntary. The energy saved will be enough to power 700,000 homes, the department estimated.

“The set-top box efficiency standards will save families money by saving energy, while delivering high quality appliances for consumers that keep pace with technological innovation,” Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said in a statement on Monday.

The department reached the agreement along with the Natural Resources Defense Council, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, the Appliance Standard Awareness Project, the Consumer Electronics Association and the National Cable and Telecommunications Association.  Read more ..


The Race for Batteries

Wearable Textile Battery Can Be Recharged by Lightweight Solar Cells

December 24th 2013

Sunrise or Sunset

A research team at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology has developed a technology for textile-based foldable batteries that are which are rechargeable using energy recharged via integration with lightweight solar cells.

Key to the researchers' approach was a polyester yarn coated with nickel and polyurethane to form the battery's current collector, binder and separators. The performance of the batteries is said to be comparable with that of conventional foil-based cells, even under severe folding/unfolding conditions.

The research group which developed the technology is now looking to make the batteries softer and more wearable. Trial versions of flexible and wearable electronics are being developed and introduced in the market such as Galaxy Gear, Apple’s i-Watch, and Google Glass. Research Read more ..


Oil Addiction

Obama Gets Clean Coal by Aiding Oil Industry

December 23rd 2013

coal fired power plant

The technology President Obama is touting for coal plants to cut back on emissions is helping an unlikely source: the oil industry.

The carbon-capture technology is still locking in carbon dioxide to cut back on emissions but it is now being sold to oil companies, which pump it into oil fields as a means to force more crude to the service, according to The Associated Press.

The oil industry is using government energy money to subsidize oil production. The deal highlights "the environmental trade-off Obama is willing to make, but rarely talks about in his fight against global warming," AP writes. So far, four power plants in the United States and Canada plan to meet the administration's emissions limits by selling their carbon waste for oil recovery. Read more ..


The Race for Biofuels

Significant Step Forward in Biofuels Quest

December 22nd 2013

old town fuel & fiber

Scientists at the University of York have made a significant step in the search to develop effective second generation biofuels. Researchers from the Department of Chemistry at York have discovered a family of enzymes that can degrade hard-to-digest biomass into its constituent sugars.

'First generation' biofuels have already made an impact in the search for renewable and secure energy sources particularly through the generation of bioethanol manufactured from easy-to-digest food sources such as corn starch. But the resulting need for energy crops is using up valuable arable land threatening food price stability and limiting the amount of biofuel that can be made in this way. Read more ..


Oil Addiction

Canadian Panel OKs Oil Pipeline to Pacific, Pressuring US on Keystone

December 21st 2013

Keystone Pipeline

A top oil lobby said U.S. energy security is "at stake" with a Canadian panel's decision to okay a major pipeline that would carry crude to the Pacific on Thursday.

Canada's National Energy Board decided to move forward on the Northern Gateway Pipeline, which will carry crude from Alberta's oil sands to the Pacific Coast for delivery to China. The project will still need to be approved by the Canadian government.

The move backed claims by the U.S. oil industry that Canada's product will get to market with or without Keystone XL.

"It is just another reason we need to build Keystone XL," a spokesperson for the American Petroleum Institute told The Hill late Thursday. "President Obama needs to understand our energy future is at stake here. Building KXL will enhance our energy security and create jobs." "[Keystone XL] would also directly bring the oil sands to the Gulf for refining instead of shipping it to other markets," the spokesperson added. Read more ..


Inside Mexico

Mexico Balances Energy Reforms with Environmental Concerns

December 20th 2013

In the heady debates over energy reform that riveted the Mexican Congress earlier this month, one crucial issue was glaringly absent from the central points of discussion that underpinned the changes to the Constitution: the environmental impacts of increased gas and oil production. At a time of historic declines in Mexico’s production of conventional oil, the geologic and economic realities of the energy sector strongly suggest that any serious surge in fossil fuel exploitation will take place in the environmentally sensitive ecosystem of the Gulf of Mexico or on land through the controversial method of hydraulic fracturing, popularly known as fracking.

Numbers cited by Mexican energy consultant Jose Luis Apodaca Villareal, former director of the Federal Electricity Commission’s Gulf of Mexico division, report at least 14 billion barrels of proven crude oil. Apodaca adds to his estimate projections of 13 billion barrels of shale hydrocarbons and 545 billion cubic feet of natural gas. Other reports, including data from the International Energy Agency, put conventional natural gas reserves in the order of 61 billion cubic feet and unconventional, unexplored reserves at nearly 10 times that amount, or 600 billion cubic feet. Read more ..


The Race for Batteries

Roots of the Lithium Battery Problem: Dendrites Start Below the Surface

December 17th 2013

Tesla roadster

The lithium-ion batteries that power our laptops, smartphones and electric vehicles could have significantly higher energy density if their graphite anodes were to be replaced by lithium metal anodes. Hampering this change, however, has been the so-called dendrite problem. Over the course of several battery charge/discharge cycles, particularly when the battery is cycled at a fast rate, microscopic fibers of lithium, called “dendrites,” sprout from the surface of the lithium electrode and spread like kudzu across the electrolyte until they reach the other electrode. An electrical current passing through these dendrites can short-circuit the battery, causing it to rapidly overheat and in some instances catch fire. Efforts to solve the problem by curtailing dendrite growth have met with limited success, perhaps because they’ve just been scratching the surface of the problem.

New 3D reconstructions show how dendritic structures that can short-circuit a battery form deep within a lithium electrode, break through the surface and spread across the electrolyte. Read more ..


The Race for Alternative Fuels

Ethanol Blends Carry Hidden Risk

December 15th 2013

E85 Pump

Blending more ethanol into fuel to cut air pollution from vehicles carries a hidden risk that toxic or even explosive gases may find their way into buildings, according to researchers at Rice University.

Those problems would likely occur in buildings with cracked foundations that happen to be in the vicinity of fuel spills. Vapors that rise from contaminated groundwater can be sucked inside, according to Rice environmental engineer Pedro Alvarez. Once there, trapped pools of methane could ignite and toxic hydrocarbons could cause health woes, he said.

The timely warning comes as the United States works to stimulate the production and consumption of ethanol. The Rice study, detailed this week in the American Chemical Society journal Environmental Science and Technology, emerges as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) prepares technical guidance for higher ratios of ethanol in fuels.

“The safe distances (between buildings and groundwater) that the EPA are setting up are going to work well 95 percent of the time,” said Alvarez, a member of the agency’s Science Advisory Board. “But there’s the 5 percent where things go wrong, and we need to be prepared for extreme events with low probability.” Read more ..


Coal on Edge

Ex-Im Bank Joins Treasury in Cutting Coal Plant Funding

December 14th 2013

Smokestacks

The U.S. Export-Import Bank is adopting new guidelines on coal-fired power plants based on the Environmental Protection Agency's proposed rules.

The revised environmental procedures prevent financing for power plants unless they adopt carbon capture, allowing some flexibility with the world's poorest countries.
“The Bank engages in an important balancing act — in supporting our exporters, we have to weigh the potential impacts on the environment associated with our financing," Fred P. Hochberg, chairman and president of Ex-Im, said in a statement.

Hochberg justified the move by Ex-Im to align itself with President Obama's goal to cut carbon pollution by touting the number of jobs it has supported while also considering environmental costs. “Without guidelines or limits, ever-increasing numbers of new coal plants worldwide will just continue to emit more carbon pollution into the air we breathe,” Hochberg said. Read more ..


The Race for Solar

New Ceramic Materials and Solar Panel Design Makes Sustainable Power Better

December 12th 2013

Click to select Image

A unique solar panel design made with a new ceramic material points the way to potentially providing sustainable power cheaper, more efficiently, and requiring less manufacturing time. It also reaches a four-decade-old goal of discovering a bulk photovoltaic material that can harness energy from visible and infrared light, not just ultraviolet light.

Scaling up this new design from its tablet-size prototype to a full-size solar panel would be a large step toward making solar power affordable compared with other means of producing electricity. It would also help the nation toward its goal of creating a national power grid that receives one-third of its power through wind and solar sources. Read more ..


The Race for LEDs

Transport for London Plans New Road Network Lighting Program to Trim Energy Use by 40 Percent

December 11th 2013

Strand (London) at Night
The Strand, London (credit: Martin Addison)

One of the largest "invest to save" strategic road lighting projects ever undertaken in the UK will see LED technology used for the modernisation of main road street lighting in London with the aim of reducing energy usage by 40 per cent. Transport for London (TfL) has agreed the new energy efficient lighting program to help reduce the cost of lighting the TfL Road Network (TLRN), while also doing its part to reduce CO2 emissions across England's capital city.

The project is geared to improving reliability and lower operating costs to provide better and safer roads. Across London, TfL has some 52,000 street lights, and as part of the Mayor's pledge to cut CO2 emissions, TfL has begun implementing the energy saving plan which will be delivered over the next three years.

By 2016, the programme aims to reduce associated CO2 by around 9,700 tonnes a year and contribute towards approximately £1.85m of savings for TfL a year. The programme will also reduce energy consumption by more than 40 per cent by 2016, compared to the current levels. Read more ..


The Race for Alt Fuel

Some Businesses Make the Switch to Wood Power

December 10th 2013

Click to select Image

Some companies could economically convert their operations to wood boilers for heat and power, according to a team of forestry researchers. The conversion to wood-powered burners would make the most sense for larger commercial and industrial operations in areas that have access to large timber resources and a friendly regulatory environment, said Charles Ray, assistant professor of wood operations, at Pennylvania State University.

Wood is a renewable resource that could help contribute to the nation's energy needs for an indefinite period, according to Ray. "Theoretically, if we manage timber according to sustainable criteria, you could maintain it forever," said Ray. "It could serve as a sustainable fossil fuel replacement."

He added that although wood is currently uncompetitive with natural gas-powered boilers, in certain states it could compete with other fuel sources, such as oil, propane and coal. The most likely states for wood conversion currently are Maine, Texas, New York, Florida and Georgia, according to the researchers. Pennsylvania ranks 10th on the list. Read more ..


The Race for EVs

Global EV Market Set to Boom

December 9th 2013

Mia Electric Car

Despite all scepticism, the number of electric vehicles on Europe's roads is rising. Just these days, the German administration published the current figures: 5.606 electric vehicles are registered in Germany. Not a really impressing figure, but it grows at a steady pace of 16% which is at least something. The global market for electromobility however is poised to literally explode: From its current value of $69 billion to $334 billion within ten years, believes market researcher IDTechEx.


The strong growth and the huge market volume the predicted however reveals that electromobility is far from being a topic just for the makers of passenger cars. Quite the contrary, the biggest junk of the market is occupied by industrial and offroad electric mobility, military vehicles and electric buses. One of the reason this segment is so huge (in terms of money, not in terms of units): In these market segments the price pressure is much lower than in the passenger car market (hybrid as well as battery-electric). Instead, for buyers in these segments, Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) and performance are primary buying criteria. Read more ..


The Edge of Climate Change

Scientists Probe Abandoned Mine for Clues about CO2 Sequestration

December 7th 2013

Hurricane Sandy Lashes Ocean City

An abandoned mineral mine near Stanford University is providing geoscientists new insights on how to permanently entomb greenhouse gas emissions in the Earth.

For two years, a team of Stanford researchers has been trying to unravel a geological mystery at the Red Mountain mine about 70 miles east of the campus. The abandoned mine contains some of the world's largest veins of pure magnesium carbonate, or magnesite – a chalky mineral made of carbon dioxide (CO2) and magnesium. How the magnesite veins formed millions of years ago has long been a puzzle.

Now the Stanford team has proposed a solution. Their findings could lead to a novel technique for converting CO2, a potent greenhouse gas, into solid magnesite. The results will be presented at the 2013 fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in San Francisco. Read more ..


The Race for Wind

Middle East’s Biggest Wind Farm in Jordan Takes Shape

December 6th 2013

Wind farm Caen

With no appreciable amounts of oil or natural gas, Jordan, like Syria is a Middle East anomaly when it comes to its fossil fuel rich neighbours like Saudi Arabia and Israel. But new energy is blowing into Jordan.

Financing is all in for what will be the Middle East’s largest wind farm – a 117 megawatt Tafila Wind Farm to be built about 100 miles south of Amman.

The consortia of investors released the news that the Tafila Wind Farm is fully financed to its expected cost of $290 million. The plant will start power delivery in 2014 and is expected to be fully operational by 2015 and at that point producing some 3 percent of the country’s energy needs. Jordan Wind Project Company (JWPC) will run the development of the wind farm. The JWPC is a co-development between the companies InfraMed (50 percent), Masdar (31 percent) and EP Global Energy (19 percent). Read more ..


The Race for Ethanol

Diverting Grain to Ethanol Makes Turkeys More Expensive

November 28th 2013

Click to select Image

Turkey farmers’ feathers are being ruffled by a federal biofuel mandate they say is increasing the cost of the corn they feed their birds and making it harder for them to turn a profit.

Corn that should be going to feed their turkeys is being diverted to produce ethanol, according to the National Turkey Federation, which is increasing corn prices across the board.

“There’s got to be more of a cost that is passed along somehow,” Keith Williams, a spokesman with the trade group, told The Hill. “That’s going to go to the consumer. It’s increasing the food cost.”

The Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) calls for petroleum refiners to mix a certain amount of biofuel like ethanol, which is made from corn, in with conventional gasoline. Congress created the program in 2005 to reduce the country's dependence on foreign oil, combat climate change and expand the nation's renewable fuels sector. Read more ..


Energy Edge

Plasma-Enhanced Combustion Makes Jets Fly Higher, Faster, Longer

November 26th 2013

Mix together air, fuel, and heat and you get combustion, the chemical reaction that powers most engines in planes, trains and automobiles. And if you throw in some ionized gas (plasma), it turns out, you can sustain combustion even in conditions that would otherwise snuff out the reaction: at low air pressure, in high winds or when there's low fuel.

Such plasma-assisted combustion can potentially give an efficiency boost to high-performance aircraft. The technology could help military jets fly at high altitudes, passenger planes and unmanned drones cruise for long distances while conserving fuel, and supersonic jets maintain ignition at breakneck speeds that would normally suffocate flames with fast-flowing air.

Scientists know that by introducing plasma to the reaction – near or at the location where the flame ignites – new chemical species are produced that catalyze combustion. But no one knows precisely what species are involved, what the reactions are, and what their rates are. "It's not well understood at all," said Igor Adamovich of Ohio State University. Read more ..



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