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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 ..


The Race for BioFuels

Harvesting Invasive Species for Biofuel: A Problem Solved

November 21st 2013

Click to select Image

Although invasive Asian carp have been successfully harvested and served on a dinner plate, harvesting invasive plants to convert into ethanol isn't as easy. According to a recent study at the University of Illinois, harvesting invasive plants for use as biofuels may sound like a great idea, but the reality poses numerous obstacles and is too expensive to consider, at least with the current ethanol pathways.

"When the topic of potential invasion by non-native biofuel crops has been raised at conferences I've attended, the ecologists in the room have suggested we use biomass from existing invaders instead," said Lauren Quinn, an invasive plant ecologist in U of Illinois's Energy Biosciences Institute. "They worry about the potential deployment of tens of thousands of acres of known invaders like Arundo donax for ethanol production. They'd say, 'we have all of these invasive plants. Let's just harvest them instead of planting new ones!' But when I analyzed the idea from a broader perspective, it just didn't add up." Read more ..


The Race for Solar

World's Largest Solar Plant to Go Online in California

November 20th 2013

solar power plant

The world's largest solar thermal plant is set to go online in California by the end of the year. While wind and sun-generated energy are generally considered clean, unlike coal-generated energy, environmentalists now worry that large-scale solar development could harm fragile desert ecosystems.

Ivanpah is a field of mirrors, shimmering like a mirage in California's Mojave desert, about 60 kilometers southwest of Las Vegas. Joe Desmond is a senior official at BrightSource Energy, the company that's building the plant. 

"This is actually one of the highest concentrations of sunlight in the world, out here in Ivanpah," explained Desmond. The plant will deploy 170,000 heliostat mirrors to focus solar energy on boilers located on top of three power towers. The steam generated in these boilers will drive turbines to produce energy. Desmond said the steam can reach temperatures of more than 260 degrees Celsius.
Read more ..


Oil Addiction

Uzbek Motorists Running On Empty, Again

November 18th 2013

Gas Station Long Line

Sometimes it seems there is no gasoline to be had in energy-rich Uzbekistan.

Now is just such a time. For weeks, motorists have been scouring the streets for filling stations that remain open. When they find one, they form a line of cars whose length has become a measure of the state-run energy sector's inability to provide for the country's fuel needs.

"I have just bought some gasoline and the queue was some 5 kilometers long," was how one Samarkand resident recently described the line at his local station. "There is virtually no gasoline in Samarkand. Look at this traffic, it's not moving. This is life! We're not living, just surviving."

Incredibly, he can count himself lucky. Across the country, so many gasoline stations have posted "out of fuel" signs that in many places the only option is the black market. There, the price of gasoline is whatever desperate customers will pay. Read more ..


Broken Government

ALEC Gets Gift from Nuclear Energy Institute

November 17th 2013

nuke tower

The American Legislative Exchange Council, known for churning out industry-friendly legislation, received $10,000 from the Nuclear Energy Institute last year, according to a new tax filing.

The Nuclear Energy Institute — the nuclear industry’s main trade association — disclosed the payment to the controversial think tank in an annual report recently submitted to the Internal Revenue Service.

ALEC, which is organized as a charity under Sec. 501(c)(3) of the tax code to promote “free markets” and “limited government” in the states, is not required to publicly identify its funders.

Nuclear Energy Institute spokesman Steve Kerekes said his group contributed to ALEC as a way to “increase awareness of energy and environmental considerations among state and local” officials.

A spokesperson for ALEC did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Read more ..

The Race for Solar

Solar Cells That Utilize Thermal Radiation

November 15th 2013

Solar panels

European researchers have now for the first time made short-wavelength IR radiation usable with the assistance of a practical up-converter.

The research team from the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE in Freiburg, together with their colleagues at the University of Bern, Switzerland, and the Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland, has developed technology that transforms infra-red into usable light.  The concep has been known about since the 1960s. However, it has only been investigated in connection with solar cells since 1996.

Thermal radiation from the sun is largely lost on most silicon solar cells. Up-converters are able to transform the infrared radiation into usable light, however. The researchers have now for the first time successfully adapted this effect for use in generating power.

Solar cells ‘see’ only a portion of solar radiation: approximately 20 percent of the energy contained in the solar spectrum is unavailable to cells made of silicon – they are unable to utilize a part of the infrared radiation, the short-wavelength IR radiation, for generating power. Read more ..


The Race for Alt Energy

Innovative Fuel Cell Device Aims for Portable Energy Freedom

November 13th 2013

Smart phone running voice recogniton

Intelligent Energy has launched Upp - a personal energy device, to charge and power USB-compatible portable electronic devices, such as smartphones, feature phones, eReaders, tablets, portable gaming consoles, as well as digital cameras.

With billions of USB devices used by consumers worldwide, Upp claims to deliver at least one week of charge even to the most demanding, power-hungry smartphones.

Building on innovative fuel cell technology, Intelligent Energy has chosen Africa to launch this empowering portable energy product, and will showcase the device at AfricaCom in Cape Town. With the ability to charge and power as fast as the mains, Upp helps to power mobile commerce and connectivity within the region. Upp provides instant energy on-the-go: so as long as you have fuel, you will have energy. Upp's Intelligent Auto Shutoff feature conserves energy and protects battery life of the electronic device it is charging. In addition, the Upp mobile app, which is free for both iOS and Android devices, provides predictive usage statistics as well as user profile information to enable better management of fuel levels. Read more ..


The Race for Nuclear

TEPCO Seeks to Reassure Public Over Nuclear Fuel Removal at Fukushima

November 11th 2013

Fukushima nuke plant

The company struggling to clean up Japan's crippled nuclear power plant has invited foreign experts and journalists to the site in a bid to reassure the world it has the situation under control. However, as Tokyo Electric Power Company prepares for the delicate task of removing spent fuel rods, it continues to face questions about its competence. 

Workers at Japan's quake-damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station this month are expected to begin removing 1,500 spent fuel rods, to be placed in safe storage.  Spent nuclear fuel is extremely hot and very radioactive. During the removal process, if the assemblies are damaged or the rods overheat, large amounts of radioactive material could be released into the air.

TEPCO says that despite the continuing struggles to stabilize the situation at the troubled plant, it can safely manage the dangerous transfer. To that end, the company released a video to explain the process and reassure the public, saying they have safely removed spent fuel more than 1,200 times. Read more ..


The Race for Energy Recovery

Wireless Device Converts 'Lost' Energy into Electric Power

November 8th 2013

computer chip

Using inexpensive materials configured and tuned to capture microwave signals, researchers at Duke University's Pratt School of Engineering have designed a power-harvesting device with efficiency similar to that of modern solar panels.

The device wirelessly converts the microwave signal to direct current voltage capable of recharging a cell phone battery or other small electronic device, according to a report appearing in the journal Applied Physics Letters in December 2013. (It is now available online.)

It operates on a similar principle to solar panels, which convert light energy into electrical current. But this versatile energy harvester could be tuned to harvest the signal from other energy sources, including satellite signals, sound signals or Wi-Fi signals, the researchers say. The key to the power harvester lies in its application of metamaterials, engineered structures that can capture various forms of wave energy and tune them for useful applications. Read more ..


The Race for EV's

Panasonic to Expand Supply of Automotive-Grade Cells to Tesla Motors

November 7th 2013

Tesla Car

Panasonic Corporation has reached an agreement with California-based Tesla Motors which will see Panasonic expand the company's supply of automotive-grade lithium-ion battery cells to Tesla.

The two companies are updating and expanding their 2011 arrangement to now supply nearly 2 billion cells over the course of four years. The lithium-ion battery cells purchased from Panasonic will be used to power the award winning Model S as well as Model X, a performance utility vehicle that is scheduled to go into production by the end of 2014.

The agreement builds upon a multi-year collaboration between Panasonic and Tesla to develop next-generation automotive-grade battery cells and accelerate the market expansion of electric vehicles. Panasonic's cells combined with Tesla's proven EV battery expertise have already enabled more than 130 million customer miles driven in Tesla Roadsters and Model S. Read more ..


The Race for Renewables

Iowa Governor Visits White House Over Renewable Fuel Rule

November 5th 2013

Grown from Biofuel

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R) met with White House staffers last week to discuss an upcoming federal biofuel regulation.

Branstad and two aides met with officials from the White House and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Wednesday, according to a record of the meeting recently posted on the OMB’s website.

The meeting was one of many the White House has hosted on the Renewable Fuel Standard, which sets annual requirements for refiners to mix biofuel like ethanol and biodiesel in with conventional gasoline. None of the other meetings have involved figures as high profile as the popular Iowa governor, now in his fifth term.

Since the 16-day government shutdown ended in mid-October, the White House has hosted a marathon 19 meetings on the upcoming Renewable Fuel Standard. Those sessions have featured a variety of officials involved in the energy, agriculture and retail industries. The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to release the draft mandate for 2014 in coming days. Read more ..


Race for Solar

Dubai Opens 13 MW Solar Plant, The Largest PV Plant in Mideast

November 4th 2013

solar power plant

In an attempt to diversify its energy balance, Dubai has just turned on a 13 MW solar energy plant. The oil wealthy nation is an OPEC member, and one of the first to make a bold statement away from oil. This makes it the largest solar photovoltaic (PV) plant in the Middle East North Africa.

The $34 million plant, marking the first phase of Dubai’s Dhs12 billion Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, was built by First Solar of the United States: “This is the first part of Dubai’s plan to develop a solar park with 1,000 megawatts of power by 2030,” as Reuters quoted  Saeed Al Tayer, chief executive officer of Dubai Electricity & Water Authority.

It will generate 24 million kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity per year. It’s the largest of its kind (a PV plant) but not the largest installation in the Middle East in solar energy. That “prize” still goes to Abu Dhabi and Shams solar thermal at 100MW. Israel is going to take the lead soon enough with BrightSource and a 131 MW solar thermal plant planned for Israel. Read more ..


The Environment on Edge

EPA Under Gun the Gun to Regulate Coal Ash

November 3rd 2013

Coal ash

The Environmental Protection Agency is facing new pressure to regulate the disposal of coal ash for the first time after a federal judge issued a memorandum in a lawsuit filed against the agency by environmental groups.

In a decision Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton of the D.C. Circuit Court gave the EPA 60 days to file what he calls “a proposed deadline for its compliance with its obligation to review and revise if necessary … regulations concerning coal ash,” as well as any legal reasoning for the timeline. The memorandum follows an earlier judicial order, issued Sept. 30, partly ruling in favor of Earthjustice and 10 other groups in a lawsuit challenging the EPA over its slow regulatory action.

The agency is 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. The consequences have been highlighted by the Center for Public Integrity in a series of stories. Read more ..


Oil Addiction

Oil Companies Try to Collaborate in Spite of S. China Sea Disputes

November 2nd 2013

Oil Barrels

The Philippines and China have developed an openly antagonistic relationship over their South China Sea territorial disputes. But while top officials trade accusations, some groups are looking for ways to compromise and jointly drill for oil and gas.

The Philippines' only productive deep-water natural gas project is expected to run dry by 2024. The country is desperate to develop new oil and gas wells in the resource-rich South China Sea. Philippines Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla said he is hopeful about the potential for an unlikely collaboration between U.K.-based Forum Energy and state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC).

"The alternative is not to drill, probably forever... You have to look at the alternatives," he said. "You want to preserve your sovereign rights but at the same time- without actually compromising your sovereign rights, can you come up with commercial [exploration], because we need it." Read more ..


The Race for Biogas

South Africa Uses Biogas to Turn Waste into Power

November 1st 2013

Detroit Trash-to-Power Plant

Like many countries, South Africa is struggling to meet its energy needs.  But instead of developing new technologies, the nation is trying a different tack - using waste to generate power.

This is the unlikely source of South Africa’s future energy : a massive sewage pipe which runs through northern Johannesburg.

At a wastewater treatment plant, sewage is turned into energy, in the form of biogas.  Plant engineers say electricity price hikes in South Africa pushed them to look into generating their own power.

This facility produces methane gas that powers about 15 percent of the plant’s electricity needs.  Engineers hope to add more facilities to get to 50 percent. Biogas is fuel created by the fermentation of organic material, like animal and human waste.  It’s an age-old technology that has come back into fashion. Read more ..


The Race for Hydro

The Dam that May Damn Egypt’s Future

October 31st 2013

Glen Canyon Dam

In a strange and surprising twist, Egypt says it will consider participating with its neighbour Ethiopia in the construction of the Renaissance Dam, a project which it had staunchly opposed (and even suggested sabotaging).

The dam known formally as the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam will provide much-needed hydro-power to Ethiopia, but downstream it is expected to change the face of the Mighty Nile and the Fertile Crescent as we know it.

According to Al Monitor, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn announced that his country welcomes the participation of Egypt and Sudan in the construction of the dam and stressed that his government considers the dam will be jointly owned by Sudan, Ethiopia and Egypt. Cairo viewed this statement as a positive step toward reaching a consensus on the Nile project, despite its earlier sharp criticism of it. Read more ..


The Race for Solar

BrightSource Builds 121 MW Solar Thermal Baby in Israel

October 30th 2013

BrightSource array

The earth revolves around the sun, and so does the green-tech industry. Some of the earliest pioneers of solar energy started in Israel 30 years ago with the company Luz.

Luz went on to become Luz II, then BrightSource, which is now a US-based solar power company about to flip the switch on a massive 377-megawatt solar thermal farm in the California desert.

And at the start of 2014, the sun and stars will align and a dream will be coming true for Israeli solar pioneers and visionaries like BrightSource Israel CEO Israel Kroizer.

BrightSource will break ground on one of the world’s largest solar thermal energy plants, in Israel. The Ashalim plant is expected to produce 121 megawatts of solar energy in the Negev Desert by 2016, providing enough “green” energy to fuel 40,000 Israeli homes.  Read more ..


Cities on the Edge

Why Isn't There a More Robust 'Local Energy' Movement?

October 29th 2013

Minneapolis skyline

Metropolitan areas are the nation's economic powerhouses, producing over 75 percent of its output and serving as its chief centers of manufacturing, innovation, and opportunity. Such production, though, requires energy—to fuel our cars, homes, and factories.

New research conducted as part of the Global Cities Initiative now enables us to put a number on those demands. The 100 largest metro areas are responsible for 65 percent of our energy imports. They also serve as the major consumers of domestic energy, whether it’s oil refined along the Gulf Coast or coal mined in Wyoming. All told, large metro areas annually purchase almost $688 billion in energy. Read more ..



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