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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 ..

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


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


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


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


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 ..

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