Energy policy

  • NSF rapid response research grants to fund study of West Virginia chemical spill

    On 9 January 2014, crude 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (MCHM), a chemical primarily used to clean coal, leaked from a storage tank near Charleston, West Virginia, and bled into a river upstream of a water-treatment plant. As a result, about 15 percent of the state’s residents were advised not to drink the water. Better to understand the properties of the chemical that contaminated the drinking water, and the plumbing and water-treatment systems surrounding the area, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded Rapid Response Research (RAPID) grants to research teams at three universities. These grants also will provide STEM learning opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students on the research teams.

  • New biofuel sources does not require farmland

    While the debate over using crops for fuel continues, scientists are now reporting a new, fast approach to develop biofuel in a way that does not require removing valuable farmland from the food production chain. Their work examines the fuel-producing potential of Streptomyces, a soil bacterium known for making antibiotics.

  • The world likely to face more frequent, and more severe, blackouts

    U.S. household electricity usage increased by 1,300 percent between 1940 and 2001. In the last few decades, air conditioning has been the greatest factor in increased electrical consumption, and one of the greatest sources of systematic strain, with considerably more blackouts occurring in the summer months than during winter. The electricity used to fuel America’s air conditioning is currently of a similar volume to the U.S. entire energy consumption in the 1950s. A new study reveals that today’s occasional blackouts are dress rehearsals for the future, when they will occur with greater frequency and increased severity. Power cuts will become more regular around the globe as electrical supply becomes increasingly vulnerable and demand for technology continues to grow at an unprecedented rate.

  • Traveling by car uses most energy

    Fuel economy must improve 57 percent in order for light-duty vehicles to match the current energy efficiency of commercial airline flights, a new research finds. The research examined recent trends in the amount of energy needed to transport a person a given distance in a light-duty vehicle (cars, SUVs, pickups and vans) or on a scheduled airline flight. His analysis measured BTU per person mile from 1970 to 2010.

  • Minimizing power grid disruptions from wind power

    Researchers have found that an increase in the use of wind power generation can make the power grid more fragile and susceptible to disruptions. The researchers, however, did not just identify the problem — they have also devised a technique for coordinating wind power generation and energy storage in order to minimize the potential for such power disruptions.

  • Carbon capture technology vital for meeting climate targets

    In 2010, coal, oil, and gas supplied more than 80 percent of the world’s total primary energy supply — and the demand for energy is projected to increase by two to three times by 2100. Studies show that without policies to cut greenhouse gas emissions, fossil fuels will remain the major energy source in 2100, with resulting increases in greenhouse gas emissions. Where should policymakers focus their carbon mitigation efforts, however? Which technologies hold the most promise?Scientists say that a combination of carbon capture and storage (CCS) and bioenergy has advantages over solar, wind, and nuclear because it can lead to negative emissions. Moreover, bioenergy can be converted into liquid and gaseous fuels which are easily storable and can be readily used by current transportation systems,thus taking some pressure off other sector in terms of required mitigation effort.

  • How effective are renewable energy subsidies? It depends

    Renewable energy subsidies have led to explosive growth in wind power installations across the United States, especially in the Midwest and Texas. Electricity produced by wind is emission free, so the development of wind-power may reduce aggregate pollution by offsetting production from fossil fuel generated electricity production. Emission rates of fossil fuel generators, however, vary greatly by generator (coal-fired, natural gas, nuclear, hydropower). Thus, the quantity of emissions offset by wind power will depend crucially on which generators reduce their output. In other words, the quantity of pollutants offset by wind power depends crucially on which generators reduce production when wind power comes online.

  • Natural gas saves water, reduces drought vulnerability

    A new study finds that in Texas, the U.S. state that annually generates the most electricity, the transition from coal to natural gas for electricity generation is saving water and making the state less vulnerable to drought. Even though exploration for natural gas through hydraulic fracturing requires significant water consumption in Texas, the new consumption is easily offset by the overall water efficiencies of shifting electricity generation from coal to natural gas. The researchers estimate that water saved by shifting a power plant from coal to natural gas is 25 to 50 times as great as the amount of water used in hydraulic fracturing to extract the natural gas.

  • Climate scientists say renewables are not enough

    Some of the world’s top climatologists have declared their support for nuclear energy as a complementary energy source, alongside wind and solar as energy, which would cut fossil fuel pollution and reduce the growth of global warming. The scientists say that opposing fossil fuels and promoting renewable energy sources offer but a limited solution.

  • Water shortage hobbles expansion of shale gas drilling

    Many point to the large reserves of shale gas as promising U.S. energy independence in the near future. Extracting shale gas, however, requires huge amounts of water, and growing water shortages have already led to conflicts over water use between shale gas developers and farmers. Such conflicts are only going to intensify.

  • Microbial power storage can do the job

    Oil and gas can be converted into electricity in line with demand, but wind, water, and sun cannot be adapted as readily to fluctuations in power consumption. Efficient power storage solutions must satisfy two essential criteria: Their own consumption of resources must be as low as possible, and surplus power must be stored within seconds. The results of a pilot study have now demonstrated that a microorganism-based process developed by is unequalled in the way it satisfies both of these criteria.

  • Harvesting carbon dioxide to produce electricity

    Electric power-generating stations worldwide release about twelve billion tons of CO2 annually from combustion of coal, oil, and natural gas. Home and commercial heating produces another eleven billion tons. Researchers developed a technology which would make the CO2 react with water or other liquids and, with further processing, produce a flow of electrons that make up electric current.

  • Quebec deadly accident revives pipeline vs. rail debate

    The sharp increase in U.S. domestic oil production in the last four years, and the opening by the Obama administration of new areas for drilling, have greatly benefitted U.S. rail companies, which now enjoy the added business of transporting oil from places where pipelines do not exist.U.S. domestic shipments of oil have increased from 9,500 carloads in 2008 to more than 230,000 carloads last year. The deadly Lac-Megantic, Quebec crude-oil train accident revives the debate about the relative safety merits of two modes of transporting oil over long distances – rail vs. pipeline. Proponents of the Keystone XL pipeline project say the Quebec accident will boost support for their cause.

  • Policy, regulatory issues hobble hydropower as wind-power backup

    Theoretically, hydropower can step in when wind turbines go still, but barriers to this non-polluting resource serving as a backup are largely policy- and regulation-based, according to researchers.

  • Smarter energy use by industry could cut U.K. electricity demand by 75 percent

    As the U.K. government debates the U.K. Energy Bill, new research has found that turning down non-essential services, such as heating, air-conditioning, and pumping equipment, at times of peak electricity demand could play a far greater role in helping the United Kingdom achieve future energy security.