• Treated fracking wastewater may pollute Pennsylvania water sources for years

    Given Pennsylvania’s abundant natural resources, it’s no surprise that the Commonwealth has become a mecca for hydraulic fracturing. Researchers, however, have recently discovered that releasing millions of gallons of treated hydraulic fracturing wastewater each year into area surface waters may have longer-lasting effects than originally thought.

  • “Smart” transformers could make reliable smart grid a reality

    The idea of a smart grid that can handle power flows not just from the power company to our homes, but also back from our homes to the power company has been around for years. Among other benefits, such a grid would improve efficient use of renewable energy and storage. But, to date, the smart grid has been mostly conceptual. The new study indicates that it could move from concept to reality in the near future, using technology that already exists. The key technology is solid-state transformers (SST).

  • Maintaining the safety of California’s natural gas system

    California has 14 underground storage facilities in 12 fields with a capacity of 385 billion cubic feet of natural gas. There are about 350 active wells at those fields, many of which are used currently for natural gas but were designed for oil and gas production and constructed prior to 1970. The massive natural gas leak at Aliso Canyon shined a light on California’s aging natural gas infrastructure. And five years of extreme drought also exacted its toll on transmission pipelines.

  • Oil spill puzzle solved: Oil-eating bacteria consumed the Deepwater Horizon oil plume

    The Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 is one of the most studied spills in history, yet scientists have not agreed on the role of microbes in eating up the oil. Now, a research team has identified all of the principal oil-degrading bacteria as well as their mechanisms for chewing up the many different components that make up the released crude oil.

  • Fracking-induced earthquakes in Oklahoma

    Oklahomans are no strangers to Mother Nature’s whims. From tornadoes and floods to wildfires and winter storms, the state sees more than its share of natural hazards. But prior to 2009, “terra firma” in Oklahoma meant just that — earthquakes rarely shook the state. Then, after decades of seismic quiet where the state averaged less than two quakes of magnitude 3 or greater a year, Oklahoma suddenly saw a sharp uptick, to twenty such quakes in 2009. NASA says that the earthquakes were human-induced, resulting from wastewater injection, rather than a naturally caused quakes.

  • Air pollution hobbles solar energy production

    Global solar energy production is taking a major hit due to air pollution and dust. According to a new study, airborne particles and their accumulation on solar cells are cutting energy output by more than 25 percent in certain parts of the world. The regions hardest hit are also those investing the most in solar energy installations: China, India, and the Arabian Peninsula.

  • Feeling the impact of fracking

    Fracking involves drilling holes deep into layers of subterranean shale and then pumping in millions of gallons of water, sand, and chemicals to release oil and natural gas trapped in the rock. In some shale formations, a large volume of toxic water comes up along with the hydrocarbons. The injection of the wastewater from the process back into the earth can trigger seismic activity, scientists say. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, there were approximately 26,000 hydraulically fractured wells for natural gas in the United States in 2000. By 2015, the number had grown to 300,000. Researchers are studying the link between fracking and earthquakes

  • 2016 was a record-breaking year for renewable energy

    Additions in installed renewable power capacity set new records in 2016, with 161 gigawatts (GW) installed, increasing total global capacity by almost 9 percent over 2015, to nearly 2,017 GW. Solar PV accounted for around 47 percent of the capacity added, followed by wind power at 34 percent and hydropower at 15.5 percent, Global energy-related CO2 emissions from fossil fuels and industry remained stable for a third year in a row despite a 3 percent growth in the global economy and an increased demand for energy. This can be attributed primarily to the decline of coal, but also to the growth in renewable energy capacity and to improvements in energy efficiency.

  • After 18 months, hurricane vulnerability documents arrive — but they're thin

    During Hurricane Katrina, rushing water caused one refinery’s oil tank to rupture, sending oil into more than 1,700 homes a mile away. And the Houston area has many schools and neighborhoods that are less than a mile from large refineries and oil storage terminals. Eighteen months ago, we asked the government for documents that should have shed a lot of light on Houston’s vulnerability to a massive hurricane. After finally receiving them, it turns out the documents are basically useless.

  • Replacing coal with solar will save lives, money

    Tens of thousands of Americans die prematurely each year from air pollution-related diseases associated with burning coal. By transitioning to solar photovoltaics (PV) in the United States, up to 51,999 American lives would be saved at $1.1 million invested per life. To fully replace all the coal production in the United States with solar PV, it would take 755 gigawatts—a significant increase compared to the 22.7 gigawatts of solar installed in the United States currently.

  • Taller wind turbine towers to help expand wind energy nationwide

    Winds at higher elevations, generally, are stronger and more consistent, even in wind-rich states such as Iowa and Texas. In fact, a 20-meter increase (about 66 feet) in tower height creates a 10 percent boost in Iowa energy production. Researchers have been working on developing new concrete tower technology capable of reaching 140 meters (about 459 feet). The towers will be assembled from precast panels and columns made with high-strength or ultra-high-performance concrete. Those panels and columns can be cast in sizes that are easy to load on trucks. They are tied together on-site by cables to form hexagon-shaped cells. A crane can stack the cells to form towers as high as 140 meters.

  • The Hindenburg: It was not hydrogen's fault!

    Eighty years ago this month, on 6 May 1937, the German passenger airship LZ 129 Hindenburg caught fire and was destroyed as it was attempting to dock with its mooring mast at Naval Air Station Lakehurst in Manchester Township, New Jersey. Current information indicates that it was not the gas but a coating on the dirigible’s skin that was primarily responsible for the disaster.

  • Right research, development investments “good bets” for both climate and economies

    Investing in new ways of utility-scale electricity storage and capturing carbon to store underground should be a priority for governments aiming to meet the greenhouse gas and “green energy” targets set out in the Paris Agreement despite shrinking research and development budgets, experts suggest. Researchers analyzed a range of studies and expert reports on public energy R&D investments to uncover common threads and trends — pulling together the current state of knowledge on cost-effective investments across a range of energy technologies.

  • Helping power utilities and others better plan for the future

    If you’re an electric utility planning a new power plant by a river, it would be nice to know what that river will look like twenty years down the road. Will it be so high that it might flood the new facility? Will the water be so low that it can’t be used to cool the plant? Generally, such projections have been based on records of past precipitation, temperature, flooding and other historical data. But in an era when temperature and precipitation are changing rapidly, historical patterns won’t do you much good. A new initiative by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory combines climate data and analysis with infrastructure planning and decision support, promises real help.

  • Wastewater injection rates triggered Oklahoma's largest earthquake

    The 3 September 2016 magnitude 5.8 Pawnee quake, felt widely across Oklahoma, is the largest earthquake recorded in the state since the 1950s. Most Oklahoma earthquakes since 2009 are thought to have been triggered by wastewater produced by oil and gas drilling that has been injected back into the ground – and a new report says that changes to the rate of wastewater injection in disposal wells may have contributed to conditions that led to the Pawnee earthquake.