Energy resources

  • More crude oil shipments by rail mean more accidents, but security measures lag

    American rail companies have long operated under federal laws, making it difficult for local officials to gather information on cargo and how rail companies select their routes. An increase in the number of trains transporting crude oil, accompanied by a series of derailments and explosions, has highlighted the dangers of transporting hazardous substances by rail.In February, the Department of Transportation announced that railroads had voluntarily agreed to apply the same routing rules to oil trains that they currently apply to other hazardous materials. Critics say more needs to be done.

  • Oklahoma worries that fracking-induced earthquakes threaten the state’s bridges

    Many residents in Oklahoma are questioning whether hydraulic fracking is to blame for the sudden increase in earthquakes, but for transportation officials, the security of the state’s 6,800 bridges is the immediate concern. There are 468 bridges in Oklahoma which are classified as “structurally deficient,” and most were not built with frequent earthquakes in mind. Earthquakes have become so common, however, that inspectors have had to inspect bridges several times a week.

  • Promoting nuclear power to avoid geoengineering

    There are two basic geoengineering strategies to reduce climate change: injecting aerosols such as sulfates into the stratosphere to block a portion of the sun’s radiation and thereby cool the Earth, much as volcanic emissions do; and the large-scale removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The aerosol-injection approach is much more likely to be pursued at current stages of technological development. Scientists say that in order to avoid the need for geoengineering, which could have enormous unforeseen consequences, the international community should pursue increased deployment of nuclear power plants, which do not emit carbon dioxide, to address the climate crisis. Many climate scientists are generally supportive of nuclear engineering and less fearful of it than they are of geoengineering.

  • Avoiding water wars between fracking industry and residents

    The shale gas boom has transformed the energy landscape in the United States, but in some drier locations, it could cause conflict among the energy industry, residents, and agricultural interests over already-scarce water resources, say researchers. They add that degraded water quality is a potential risk unless there are adequate safeguards.

  • Climate benefit of biofuels from corn residue questioned

    Using corn crop residue to make ethanol and other biofuels reduces soil carbon and generates more greenhouse gases than gasoline, according to a new study. The findings cast doubt on whether corn residue can be used to meet federal mandates to ramp up ethanol production and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

  • A few “problem” shale gas wells source of greenhouse gas

    High levels of the greenhouse gas methane were found above shale gas wells at a production point not thought to be an important emissions source, according to a new study. The findings could have implications for the evaluation of the environmental impacts from natural gas production. The study, which is one of only a few to use a so-called “top down” approach that measures methane gas levels in the air above wells, identified seven individual well pads with high emission levels and established their stage in the shale-gas development process.

  • High-altitude wind energy shows promise

    Wind turbines hovering high in the air and tethered to the ground, like kites, have the potential to generate huge amounts of electricity, based on a recent wind availability study. Researchers pinpointed tracts of the atmosphere ideal for locating airborne wind energy (AWE) devices, which convert kinetic energy from wind into electricity. Recently published research shows that there are enough areas usable by airborne turbines to produce several terawatts of electric power annually — more than enough needed to meet worldwide demands. More than twenty companies are developing various versions of the technology, with over 100 related patents filed in the United States alone.

  • Making ethanol without corn or other plants

    Ethanol today is produced at high-temperature fermentation facilities that chemically convert corn, sugarcane, and other plants into liquid fuel. Growing crops for biofuel, however, requires thousands of acres of land and vast quantities of fertilizer and water. In some parts of the United States, it takes more than 800 gallons of water to grow a bushel of corn, which, in turn, yields about three gallons of ethanol. Stanford scientists have created a copper-based catalyst that produces large quantities of ethanol from carbon monoxide gas at room temperature.

  • Debate over closing NY’s Indian Point nuclear power plant intensifies

    Indian Pointnuclear power plant, just thirty miles from New York City, has presented a conundrum for environmentalists who advocate clean-air initiatives, caps on carbon emissions, and increasing investment in non-polluting renewable energy sources — but at the same time argue that nuclear power poses a safety hazard to the surrounding area and demand that Indian Point cease operations. Closing the plant would require a long-term energy strategy to replace the 2,000 megawatts the plant currently produces.

  • Scale model WWII-era plane flies with fuel from the sea

    U.S. Navy researchers demonstrated proof-of-concept of novel technologies developed for the recovery of carbon dioxide (CO2) and hydrogen (H2) from seawater and conversion to a liquid hydrocarbon fuel. Fueled by a liquid hydrocarbon — a component of NRL’s novel gas-to-liquid (GTL) process which uses CO2 and H2 as feedstock — the research team demonstrated sustained flight of a radio-controlled (RC) P-51 replica of the legendary Red Tail Squadron, powered by an off-the-shelf (OTS) and unmodified two-stroke internal combustion engine.

  • More stringent climate policies mean hard choices for coal plant operators

    Limiting climate change to 2°C means shutting down coal power plants — an unpopular proposition for coal power companies. A new study shows, however, that delaying climate policies could prove even worse for power plant owners. The reason: new power plants being built now, especially in China and India, are built to run for 30-50 years, paying off only after years of operation. Stringent climate policies, however, could make the cost of emission so high that coal power generation is no longer competitive, leaving new power plants sitting idle and their owners and investors with huge losses — a problem known as stranded capacity.

  • The costs of using wind energy, natural gas for electricity virtually equal

    The costs of using wind energy and natural gas for electricity are virtually equal when accounting for the full private and social costs of each, making wind a competitive energy source for the United States, according to a new study on the federal tax credit for wind energy. The analysis shows that wind energy comes within .35 cents per kWh when levelized over the 20-year life of a typical wind contract, compared on an equivalent basis to the full costs for natural gas-fired energy.

  • Russia leads, U.S. lags in construction of nuclear power reactors around the world

    Has a new cold war developed between Russian and the United States in the twenty-first century? Many argue that it has — but with a more unconventional front of commercial nuclear energy contracts with developing countries. Russian companies are building 37 percent of new nuclear reactors around the world; U.S. companies build only 7 percent of new nuclear facilities.

  • World record in high altitude wind turbine set to be broken

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    Boston, Massachusetts-based Altaeros Energies, a wind energy company formed out of MIT, said its Alaska demonstration project is set to break the world record for the highest wind turbine ever deployed. The $1.3 million, 18-month project will deploy the Altaeros BAT at a height 1,000 feet above ground. At that height, the BAT commercial-scale pilot project in Alaska will be over 275 feet taller than the current record holder for the highest wind turbine, the Vestas V164-8.0-MW. Investment into the high altitude wind sector has recently gained momentum with several large acquisitions.

  • New insight into improved wave energy testing

    Scientists have studied how wave energy developers can more accurately measure and predict the wave conditions within wave energy test sites. The researchers deployed wave measurement buoys and used wave modelling to show how variations in wave size and strength could be resolved.