• Chicago, center of fracking oil shipments, debates rail safety

    Chicago is home to the busiest crossroads of the nation’s rail network, and the country’s boom in oil fracking has led the city to see not only a massive increase in crude oil transferred by rail in the region, but also debates about the public safety of such an influx. The Windy City has experienced a 4,000 percent increase in oil train traffic since 2008, with many of the densely packed suburbs surrounding the city located very close to rail lines and switches.

  • South Australia needs to look beyond wind for its clean energy

    South Australia cannot complete its move to clean energy through a continued focus on wind energy. This is the conclusion of the most comprehensive review to date of renewable energy in the state, conducted by researchers in the University of Adelaide’s Environment Institute. The success of wind power (27 percent of the state’s energy and 3-4 percent nationally) is a credit to SA’s proactive approach and should continue, the review says. However, that success has relied on the reliability of the national grid. There remains no answer to the inherent limitations of wind because of the mismatch between supply variability and demand.

  • State-by-state plan to convert U.S. to 100 percent clean, renewable energy by 2050

    One potential way to combat ongoing climate change, eliminate air pollution mortality, create jobs, and stabilize energy prices involves converting the world’s entire energy infrastructure to run on clean, renewable energy. This is a daunting challenge. Now, researchers for the first time have outlined how each of the fifty states can achieve such a transition by 2050. The fifty individual state plans call for aggressive changes to both infrastructure and the ways we currently consume energy, but indicate that the conversion is technically and economically possible through the wide-scale implementation of existing technologies.

  • Exciting time ahead for power industry: Energy expert

    New developments in the field of power electronics could lead to greater flexibility for the U.S. electrical power grid, says an expert in power engineering. The key, she says, will be advancements in power electronics — instruments that control and convert electric power, such as semiconductor switching devices. “Power electronics are going to make the power system more flexible, allowing us to really control how the power flows in the system much like you might consider traffic lights controlling traffic flow,” the expert says.

  • New reactor design recycles nuclear waste

    One of the major technological hurdles for nuclear energy is developing systems to dispose of the waste produced by typical reactors. It must be sealed away for hundreds of millennia while the radioactivity naturally decreases. An advanced nuclear reactor under development by Hitachi could help solve the nuclear waste problem. Hitachi’s new design would burn off the longest-lived radioactive materials, called transuranics, shortening that isolation period to a few centuries. This would recycle the nuclear waste to produce yet more energy and reduce the amount that must be stowed away.

  • Testing wave energy generation in rough sea conditions

    Oceans, which cover some 71 percent of the earth’s surface, represent an untapped source of clean, renewable energy. Early demonstrations have already shown that the energy stored in waves can be captured by floating energy converters. Now scientists want to rigorously test this technology on a much larger scale, to see whether the concept is truly viable and whether hardware is capable of surviving rough sea conditions over a period of several years. EU-funded researchers with the CEFOW project are about to put cutting edge wave power technology to the test in real ocean conditions.

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  • How best to adapt to the U.S. water shortage?

    The water crisis in the western United States — most notably in California and Washington — may be the most severe and most publicized, but other threats to the nation’s water supply loom, says a water expert. “We have settled in places and undertaken industrial and agricultural activities largely based on water availability,” he says. “When that availability changes, we must adapt. If the change is rather rapid, we often face a crisis.”

  • U.S. West's power grid must be “climate-proofed” to lessen risks of power disruption

    Electricity generation and distribution infrastructure in the Western United States must be “climate-proofed” to diminish the risk of future power shortages, according to researchers. Expected increases in extreme heat and drought events will bring changes in precipitation, air and water temperatures, air density, and humidity. the changing conditions could significantly constrain the energy-generation capacity of power plants — unless steps are taken to upgrade systems and technologies to withstand the effects of a generally hotter and drier climate.

  • Biofuel policies affect food prices

    U.S. biofuel mandates require a percentage of gasoline consumed in the U.S. to contain ethanol. Since ethanol prices are dependent on crude oil and gas prices, oil and food prices have become increasingly intertwined. As the prices of gasoline and crude oil rise, prices of world grains and oilseeds markets follow. Researchers found that 80 percent of price increases of grain since 2007-8 are due to biofuel policies, thereby having a huge impact on value-added agricultural producers and food consumers worldwide.

  • New oil trains safety rules short on preparedness, training regs: Critics

    New federal safety measures for oil trains announced earlier this month are being criticized by emergency responders who say the measures fail to address the issue of preparedness.The new rules, which go into effect next year, do not require railroads to notify state officials of Bakken crude oil shipments, and fire departments seeking that information will have to contact the railroads directly. Firefighter groups say 65 percent of fire departments involved in responding to hazardous materials incidents still have no formal training in that area.

  • More assessment of dispersants used in response to oil spills needed

    Chemical dispersants are widely used in emergency responses to oil spills in marine environments as a means of stimulating microbial degradation of oil. After the Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010, dispersants were applied to the sea surface and deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico, the latter of which was unprecedented. S new study argues for further in-depth assessments of the impacts of dispersants on microorganisms to guide their use in response to future oil spills.

  • Why is oil and gas activity causing earthquakes? And can we reduce the risk?

    If you’ve been following the news lately, chances are you’ve heard about — or even felt — earthquakes in the central United States. During the past five years, there has been an unprecedented increase in earthquakes in the North American mid-continent, a region previously considered one of the most stable on Earth. Oklahoma has gone from experiencing fewer than two magnitude-three earthquakes per year to greater than two per day, the report found. Similarly, Texas has experienced a near 10-fold increase in magnitude-three earthquakes or greater in the past five years. Many studies indicate that human activities, including activities related to oil and gas extraction, are beginning to play a significant role in triggering earthquakes in the central United States. History dictates that the advent of new technology often leads to new and unforeseen challenges. The printing press, the automobile, and splitting the atom have provided incalculable benefits to humanity but also incredible responsibility. What is recognized as the Texas-led “Shale Revolution,” arguably one of the most significant innovations of the modern era, is no different.

  • A model for bioenergy feedstock/vegetable double-cropping systems

    Much attention has been given to dedicated, perennial bioenergy crops to meet the revised Renewable Fuel Standard mandating production of thirty-six billion gallons of biofuel by the year 2022. Even so, concern remains over the impending need to convert as much as thirty million acres of U.S. crop land, which would include food crops, to land for perennial energy crops in order to meet that demand. Researchers realize that biomass feedstocks will need to come from many different sources, including crop residues, forest residues, and municipal waste. The use of double-cropping systems — a winter annual biomass crop is grown then harvested in the spring, followed by a summer annual crop — has been suggested as an additional option.

  • Seismic safety of nuclear power plants in Scandinavia to improve

    Since the Fukushima accident, Nordic nuclear power plant areas have given greater priority to understanding the safety implications of seismic events. The Technical Research Center of Finland (VTT) and various Nordic players are co-developing new methods of making seismic hazard estimates of anticipated earthquakes in Fennoscandia — the region comprising the Scandinavian Peninsula, Finland, Karelia, and the Kola Peninsula in Russia.

  • MIT Energy Initiative releases report on the future of solar energy

    Solar energy holds the best potential for meeting humanity’s future long-term energy needs while cutting greenhouse gas emissions — but to realize this potential will require increased emphasis on developing lower-cost technologies and more effective deployment policy, says a comprehensive new study released earlier this week by the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI). The report highlights the enormous potential of this energy and discusses pathways toward affordable solar energy.