• 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.

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  • 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.

  • 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.

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  • 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.

  • New safety rules for crude oil shipments by rail criticized by both sides

    Regulators with the Department of Transportation(DOT) last Friday unveiled new rules for transporting crude oil by rail. The measures are expected to improve rail safety and reduce the risk of oil train accidents, but both the railway industry and public safety advocates have already issued criticism. Lawmakers representing states with oil trains traffic say the regulations do not go far enough in protecting the public, while railway representatives say the rules would be costly and result in few safety benefits.

  • U.S. must invest in energy infrastructure to upgrade outdates systems

    Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz is calling for a renewed focus on U.S. energy infrastructure, saying new and improved oil pipeline projects are just a portion of a long list of work needed to modernize the country’s outdated system for transporting oil, natural gas, and electricity.In the government’s first Quadrennial Energy Review (QER), an almost 500-page analysis released last week, Moniz calls for building new pipelines, repairing old ones, and insulating electric grids and transformers from storms and terrorist attacks.”It is the right time, maybe it’s a little after the right time, for us to make these kind of investments in energy infrastructure,” he said.

  • Deepwater Horizon consequences continues to plague Gulf Coast communities

    Five years after the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history, communities along the Gulf of Mexico continue to struggle with the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, according to researchers. While most of the nation’s attention continues to focus on the environmental and financial toll of the spill that killed eleven workers and flooded Gulf waters with millions of gallons of oil, the less obvious consequences, including those related to public health, may prove the most long-lasting, the researchers say.