Energy resources

  • Promising geothermal resources found on Akutan Island, Alaska

    Akutan Island, in Alaska’s east-central Aleutian Islands, hosts the City of Akutan and is home to the largest seafood production facility in North America. It also hosts Akutan Volcano, one of the most active volcanoes in the United States. During July 2012 the geochemistry of the hot springs on Akutan Island was studied in detail for the first time since the early 1980s. The results from this study document higher concentrations of hydrothermal components in the hot spring waters and an increase in water discharge from the hot spring system. The current heat output of the hot spring system is estimated at twenty-nine megawatts — nearly ten times higher than measured in the early 1980s. This large increase may reflect the volcanic and seismic events of the 1990s, and if so, it cannot be considered a short-term anomaly. Modern geothermal plants could use this heat to generate several MW of electricity. One MW of electric power would supply the needs of about 750 homes.

  • Natural gas leaks a significant source of green-house gas methane

    Methane, a key greenhouse gas, has more than doubled in volume in Earth’s atmosphere since 1750. Its increase is believed to be a leading contributor to climate change. Where is the methane coming from, however? Research by atmospheric chemist Paul Wennberg of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) suggests that losses of natural gas – regarded as the “cleanest” fossil fuel — into the atmosphere may be a larger source than previously recognized.

  • 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.

  • Deepwater Horizon: Identifying harmful elements of persisting oil

    Scientists are unraveling the composition of persisting oil residues collected from Gulf of Mexico beaches following the Deepwater Horizon disaster, insisting on further assessment of the toxic impact of these chemical remnants on the marine ecosystem. A new study targeted the most abundant compounds in the residual oil, dissecting their composition with unprecedented accuracy. This is important for understanding the environmental impact of persisting oil remnants, because ecotoxicologists have demonstrated that all three chemical groups can be harmful to living organisms. More worrisome, relatively little is known about the broader toxicity of saturates and oxygenated hydrocarbons in the marine ecosystem, like the Gulf of Mexico —where there are 223 offshore oil rigs — even though these compounds constitute most of the persisting oil.

  • Texas wants to know whether fracking causes earthquakes

    Texas has about 35,000 active injection wells. About 7,000 of Texas’s injection wells are used for disposing wastewater deep underground, and some experts say these wells can cause earthquakes. In response to the several minor earthquakes which occurred in late 2013 around the Azle, Texas area, local officials are investigating whether oil and gas drilling in North Texas and the injection wells that follow after, are responsible for the quakes.

  • Service lives of European nuclear power stations to be extended

    Germany has decided to abandon nuclear energy – in what the Germans call Energiewende (energy turnaround) – but new nuclear power stations are being built on all sides of Germany and service lives for existing facilities on the territory of Germany’s neighbors are being extended. German nuclear scientists should thus continue to be involved in assessing the safety of the nuclear power stations in neighboring countries, especially so since the EU has launched its LONGLIFE project, which aims to extend the service life of existing reactors from forty to sixty or even eighty years.

  • U.S. power plant emissions down

    Power plants that use natural gas and a new technology to squeeze more energy from the fuel release far less of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide than coal-fired power plants do, according to a new analysis. The so-called “combined cycle” natural gas power plants also release significantly less nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide, which can worsen air quality.

  • Tidal energy could provide half of Scotland’s power needs

    A stretch of water off the north coast of the United Kingdom could provide enough energy to power about half of Scotland, engineers have found. Researchers have completed the most detailed study yet of how much tidal power could be generated by turbines placed in the Pentland Firth, between mainland Scotland and Orkney. They estimate 1.9 gigawatts (GW) could be available.

  • Aging natural gas pipelines leak under Washington, D.C. streets

    More than 5,893 leaks from aging natural gas pipelines have been found under the streets of Washington, D.C., a team of researchers finds. A dozen of the leaks could have posed explosion risks, the researchers said. Some manholes had methane concentrations as high as 500,000 parts per million of natural gas — about ten times greater than the threshold at which explosions can occur.

  • NRC: storing spent nuclear fuel in cooling pools is safe

    The nuclear reactors now in service in the United States were built with the assumption that the spent fuel would be removed from nuclear the facilities after a few years, but because the government has failed to provide a centralized place to store the spent fuel, utility companies have had to store an ever-growing quantity of it in spent fuel pools on the grounds of the facilities. Scientists argue that it would be safer to move some of the spent fuel into giant steel and concrete casks, where it can be stored dry, with no reliance on water, pumps, or filters to keep them cool. The nuclear industry and the NRC do not agree.

  • Harnessing solar energy during day for use at night

    In one hour, the sun puts out enough energy to power every vehicle, factory, and device on the planet for an entire year. Solar panels can harness that energy to generate electricity during the day. The problem with the sun, however, is that it goes down at night — and with it the ability to power our homes and cars. If solar energy is going to have a shot at being a clean source of powering the planet, scientists had to figure out how to store it for night-time use. Researchers have built a system that converts the sun’s energy not into electricity but hydrogen fuel and stores it for later use, allowing us to power our devices long after the sun goes down.

  • Reducing radioactivity in fracking waste

    In hydraulic fracturing — or fracking — millions of tons of water are injected at high pressure down wells to crack open shale deposits buried deep underground and extract natural gas trapped within the rock. Some of the water flows back up through the well, along with natural brines and the natural gas. This “flowback fluid” typically contains high levels of salts, naturally occurring radioactive materials such as radium, and metals such as barium and strontium. Much of the naturally occurring radioactivity in fracking wastewater might be removed by blending it with another wastewater from acid mine drainage, researchers find.

  • 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.