• Derailments, ruptures of new crude-oil tank cars raise safety concerns

    Following a series of crude-oil train derailments in 2013 and early 2014, the Transportation Department proposed new rules for tank cars carrying crude. The rules suggest three main options for tank cars: railroads would use the improved CPC-1232 tank cars, develop stronger cars, or retrofit existing cars. Critics of the rail industry’s growing volume of crude-oil shipments note that four recent oil train derailments relied on CPC-1232 cars, therefore improvements to crude by rail shipments must extend beyond new tank cars.

  • “Pee-power” to light refugee camps in disaster zones

    A toilet, conveniently situated near the Student Union Bar at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol), is proving pee can generate electricity. The prototype urinal is the result of a partnership between researchers at UWE Bristol and Oxfam. It is hoped the pee-power technology will light cubicles in refugee camps, which are often dark and dangerous places particularly for women. Students and staff are being asked to use the urinal to donate pee to fuel microbial fuel cell (MFC) stacks that generate electricity to power indoor lighting.

  • Distributed future: Local electricity could meet half of U.K. power needs by 2050

    Research conducted by nine leading U.K. universities has found that up to 50 percent of electricity demand in the United Kingdom could be met by distributed and low carbon sources by 2050. The research assesses the technological feasibility of a move from the current traditional business models of the Big Six energy providers to a model where greater ownership is met by the civic energy sector. It also goes further by questioning what types of governance, ownership and control a distributed future would need.

  • Electric fields increase oil flow in the Keystone pipeline

    Traditionally, pipeline oil is heated over several miles in order to reduce the oil’s thickness (which is also known as viscosity), but this requires a large amount of energy and counter-productively increases turbulence within the flow. Researchers propose a more efficient way of improving flow rates by applying an electric field to the oil. The idea is to electrically align particles within the crude oil, which reduces viscosity and turbulence. The researchers have shown that a strong electric field applied to a section of the Keystone pipeline can smooth oil flow and yield significant pump energy savings.

  • Cost of derailments of oil-carrying trains over the next two decades: $4.5 billion

    A 2014 CSX derailment led to roughly 30,000 gallons of Bakken crude oil spilling in and around the James River, West Virginia. Another CSX train derailed last week in the West Virginia town of Mount Carbon. The explosion that followed forced about 1,000 people to evacuate from their homes. The United States will likely experience more oil train derailments as long as Bakken crude oil is transported via rail from the Northern Plains’ Bakken region to U.S. refineries. Oil train accidents often lead to pipeline advocates pushing for more pipelines, but data from PHMSA shows that while oil trains have more frequent accidents, pipelines accidents cause much larger spills.

  • Coping with fracking-induced earthquakes

    A new study provides a case for increasing transparency and data collection to enable strategies for mitigating the effects of human-induced earthquakes caused by wastewater injection associated with oil and gas production in the United States. The study suggests that it is possible to reduce the hazard of induced seismicity through management of injection activities.

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  • Calls for improving safety of oil-carrying trains grow in wake of this week’s accidents

    Oil trains transporting crude oil from the Bakken region of North Dakota and Canada to refineries in the Northeast have suffered several derailments in the past few years. The U.S.Department of Transportation(DOT) has since urged rail companies to adopt new train cars which could better survive derailments, and to retrofit current cars by 2017. Still, railway safety advocates say companies need to do more to ensure the safety of their tracks and cars. Two separate oil train accidents this week support their concerns.

  • New gear technology makes wave energy more attractive

    Wave energy has been held back in part because of the cost of electricity generation. The amount of steel and concrete needed in order to produce each MWh has simply been too great to make it into a profitable business. In addition, the power of waves presents a problem with reliability, and because waves vary greatly in height and timing, it is difficult to create a conversion system that functions across the full wave spectrum. Swedish researchers have developed a new wave energy system which generates five times more energy per ton of device, at one third of the cost, when compared to competing state-of-the art technologies. Energy output is three to four times higher than traditional wave power systems.

  • Benefits, costs of hydraulic fracturing

    Hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling have had a transformative, positive effect on the U.S. economy, producing societal gains that likely outweigh negative impacts to the environment and human health from an economic perspective, according to a new paper. Innovations in hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling in the past decade have fueled a boom in the production of natural gas, as well as oil, from geological formations including deep shales in which hydrocarbon production was previously unprofitable.

  • Improving security monitoring of energy industry networked control systems

    There are a number of useful products on the market for monitoring enterprise networks for possible security events, but they tend to be imperfect fits for the unusual requirements of control system networks. A network monitoring solution that is tailored to the needs of control systems would reduce security blind spots. The National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence (NCCoE) is seeking collaborators on an effort to help energy companies improve the security of the networked technologies they rely upon to control the generation, transmission and distribution of power.

  • Royal commission into nuclear will open a world of possibilities

    Discussion of nuclear energy in Australia has matured in recent years with greater focus on factual arguments, the relativity of risks and the need for robust scientific sourcing of claims. South Australia’s potential to merge prosperity, clean energy and good global citizenship can barely be overstated. Globally, there are around 240,000 metric tons heavy metal (MtHM ) in spent nuclear fuel, much of which was dug from South Australian ores. By 2040 this will be around 700,000 MtHM. Robust dry-cask storage is now a demonstrated, reliable and recognized solution for holding this material. It can be quickly, readily implemented by South Australia. Importantly, such a facility would mean the material is retrievable, to enable the extraction of further value through recycling. A secure, multinational destination for spent fuel, located in a politically and geologically stable country such as Australia, would spur more rapid expansion of current generation reactors. This would displace coal as the fuel of choice in rapidly growing economies.

  • Microcapsules stop greenhouse gas from entering the atmosphere

    Current carbon capture technology uses caustic amine-based solvents to separate CO2 from the flue gas escaping a facility’s smokestacks. State-of-the-art processes, however, are expensive, result in a significant reduction in a power plant’s output, and yield toxic byproducts. Scientists have developed a novel class of materials – microcapsules — which enable a safer, cheaper, and more energy-efficient process for removing greenhouse gas from power plant emissions. The microcapsules offer a new approach to carbon capture and storage at power plants.

  • Oklahoma rejects “rush to judgment” on the connection between fracking and earthquakes

    Between 1978 to mid-2009, Oklahoma recorded one or two 3.0 or greater magnitude earthquakes. Last year the state experienced 585 earthquakes of 3.0 magnitude or greater. Studies conducted by seismologists, including those who work with the United States Geological Survey(USGS), have attributed the spike in earthquakes to the roughly 3,200 active disposal wells, in which wastewater produced during oil and gas drilling is stored deep underground, and independent scientific studies have established the causal relationship between fracking and earthquake. Arkansas, Ohio, and Colorado have imposed temporary restrictions on fracking, while Texas and Illinois are considering similar measures – but the Oklahoma Geological Survey says that “We consider a rush to judgment about earthquakes being triggered to be harmful to state, public and industry interests.”

  • Texas appoints seismologist to examine wave of Irving-area quakes

    Research over decades has shown the fracking process — injecting fluid underground to release oil — has been the cause of fault slips and fractures. The fluid can often lubricate existing faults and cause them to slip. The Texas Railroad Commission (RRC) has turned to David Craig Pearson to help study a series of quakes which hit the area of Irving within a span of a few days. A UT-Austin seismologist has already published a report which found that most earthquakes in Texas’s oil-rich Barnett Shale occurred within two miles of an injection well, essentially proving that some of the quakes are caused by fracking. Pearson’s appointment was not universally welcomed, as some see him as too close to industry. “I’m absolutely engaged with trying to figure out the cause of all earthquakes throughout Texas,” said Pearson. “I’m a scientists first, and a Railroad Commission employee second.”

  • Floating wind turbines bring electricity – and power generation -- to customers

    Most wind turbine manufacturers are competing to build taller turbines to harness more powerful winds above 500 feet, or 150 meters. Altaeros is going much higher with its novel Buoyant Airborne Turbine — the BAT. The Altaeros BAT can reach 2,000 feet, or 600 meters. At this altitude, wind speeds are faster and have five to eight times greater power density. As a result, the BAT can generate more than twice the energy of a similarly rated tower-mounted turbine. The BAT’s key enabling technologies include a novel aerodynamic design, making it, in effect, a wind turbine which is being lifted by a tethered balloon. In the future, the company expects to deploy the BAT alongside first responders in emergency response situations when access to the electric grid is unavailable.