• France’s flagship nuclear power reactor hobbled by mishaps, delays

    France’s position as a leader in the nuclear energy industry is being undermined by the country’s pending flagship nuclear reactor, which may be delayed by another year following a series of setbacks. The third-generation European Pressurized Reactor (EPR), built by Areva and EDF, was meant to be in operation by 2012 and its designers claimed it would be one of the safest — built to resist the impact of a commercial airliner crash — and the most energy efficient reactors in the world. EPR was to represent France’s nuclear renaissance, a vision to replace the country’s aging nuclear plants over time. The renaissance, however, has faced several setbacks, mishaps, and delays.

  • New insights on man-made earthquakes

    Earthquake activity has sharply increased since 2009 in the central and eastern United States. The increase has been linked to industrial operations that dispose of wastewater by injecting it into deep wells. Significant strides in science have been made to better understand potential ground shaking from induced earthquakes, which are earthquakes triggered by man-made practices.

  • view counter
  • Combination of gas field fluid injection and removal likely cause of 2013-14 Texas quake

    Seismologists found that high volumes of wastewater injection combined with saltwater (brine) extraction from natural gas wells is the most likely cause of earthquakes occurring near Azle, Texas, from late 2013 through spring 2014. SMU seismologists have been studying earthquakes in North Texas since 2008, when the first series of felt tremors hit near DFW International Airport between 30 October 2008 and 16 May 2009. Next came a series of quakes in Cleburne between June 2009 and June 2010, and this third series in the Azle-Reno area northwest of Fort Worth occurred between November 2013 and January 2014. The SMU team also is studying an ongoing series of earthquakes in the Irving-Dallas area that began in April 2014.

  • New approach would boost use of geothermal energy

    Existing U.S. geothermal power plants generate up to 3.4 gigawatts of energy, making up about 0.4 percent of the nation’s energy supply. Geothermal power is generated by tapping the heat that exists under the Earth’s surface to extract steam and turn power plant turbines. Conventional geothermal power plants rely on the natural presence of three things: underground water, porous rock, and heat. A new approach to geothermal power, called enhanced geothermal systems, pumps fluids underground, a step which is called “reservoir stimulation,” to enable power production where conventional geothermal doesn’t work. It is estimated that enhanced geothermal systems could boost U.S. geothermal energy output 30-fold to more than 100 gigawatts, or enough to power 100 million typical American homes.

  • Shipping oil by rail is booming. Technology can make it safer

    Last year, trains transported more than one million barrels of oil per day in 2014 — a huge jump from 55,000 barrels per day in 2010. This increase in oil-by-rail transportation has come with a number of high-profile derailments. Can technology improve safety? Yes. While the risk associated with oil train derailments has not been eliminated, the transportation of crude oil by rail has certainly become safer through extensive research, development, and implementation of new technologies. Continued efforts by railroads, government agencies, research institutions, and universities will continue to improve the safety of crude oil transportation by rail, reducing risk and potentially alleviating public fears associated with railroad transportation.

  • Renewables win, coal loses as shift in electricity generation lead to net job growth in energy

    In the four years following the 2008 recession, the coal industry lost more than 49,000 jobs, while the natural gas, solar, and wind industries together created nearly four times that amount, according to a new study. A county-by-county geographical analysis of the losses and gains shows that few new jobs were added in regions hardest hit by coal’s decline, particularly counties in southern West Virginia and eastern Kentucky.

  • view counter
  • Why rooftop solar is disruptive to utilities – and the grid

    Electric utilities have a unique role in society and the economy, one that is rooted in a set of arrangements with state regulators that goes back nearly a century. In exchange for being granted a geographic monopoly on the distribution of electric power, the utility is responsible for ensuring that its transmission and distribution systems operate reliably. In other words, it is the utility’s responsibility to ensure that blackouts occur infrequently and with short duration. Power-generating panels, called solar photovoltaics (PV), represent the fastest-growing source of electric power in the United States – but the proliferation of roof-top PVs poses a problem for the business model of electric utilities, a problem similar to that telephone companies have been facing: The rise of “cord cutters” — people with a cell phone but no land-line — places land-line phone companies in a quandary. They must continue to maintain their network infrastructure with fewer customers to pay for it. Roof-top solar technology will eventually force a conversation about the fundamental role of the electric utility and who should have ultimate responsibility for providing reliable electricity, if anyone. Going off the grid has a certain appeal to an increasing segment of the population, but it is far from clear that such a distributed system can deliver the same level of reliability at such a low cost.

  • Living near railroad tracks? Prepare for crude-oil-train accidents, spills

    The Minnesota Department of Transportation(MnDOT) reports that 326,170 Minnesotans live within a half mile of railroad tracks used by trains carrying crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken region. An area covering a half mile on each side of the tracks, public safety officials say, is the area from which residents are likely to be evacuated in the event of an oil train incident or explosion. The department urges all residents living near an oil train track to be prepared for a train accident.

  • A first: UAV inspects energy pipeline route in rural Virginia

    The first Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership at Virginia Tech test flight using a fixed-wing unmanned aircraft to inspect an energy pipeline route — with a piloted chase plane following behind to ensure safety beyond the ground observers’ sight line — was completed last week. The flight was a step toward making aerial inspections of energy pipelines safer and more economical, researchers say. The flight lasted about ninety minutes and covered about eleven miles over a Colonial Pipeline Company right of way near Fork Union in rural Virginia.

  • Solar could meet California power needs three to five times over

    In the face of global climate change, increasing the use of renewable energy resources is one of the most urgent challenges facing the world. Further development of one resource, solar energy, is complicated by the need to find space for solar power-generating equipment without significantly altering the surrounding environment. New study found that the amount of energy that could be generated from solar equipment constructed on and around existing infrastructure in California would exceed the state’s demand by up to five times.

  • 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.