Energy resources

  • 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.

  • “Power to gas”: Synthetic natural gas from excess electricity

    Power to gas” is a key concept when it comes to storing alternative energy. This process converts short-term excess electricity from photovoltaic systems and wind turbines into hydrogen. Combined with the greenhouse gas CO2, renewable hydrogen can be used to produce methane, which can be stored and distributed in the natural gas network. Researchers have now succeeded in further optimizing this process.

  • Nations' nuclear ambitions not discouraged by few suppliers

    Twenty-nine countries are considering constructing their first nuclear power plant. There are doubts as to which of these nuclear “newcomer” countries can actually succeed and join the thirty-one countries that already operate nuclear reactors. If even half of the national plans for nuclear power plants materialize, the geography of nuclear energy would radically change and could revitalize a stagnant industry. But given the obstacles to starting a national nuclear power program even for rich and stable countries, it’s not likely to happen quickly elsewhere.

  • Abandoned mine offers clues about permanent CO2 sequestration

    Power plants and other industries are responsible for more than 60 percent of global CO2 emissions, according to the International Energy Agency. Sequestering the CO2 in magnesite deposits would prevent the gas from entering the atmosphere and warming the planet. Stanford University researchers, studyingveins of pure magnesium carbonate, or magnesite — a chalky mineral made of carbon dioxide (CO2) and magnesium – in an abandoned mine in the Red Mountain, propose a novel technique for converting CO2  into solid magnesite, making CO2 sequestration feasible.

  • Minimizing power grid disruptions from wind power

    Researchers have found that an increase in the use of wind power generation can make the power grid more fragile and susceptible to disruptions. The researchers, however, did not just identify the problem — they have also devised a technique for coordinating wind power generation and energy storage in order to minimize the potential for such power disruptions.

  • Carbon capture technology vital for meeting climate targets

    In 2010, coal, oil, and gas supplied more than 80 percent of the world’s total primary energy supply — and the demand for energy is projected to increase by two to three times by 2100. Studies show that without policies to cut greenhouse gas emissions, fossil fuels will remain the major energy source in 2100, with resulting increases in greenhouse gas emissions. Where should policymakers focus their carbon mitigation efforts, however? Which technologies hold the most promise?Scientists say that a combination of carbon capture and storage (CCS) and bioenergy has advantages over solar, wind, and nuclear because it can lead to negative emissions. Moreover, bioenergy can be converted into liquid and gaseous fuels which are easily storable and can be readily used by current transportation systems,thus taking some pressure off other sector in terms of required mitigation effort.

  • How effective are renewable energy subsidies? It depends

    Renewable energy subsidies have led to explosive growth in wind power installations across the United States, especially in the Midwest and Texas. Electricity produced by wind is emission free, so the development of wind-power may reduce aggregate pollution by offsetting production from fossil fuel generated electricity production. Emission rates of fossil fuel generators, however, vary greatly by generator (coal-fired, natural gas, nuclear, hydropower). Thus, the quantity of emissions offset by wind power will depend crucially on which generators reduce their output. In other words, the quantity of pollutants offset by wind power depends crucially on which generators reduce production when wind power comes online.

  • Natural gas saves water, reduces drought vulnerability

    A new study finds that in Texas, the U.S. state that annually generates the most electricity, the transition from coal to natural gas for electricity generation is saving water and making the state less vulnerable to drought. Even though exploration for natural gas through hydraulic fracturing requires significant water consumption in Texas, the new consumption is easily offset by the overall water efficiencies of shifting electricity generation from coal to natural gas. The researchers estimate that water saved by shifting a power plant from coal to natural gas is 25 to 50 times as great as the amount of water used in hydraulic fracturing to extract the natural gas.

  • One step closer to nuclear fusion power station

    Researchers have made a technological breakthrough crucial to the success of nuclear fusion reactors, allowing for clean, inexhaustible energy generation based on the workings of the stars in our galaxy. At the heart of the new development is an ingenious and robust superconducting cable system. This makes for a remarkably strong magnetic field that controls the very hot, energy-generating plasma in the reactor core, laying the foundation for nuclear fusion. The new cables are far less susceptible to heating due to a clever way of interweaving, which allows for a significant increase in the possibilities to control the plasma.

  • U.S. loses clean electricity as nuclear power plants keep closing

    Four nuclear power plants, sources of low-emissions electricity, have announced closings this year. The main reason: the increasing availability of cheap natural gas as a result of fracking. If plants continue to shut down instead of extending operations, the United States risks losing 60 percent of its clean electricity starting in 2030, according to a new report by the American Physical Society (APS). The APS calls on socially responsible investors to encourage utilities to consider carbon emissions in business decisions.

  • Virtual wall to build invisible barrier for oil spills

    The outer shell of a droplet of oil on a surface has a thin skin which allows it to hold its shape like a small dome; this shell is referred to as the liquid’s surface tension. Now, researchers have developed a technique to form a virtual wall for oily liquids that will help confine them to a certain area, aiding researchers who are studying these complex molecules. This development will have future implications in the guided delivery of oil and effective blockage of oil spreading.