Infrastructure

  • Infrastructure protectionU.S. municipal data centers prepare to cope with sea-level rise

    The National Academy of Sciences says that 316 coastal cities in the United States are expected to be affected by sea-level rise within the next few decades. Those responsible for infrastructure maintenance are now considering how they can be better prepared for this eventuality. Among their tasks is the protection of data centers which handle much of the world’s information.

  • EarthquakesNapa earthquake may persuade lawmakers to fund earthquake warning system

    Last Sunday’s Napa earthquake may push Congress to increase funding for an earthquake warning system. Building out the West Coast earthquake warning system, called ShakeAlert, would cost $120 million over five years, and an additional $16 million a year to operate. Today, ShakeAlert operates in a testing phase, and sensors notify researchers and volunteer participants when an earthquake has been detected.

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  • EarthquakesSeismic retrofitting of older buildings helps, but it has its limits

    Even before last Sunday’s magnitude-6 earthquake struck Napa, officials anticipated that such an event would damage many of Napa’s historic brick buildings. So years ago, brick structures were required to get seismic retrofitting — bolting brick walls to ceilings and floors to make them stronger. “We can’t keep every single brick in place in many of these older buildings without extraordinarily costly retrofits,” says a structural engineer. “We can reduce the damage in losses, but not eliminate them entirely in older buildings.”

  • FrackingBetter solutions for recycle fracking water

    Scientists have performed a detailed analysis of water produced by hydraulic fracturing (aka fracking) of three gas reservoirs and suggested environmentally friendly remedies are needed to treat and reuse it. More advanced recycling rather than disposal of “produced” water pumped back out of wells could calm fears of accidental spillage and save millions of gallons of fresh water a year.

  • FloodsInvestigating potential influences on recent U.K. winter floods

    A comprehensive review of all potential factors behind the 2013-14 U.K. winter floods does not definitively answer whether human activity played a role in the magnitude of the winter flood events. It does, though, examine how factors such as the state of the global oceans may have interacted with wind patterns and subsequent high-level atmospheric features.

  • EnergyExisting power plants will emit 300 billion more tons of carbon dioxide during use

    Existing power plants around the world will pump out more than 300 billion tons of carbon dioxide over their expected lifetimes, significantly adding to atmospheric levels of the climate-warming gas, according to a new study. The study is the first to quantify how quickly these “committed” emissions are growing — by about 4 percent per year — as more fossil fuel-burning power plants are built. Assuming these stations will operate for forty years, the power plants constructed globally in 2012 alone will produce about nineteen billion tons of CO2 during their existence, the researchers project.

  • DisastersMore states experiment with microgrids to withstand powerful storms

    During Superstorm Sandy, communities throughout the Northeast experienced power outages which affected critical facilities including hospitals, gas stations, and water treatment plants. As severe weather becomes more common, authorities are acknowledging the shortcomings of a large electric grid system. Some utility providers have contemplated burying power lines to help prevent outages, but it can cost up to $4 million per mile to place electric lines underground. Several states are now experimenting with microgrids, self-contained systems for generating and distributing power.

  • CybersecurityDeterring cyberattacks requires building a public-private partnership

    Cyberattacks loom as an increasingly dire threat to privacy, national security, and the global economy, and the best way to blunt their impact may be a public-private partnership between government and business, researchers say. The time to act is now, however, rather than in the wake of a crisis, says an expert in law and technology. The expert says that an information-sharing framework is necessary to combat cybersecurity threats.

  • Nuclear risksSeismic faults make Diablo Canyon a nuclear catastrophe in waiting: Experts

    Sunday’s magnitude-6 earthquake in Northern California has renewed focus on the dangers of Diablo Canyon, considered by many as a nuclear catastrophe in waiting. In 2008 authorities discovered the Shoreline fault, which lies about 650 yards from the plant’s reactors. Surveys have mapped a network of other faults around the reactors. Diablo Canyon’s owner released research in 2011 which determined that any of the three nearby faults — the Shoreline, Los Osos, and San Luis Bay — is capable of producing significantly more shaking during an earthquake than was accounted for in the design of the plant’s most vulnerable equipment.

  • EnergyCutting carbon emissions more than pays for itself with savings on health care spending

    Just how large are the health benefits of cleaner air in comparison to the costs of reducing carbon emissions? MIT researchers looked at three policies achieving the same reductions in the United States, and found that the savings on health care spending and other costs related to illness can be big — in some cases, more than ten times the cost of policy implementation. The concluded that savings from healthier air can make up for some or all of the cost of carbon-reduction policies.

  • Infrastructure protectionRising sea levels force the Solomon Islands provincial capital to relocate

    Taro, the Solomon Islands provincial capital, will be relocated to the mainland due to coastal hazards and the risks of rising sea levels resulting from climate change. Taro is less than two meters above sea level, presenting a significant risk to the community, which will be compounded in the future with climate change and the resulting rise in sea levels. The relocation project is hailed by the Solomon Islands National Government as a best-practice model for natural hazard resilience planning for other provinces across the Solomon Islands and more broadly across the Pacific region.

  • Infrastructure protectionNew method for predicting storm damage

    The United Illuminating Company (UI), an electric company based in New Haven, Connecticut, has announced that it will be adopting a technology developed by engineers at the University of Connecticut that can predict storm damage in detail, something which was not possible before the technology was developed.

  • Nuclear powerTesting the shelf-life of nuclear reactors’ components

    The structural components of advanced reactors such as the sodium fast reactor and the traveling wave nuclear reactor must be able to withstand the extreme levels of radioactivity from the fission reaction itself at temperatures well above 400 Celsius. Unfortunately, standard tests of such components are expensive, require increasingly rare test reactors and test periods that are impractical. Researchers have devised a quick way to test the structural materials used to build nuclear reactors by using high-energy beams of charged particles (ions).

  • EnergyThe power of salt

    By Jennifer Chu

    Where the river meets the sea, there is the potential to harness a significant amount of renewable energy, mechanical engineers say. The researchers evaluated an emerging method of power generation called pressure retarded osmosis (PRO), in which two streams of different salinity are mixed to produce energy. In principle, a PRO system would take in river water and seawater on either side of a semi-permeable membrane. Through osmosis, water from the less-salty stream would cross the membrane to a pre-pressurized saltier side, creating a flow that can be sent through a turbine to recover power.

  • ResilienceNew Jersey launches distributed energy initiative

    More than two million households lost power in New Jersey during Superstorm Sandy in 2012, and water and wastewater treatment plants lacked electricity, forcing millions of gallons of raw sewage to be released into the state’s waterways. State officials concluded that relying exclusively on centralized grids for electrical power distribution would continue to be a risk during disasters such as hurricanes. The state recently announced the launch of the nation’s first Energy Resilience Bank(ERB), which will support the development of distributed energy resources at critical facilities throughout New Jersey.