Infrastructure

  • EnergyA few “problem” shale gas wells source of greenhouse gas

    High levels of the greenhouse gas methane were found above shale gas wells at a production point not thought to be an important emissions source, according to a new study. The findings could have implications for the evaluation of the environmental impacts from natural gas production. The study, which is one of only a few to use a so-called “top down” approach that measures methane gas levels in the air above wells, identified seven individual well pads with high emission levels and established their stage in the shale-gas development process.

  • DisastersHow building codes save homes from cyclones, and how they don’t

    By Wendy Miller

    During Queensland’s preparations for Severe Tropical Cyclone Ita, Queensland Premier Campbell Newman advised residents who lived in older houses (those built before 1985) to evacuate their homes as they were not likely to stand up to the storm’s destructive winds. That was the year that building regulations changed to require new houses in cyclone-prone areas to be able to withstand higher winds. But how were these regulations determined, what do they mean for modern homes, and why do regulators always seem to wait until after a severe storm before updating the codes?

  • CyberwarwarWest Point wins Cyber Defense Exercise, launches Army Cyber Institute

    The U.S. Military Academy at West Point has won the annual Cyber Defense Exercise (CDX) which brought together senior cadets from the five service academies for a 4-day battle to test their cybersecurity skills against the National Security Agency’s (NSA) top information assurance professionals. West Point’s win comes just as the academy announced plans for its Army Cyber Institute(ACI), intended to develop elite cyber troops for the Pentagon.

  • EnergyHigh-altitude wind energy shows promise

    Wind turbines hovering high in the air and tethered to the ground, like kites, have the potential to generate huge amounts of electricity, based on a recent wind availability study. Researchers pinpointed tracts of the atmosphere ideal for locating airborne wind energy (AWE) devices, which convert kinetic energy from wind into electricity. Recently published research shows that there are enough areas usable by airborne turbines to produce several terawatts of electric power annually — more than enough needed to meet worldwide demands. More than twenty companies are developing various versions of the technology, with over 100 related patents filed in the United States alone.

  • Heartbleed bugHow the Heartbleed bug reveals a flaw in online security

    By Robert Merkel

    The Heartbleed bug – which infects an extremely widespread piece of software called OpenSSL  — has potentially exposed the personal and financial data of millions of people stored online has also exposed a hole in the way some security software is developed and used. The Heartbleed bug represents a massive failure of risk analysis. OpenSSL’s design prioritizes performance over security, which probably no longer makes sense. But the bigger failure in risk analysis lies with the organizations which use OpenSSL and other software like it. A huge array of businesses, including very large IT businesses with the resources to act, did not take any steps in advance to mitigate the losses. They could have chosen to fund a replacement using more secure technologies, and they could have chosen to fund better auditing and testing of OpenSSL so that bugs such as this are caught before deployment. They didn’t do either, so they — and now we — wear the consequences, which likely far exceed the costs of mitigation.

  • EnergyMaking ethanol without corn or other plants

    Ethanol today is produced at high-temperature fermentation facilities that chemically convert corn, sugarcane, and other plants into liquid fuel. Growing crops for biofuel, however, requires thousands of acres of land and vast quantities of fertilizer and water. In some parts of the United States, it takes more than 800 gallons of water to grow a bushel of corn, which, in turn, yields about three gallons of ethanol. Stanford scientists have created a copper-based catalyst that produces large quantities of ethanol from carbon monoxide gas at room temperature.

  • EarthquakesCalifornia implements earthquakes’ lessons

    In California, government engineers study structures that did not survive the earthquake, with plans to make improvements to building codes. The most important code changes tend to occur because earthquakes uncover weaknesses in contemporary construction standards.”Every time the earth shakes there’s something a little different about it,” says one official.

  • GridFeds struggle to plug power grid security holes

    Many of the current vulnerabilities in the power grid are attributable to newly adopted smart-grid technology, which allows operators to transmit energy from a diverse pool of resources. Smart-grid technology relies on devices in remote locations which constantly communicate with substations, those access points can be compromised by hackers.

  • GridA grid of the right size could reduce blackout risk

    Scientists argue that for every animal there is an optimal size — one which allows it to make best use of its environment and the physical laws that govern its activities, whether hiding, hunting, hoofing, or hibernating. Now, researchers are asking whether there is a “right” size for another type of huge beast: the U.S. power grid. The researchers believe that smaller grids would reduce the likelihood of severe outages, such as the 2003 Northeast blackout that cut power to fifty million people in the United States and Canada for up to two days.

  • Nuclear powerDebate over closing NY’s Indian Point nuclear power plant intensifies

    Indian Pointnuclear power plant, just thirty miles from New York City, has presented a conundrum for environmentalists who advocate clean-air initiatives, caps on carbon emissions, and increasing investment in non-polluting renewable energy sources — but at the same time argue that nuclear power poses a safety hazard to the surrounding area and demand that Indian Point cease operations. Closing the plant would require a long-term energy strategy to replace the 2,000 megawatts the plant currently produces.

  • Chemical plant securityChemical plant security measure moves forward in the House

    The House Homeland Security Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee are making progress on legislation meant to extend DHS’s Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standardsprogram, which helps secure commercial chemical plants from terrorist attacks. Several attempts by the House Homeland Security Committee to extend the program have failed due to disagreements with the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which also oversees the matter.

  • EnergyScale model WWII-era plane flies with fuel from the sea

    U.S. Navy researchers demonstrated proof-of-concept of novel technologies developed for the recovery of carbon dioxide (CO2) and hydrogen (H2) from seawater and conversion to a liquid hydrocarbon fuel. Fueled by a liquid hydrocarbon — a component of NRL’s novel gas-to-liquid (GTL) process which uses CO2 and H2 as feedstock — the research team demonstrated sustained flight of a radio-controlled (RC) P-51 replica of the legendary Red Tail Squadron, powered by an off-the-shelf (OTS) and unmodified two-stroke internal combustion engine.

  • Plutonium processingAlternative strategy for uranium processing at Oak Ridge

    A group of twenty-five experts referred to as the Red Team, assigned to review alternatives to the Uranium Processing Facility (UPF) at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, have reached a “strong consensus” on what could be an alternative strategy, but will spend the next two weeks polishing their work before presenting it to National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). Red Team was instructed to design a way to move uranium processing from Building 9212, Y-12’s Second World War-era center for processing highly enriched uranium, by 2025 and at under $6.5 billion.

  • Plutonium processingNew group formed to monitor Savannah River Site, nuclear waste issues in SE U.S.

    Savannah River Site Watch (SRS Watch), a new public-interest watchdog group, was launched last week in what it said was a response to the need for increased monitoring of the nuclear projects carried out by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). The group says it has been formed to focus on an array of nuclear projects now underway at Savannah River Site (SRS), the sprawling 310-square mile complex located near Aiken, South Carolina.

  • Infrastructure protectionBangladesh tops list of countries at risk from sea level rise

    Scientists say that see levels may rise by up to the feet by 2100.The implications of this would have drastic consequences for nearly all coastal nations, but the consensus is that Bangladesh will be the hardest hit by the change. Leading Bangladeshis say that since Bangladesh produces less than 0.3 percent of the emissions driving climate change, it would unjust for Bangladesh to rely on its own meager resources to solve this problem. One solution they offer: fifty million Bangladeshis (out of a population of 163 million) should be allowed to move to and resettle in the countries which produce the bulk of greenhouse gasses.