Infrastructure

  • Smart grid concept advanced by distributed technique for power “scheduling”

    Currently, power infrastructure uses a centralized scheduling approach to forecast and coordinate the energy produced at the thousands of large power plants around the country. Researchers have developed a new technique for “scheduling” energy in electric grids that moves away from centralized management by tapping into the distributed computing power of energy devices. The approach advances the smart grid concept by coordinating the energy being produced and stored by both conventional and renewable sources.

  • Disaster resilience competition generates innovative ideas

    The National Disaster Resilience Competition (NDRC), an innovative partnership between the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Rockefeller Foundation, is already bearing fruit — even before the selection of any finalists or winners. The Foundation offers six examples of innovative, substantial steps that communities around the country are taking to create, and maintain, a culture of resilience.

  • Earthquakes in Oklahoma linked to oil, gas drilling

    A new study finds that the recent spike in triggered earthquakes in Oklahoma is primarily due to the injection of wastewater produced during oil production. Geophysicists have identified the triggering mechanism responsible for the recent spike of earthquakes in parts of Oklahoma — a crucial first step in eventually stopping them. The study shows that the state’s rising number of earthquakes coincided with dramatic increases in the disposal of salty wastewater into the Arbuckle formation, a 7,000-foot-deep, sedimentary formation under Oklahoma.

  • Green concrete is more fire-resistant

    Selecting materials with high fire endurance is particularly important when constructing tunnels and high-rise buildings, and when storing hazardous materials. Concrete made using an industrial by-product has shown better fire endurance than traditional concrete when exposed to fires of nearly 1,000 degrees Celsius.

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  • We need to change how and where we build to be ready for a future of more extreme weather

    The human and economic losses resulting from extreme weather events during the last several years vividly demonstrate the U.S. historically shortsighted approach to development. The ill-advised, fast-paced construction of human settlements in low-lying, coastal and riverine environments prone to flooding has long been the American way. From Galveston to Hoboken, we have laid out our grids and thrown up our houses with little regard for the consequences. Storms like Sandy are a harbinger of extreme weather events to come as a result of climate change. Without concerted action, the costs, in lives and property, of future weather events will only multiply. Rather than spending $25 million on PR campaigns to convince ourselves we’re “stronger than the storm,” we should start making choices that prove we’re smarter. For while we can’t say when the next hurricane with the force of Sandy (or even greater force) will batter the Atlantic Coast or when extreme flooding will hit Texas, we do know that there will be a next time. And we’re still fundamentally unprepared for it. We can’t continue to bet against climate change; we’ll lose in the end.

  • Powering desalination with the sun

    When graduate student Natasha Wright began her Ph.D. program in mechanical engineering, she had no idea how to remove salt from groundwater to make it more palatable, nor had she ever been to India, where this is an ongoing need. Although the available filters made water safe to drink, they did nothing to mitigate its saltiness — so the villagers’ drinking water tasted bad and eroded pots and pans, providing little motivation to use these filters. Almost 60 percent of India has groundwater that’s noticeably salty, so Wright began designing an electrodialysis desalination system, which uses a difference in electric potential to pull salt out of water.

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  • Rebuilding a safer and stronger Vanuatu after Cyclone Pam

    Three months ago Cyclone Pam swept across Vanuatu, leaving 75,000 people in need of emergency shelter and damaging or destroying about 15,000 buildings, including homes, schools, and medical facilities. Since then, one of the most hotly debated questions within communities and on social media has been about how Vanuatu can rebuild so that it’s safer, stronger, and more resilient to future cyclones. Achieving this is not as simple as you might think. The strength and safety of buildings is critical — especially when you are rebuilding in a cyclone-prone region. But housing in particular is about more than walls and roofs; it’s also about community, traditions, culture, and supporting the way people want to live. While the strength of buildings and their ability to withstand cyclones are very important, so too are the strength and resilience of the people of Vanuatu, who have been living with the annual cyclone season for generations. The reconstruction of Vanuatu needs a diverse approach that is not solely reliant on quickly prefabricated or engineered solutions, and which keeps people at the heart of the rebuilding process.

  • U.S. mid-continent seismic activity linked to high-rate injection wells

    A dramatic increase in the rate of earthquakes in the central and eastern U.S. since 2009 is associated with fluid injection wells used in oil and gas development, says a new study. The number of earthquakes associated with injection wells has skyrocketed from a handful per year in the 1970s to more than 650 in 2014. The increase included several damaging quakes in 2011 and 2012 ranging between magnitudes 4.7 and 5.6 in Prague, Oklahoma; Trinidad, Colorado; Timpson, Texas; and Guy, Arkansas. “We saw an enormous increase in earthquakes associated with these high-rate injection wells, especially since 2009, and we think the evidence is convincing that the earthquakes we are seeing near injection sites are induced by oil and gas activity,” says one of the study’s authors.

  • Risk of major sea level rise in Northern Europe

    Global warming leads to the ice sheets on land melting and flowing into the sea, which consequently rises. Sea level rise is a significant threat to the world’s coastal areas, but the threat is not the same everywhere on Earth — it depends on many regional factors. New calculations by researchers from the Niels Bohr Institute show that the sea level in Northern Europe may rise more than previously thought. There is a significant risk that the seas around Scandinavia, England, the Netherlands, and northern Germany will rise by up to about 1.5 meters in this century.

  • Studying Louisiana's wetlands -- a natural barrier between land and sea

    NASA recently completed an intensive study of Louisiana Gulf Coast levees and wetlands, making measurements with three advanced imaging instruments on two research aircraft. NASA instruments fly over the Gulf Coast one to three times per year to keep consistent records of ground subsidence — the gradual sinking of an area of land — which can compromise the integrity of roads, buildings and levee systems. Scientists also closely monitor vegetation changes in the coastal wetlands to better understand how to preserve them. The marshlands not only are home to a delicate ecosystem, but also serve as a natural barrier between land and sea.

  • World running out of fresh water: NASA data

    Two new studies using data from NASA Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites show that human consumption is rapidly draining some of the world’s largest groundwater basins, yet there is little to no accurate data about how much water remains in them. This means that the world’s largest underground aquifers, on which hundreds of millions of people rely for fresh water, are being depleted at an accelerated rate – a rate of depletion which has pushed these aquifers beyond their sustainability tipping points: During the 10-year study period, more water was removed than replaced.

  • UAV in test flights to detect mock pipeline hazards

    Unmanned aircraft researchers associated with the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership at Virginia Tech tested new sensor technology designed to detect potentially disruptive activities along energy pipeline routes. The flights last week near Farmville, in rural Virginia, involved a fixed-wing RS-20 unmanned aircraft flying beyond the visual line of sight of ground observers. The aircraft had a wingspan of more than seventeen feet and was equipped with optical and infrared sensors designed to detect threats to pipeline integrity. A piloted chase aircraft, with a visual observer onboard, followed behind the UAS [unmanned aerial system] to ensure safety.

  • Chicago, center of fracking oil shipments, debates rail safety

    Chicago is home to the busiest crossroads of the nation’s rail network, and the country’s boom in oil fracking has led the city to see not only a massive increase in crude oil transferred by rail in the region, but also debates about the public safety of such an influx. The Windy City has experienced a 4,000 percent increase in oil train traffic since 2008, with many of the densely packed suburbs surrounding the city located very close to rail lines and switches.

  • Bacteria may help clean groundwater contaminated by uranium ore processing

    A strain of bacteria that “breathes” uranium may hold the key to cleaning up polluted groundwater at sites where uranium ore was processed to make nuclear weapons. The bacterium can breathe either oxygen or uranium to drive the chemical reactions that provide life-giving energy. Scientists had previously witnessed decreasing concentrations of uranium in groundwater when iron-breathing bacteria were active.