Infrastructure

  • West 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.

  • High-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.

  • How the Heartbleed bug reveals a flaw in online security

    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.

  • Making 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.

  • California 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.

  • Feds 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.

  • A 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.

  • Debate 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 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.

  • Scale 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.

  • Alternative 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.

  • New 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.

  • Bangladesh 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.

  • More stringent climate policies mean hard choices for coal plant operators

    Limiting climate change to 2°C means shutting down coal power plants — an unpopular proposition for coal power companies. A new study shows, however, that delaying climate policies could prove even worse for power plant owners. The reason: new power plants being built now, especially in China and India, are built to run for 30-50 years, paying off only after years of operation. Stringent climate policies, however, could make the cost of emission so high that coal power generation is no longer competitive, leaving new power plants sitting idle and their owners and investors with huge losses — a problem known as stranded capacity.

  • Coalition sounds alarm about possible global EMP disaster

    A coalition that includes former speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and former CIA director James Woolsey has issued a terse warning regarding apocalyptic effects that could result from a mass EMP (electromagnetic pulse) disaster or attack. Members of the coalition “are convinced that our fragile electrical grid could be wiped out at any moment” from bursts of electrical energy caused by anything from a nuclear explosion to a solar flare from the sun, leading to chaos on a global scale.