Infrastructure

  • New approach would boost use of geothermal energy

    Existing U.S. geothermal power plants generate up to 3.4 gigawatts of energy, making up about 0.4 percent of the nation’s energy supply. Geothermal power is generated by tapping the heat that exists under the Earth’s surface to extract steam and turn power plant turbines. Conventional geothermal power plants rely on the natural presence of three things: underground water, porous rock, and heat. A new approach to geothermal power, called enhanced geothermal systems, pumps fluids underground, a step which is called “reservoir stimulation,” to enable power production where conventional geothermal doesn’t work. It is estimated that enhanced geothermal systems could boost U.S. geothermal energy output 30-fold to more than 100 gigawatts, or enough to power 100 million typical American homes.

  • Emerging threats require a new social contract between the state, citizens: Study

    Technological advancements create opportunities for governments and the private sector, but they also pose a threat to individual privacy and individual – and public — safety, which most Americans look to the government to protect. The authors of a new book on emerging threats argue that while, at one time, “the government used to be our sole provider of security,” companies which store troves of private information are also key to Americans’ privacy and security. They say that the United States may need a new social contract between the state and its citizens on matters of security and privacy. “The old social contract has its roots in the security dilemmas of the Enlightenment era,” they write. “In our new era, everyone is simultaneously vulnerable to attack and menacing to others. That requires a different, more complex social contract — one that we are just starting to imagine.”

  • In South Africa, bomber of apartheid era nuclear power plant is a hero, not a terrorist

    In December 1982, Rodney Wilkinson planted four bombs that caused $519 million in damages at the Koeberg nuclear power plant north of Cape Town, South Africa. The attack, which many believe to be the most ambitious and successful terror attack against a nuclear facility, remains a symbol of African National Congress (ANC) war against South Africa’s then-apartheid government. The 1982 Koeberg assault, however, and a 2007 raidby two yet-to-be-identified armed groups on South Africa’s Pelindaba nuclear research site, are at the root of U.S. concerns about the safety of South Africa’s roughly 485 pounds stockpile of highly enriched uranium.

  • Virginia wetlands offer a “shelter from the storm”

    Floods are the most common natural disaster in the United States, causing an average of $8.2 billion in damage each year for the past thirty years. As global warming continues, scientists predict that the damage caused by floods will only increase. In Virginia, 2004’s Hurricane Gaston brought flooding which destroyed more than 5,000 homes and resulted in multiple fatalities. The storm cost an estimated $130 million in damage. Sufficient wetlands remain in Virginia to hold enough rain to cover the city of Hampton in more than thirty feet water, according to a new report by Environment Virginia Research & Policy Center. The analysis says the state’s wetlands are at risk from pollution and development, however, and so is the region’s natural shield against flood damage.

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  • Water shortage grows, and so does the need for technological solutions

    The value of freshwater is becoming more apparent, as more and more areas around the world are suffering from dwindling supply as a result of climate change. The World Bank estimates that water is $1 trillion privatized commodity. Last week, California imposed mandatory restrictions on water use for the first time in its history. California’s unprecedented move is just one example of the political and social issues which will accompany a growing water shortage moving forward.

  • Cybersecurity firms hire former military, intelligence cyber experts

    Over the past two years, U.S. cybersecurity firms have brought in several former military and intelligence community computer experts to help combat hackers targeting the U.S. private sector. For the new private sector employees, the wages are higher and opportunities are endless. Hundreds of ex-government cybersecurity workers represent the competitive advantage of a cybersecurity services industry expected to bring in more than $48 billion in revenue next year, up 41 percent from 2012. “The people coming out of the military and the intelligence community are really, really good,” says a cyber startup founder. “They know the attackers. They know how they work.”

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  • Shipping oil by rail is booming. Technology can make it safer

    Last year, trains transported more than one million barrels of oil per day in 2014 — a huge jump from 55,000 barrels per day in 2010. This increase in oil-by-rail transportation has come with a number of high-profile derailments. Can technology improve safety? Yes. While the risk associated with oil train derailments has not been eliminated, the transportation of crude oil by rail has certainly become safer through extensive research, development, and implementation of new technologies. Continued efforts by railroads, government agencies, research institutions, and universities will continue to improve the safety of crude oil transportation by rail, reducing risk and potentially alleviating public fears associated with railroad transportation.

  • PG&E to pay $1.6 billion in gas explosion settlement

    The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has levied the largest penalty in the agency’s history on Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), ordering the company to pay $1.6 billion for failures which led to a 2010 natural gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno. The explosion killed eight people and destroyed or damaged thirty-eight homes.Afaulty weld on the pipeline caused the explosion and the resulting fire. The company may also owe an additional $1.13 billion in federal criminal fines connected to the blast, and has committed to spend $2.8 billion in reassessing pipeline safety.

  • California not the only state to face water shortage

    Over the past two weeks, California’s long drought — and Governor Jerry Brown’s mandatory water conservation rules — have captured the headlines. As the country keeps an eye on how Californians will adapt to the new reality of water conservation, other states must prepare to maintain the sustainability of their own water supplies. “As far as other states, if they haven’t seen it [water shortages] in the past, it’s something they will see in the future,” says a water policy analyst in Los Angeles.

  • Critics: PG&E downplays quake risk to Diablo Canyon nuclear plant

    Since the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant in California was opened by Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) in 1985, geologists have discovered three fault lines nearby, which could threaten the plant. The three faults are capable of quakes even stronger than the one which ravaged the Napa Valley last year, and critics of PG&E say the company has been minimizing the risks the three faults pose. The company rejects the criticism. The critics are now suing to company to force it to reapply for an operating license – with the information about the three faults included in the application.

  • Scientists develop deep borehole disposal (DBD) method to deal with nuclear waste

    Technologies which will enable nuclear waste to be sealed five kilometers below the Earth’s surface could provide a safer, cheaper and more viable alternative for disposing of the U.K.’s high level nuclear waste. Scientists calculate that all of the U.K.’s high level nuclear waste from spent fuel reprocessing could be disposed of in just six boreholes five kilometers deep, fitting within a site no larger than a football pitch. The concept — called deep borehole disposal — has been developed primarily in the United Kingdom, but is likely to see its first field trials in the United States next year.

  • Big data technology helps identify best river locations for hydro-power generation

    A new technology has the potential to revolutionize the sourcing of renewable energy from rivers. The software app automatically selects appropriate locations in U.K. rivers to site a large range of micro renewable hydro-power turbines in these rivers, and determines the environmental sensitivity of the location.

  • San Diego to build largest ocean desalination plant in Western Hemisphere

    San Diego County, California will soon become home to a $1 billion desalination plant which would supply drinking water to residents currently having to cut their water consumption by as much as 25 percent in response to the state’s current drought. Small ocean desalination plants already operate throughout the state, but the facility being built in San Diego will be the largest ocean desalination plant in the Western Hemisphere, producing roughly fifty million gallons of drinking water a day.

  • Cyber espionage campaign, likely sponsored by China, targets Asian countries: FireEye

    FireEye has released a report which provides intelligence on the operations of APT 30, an advanced persistent threat (APT) group most likely sponsored by the Chinese government. APT 30 has been conducting cyber espionage since at least 2005, making it one of the longest operating APT groups that FireEye tracks. APT 30 targets governments, journalists, and commercial entities across South East Asia and India.

  • Extreme geohazards: Reducing disaster risk, increasing resilience

    Extreme hazards — rare, high-impact events — pose a serious and underestimated threat to humanity. The extremes of the broad ensemble of natural and anthropogenic hazards can lead to global disasters and catastrophes. Because they are rare and modern society lacks experience with them, they tend to be ignored in disaster risk management. While the probabilities of most natural hazards do not change much over time, the sensitivity of the built environment and the vulnerability of the embedded socio-economic fabric have increased rapidly.