Business & Innovation
02 Jul 2013:
Drought Tolerance in Plants
Boosted by New Synthetic Chemical
Scientists have identified a chemical that helps plants better tolerate drought conditions
, a discovery they say could help boost crop production as extreme weather
Click to enlarge
Cutler Lab/UC Riverside
Soybean plant, right, treated with quinabactin
conditions become more common. After testing thousands of different molecules, researchers at the University of California, Riverside found and named a chemical, quinabactin, that caused the pores, or stomata, in Arabidopsis plants to close firmly, thus preventing water loss. The action is similar to the way a naturally occurring stress hormone, known as abscisic acid (ABA), performs in drought-tolerant plant varieties. While it was previously known that ABA triggers the closing of stomata pores during dry periods, the hormone is far too expensive to apply in agricultural fields, scientists say. Writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
, the researchers report that the synthetic chemical mimics the effects of ABA but is much simpler chemically and cheaper to produce.
18 Jun 2013:
Low-Cost Deals and Incentives
Drive Record Sales of Electric Cars
After years of sluggish sales, the market for electric vehicles has surged in recent months in response to an escalating price war among automakers
that has helped reduce the high up-front costs that have slowed the emerging EV sector. Since Nissan reduced the price of its electric Leaf by $6,400 to $19,000 earlier this year — a move that tripled sales of the car compared with the same time period last year — competitors such as Chevy, Fiat, Mitsubishi, Honda, and Toyota have responded with similar low-cost deals and buyer incentives, Time
magazine reports. Within days of cutting the lease price for its Fit EV from $389 per month to $259 per month, Honda dealerships in California sold every model of the EV, forcing the automaker to apologize to customers who were then placed on a waiting list. But while the price war is driving EV sales and boosting consumer interest in the emerging green technologies, it is unclear whether it will be good for business in the long term. Chrysler, which owns Fiat, reported earlier this year
that the company loses $10,000 for each Fiat 500e EV it sells.
14 Jun 2013:
Nicaragua Approves New Canal
Linking Atlantic and Pacific Oceans
Nicaragua has approved plans to build a $40 billion cross-country canal
linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, a project that would rival the Panama Canal but is raising major concerns about impacts on regional
water supplies and the environment. Lawmakers yesterday granted Hong-Kong-based HK Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Co. a 50-year concession to study, and possibly construct, a 180-mile canal that advocates say would better accommodate the massive cargo ships and supertankers needed to handle the increased trade between Asia and the Americas. Major questions remain, however, about whether the canal will ever be built. Environmental advocates warn that water needed to operate the massive infrastructure project would deplete the region’s freshwater supplies.
11 Jun 2013:
Growing Number of Pests
Developing Resistance to GM Crops
An increasing number of pest species are developing resistance to crops genetically engineered to be toxic to insects
, according to new research. In an analysis of 77 studies conducted in eight countries, a team of U.S. and French scientists found that five of 13 major pest species had become resistant to so-called Bt cotton or corn plants, which are genetically modified to exude a bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis
, that is toxic to insects. While researchers say all insects inevitably adapt to threats such as pesticides, the study found that farmers who planted non-Bt crops in nearby “refuges” were more likely to slow that resistance. “Either take more stringent measures to delay resistance, such as requiring larger refuges, or this pest will probably evolve resistance quickly,” said Bruce Tabashnik, a professor at the University of Arizona and lead author of the study published in the journal Nature Biotechnology
. The total land area planted annually with Bt crops has increased from 1.1 million hectares in 1996 to more than 66 million hectares in 2011.
Interview: How Detergent Became
A Catalyst for Green Innovation
Adam Lowry is the co-founder and “chief greenskeeper” of Method
, a small but rapidly growing company that has been a leader in the field of manufacturing
environmentally friendly cleaning and personal care products. Indeed, it was Method that pioneered the use of concentrated laundry detergent, an environmentally beneficial innovation that has been embraced by all the giant brands. Lowry and his partner, Eric Ryan, founded Method in 2001 and today the firm has more than $100 million in revenues and sells its products in retailers like Target and Whole Foods. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Lowry discusses how his company has managed to profit from sustainability, why major corporations have been slow to embrace environmental innovations, and how plastic trash in the Pacific Ocean made its way into Method’s bottles of hand soap. Early on, says Lowry, “we recognized that our little business had the ability to catalyze much bigger change.” Read the interview
04 Jun 2013:
Nanofilter System Can Deliver
Clean Water to Rural Families for $2.50
Indian scientists have developed a filter system they say can provide clean water to rural families for less than $2.50 per year
and help reduce incidences of diarrhea that cause tens of thousands of deaths in the developing world annually. Writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
, researchers from the Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IITM) describe the filter, which contains a composite of nanoparticles, held within a sieve, that emit a stream of silver ions that eradicate water-based microbes. In producing the filter, the team used a material called aluminium oxyhydroxide-chitosan, which, because of its structure and the diameter of the silver nanoparticles, is optimal for releasing the silver ions at temperatures of between five to 35 degrees C. In addition, the material is widely available, and environmentally friendly, and it keeps concentrations of the silver ions below safe drinking water standards, lead author Thalappil Pradeep told ScieDev.Net
. So far, the scientists have installed the filters in water treatment plants in West Bengal, but are now seeking a company to produce the devices for widespread use.
03 Jun 2013:
Genetic Study Reveals Cheaper
Process to Convert Sawdust to Biofuel
A team of genetic engineers reports it has developed an inexpensive process that uses fungus to convert raw materials such as straw and sawdust into a productive biofuel
. While it was previously known that the Trichoderma
fungus produces the enzymes needed to break down such lignocellulosic wastes into a form of biofuel, the process was prohibitively expensive since the molecular switch required stimulation from a pure substance known as disaccharide sophorose, which is worth 60 times more than gold. Through genetic analysis, scientists from the Vienna University of Technology identified the specific gene that triggers the process — as well as the protein that the gene mutation affects — enabling them to mimic the same mutation in other strains of fungus. “We have understood the mechanism of this molecular switch and, consequently, many wonderful possibilities are opening up for us,” said Astrid Mach-Aigner, leader of the study published in the journal Biotechnology for Biofuels
30 May 2013:
Nuclear Power Has Prevented
1.84 Million Premature Deaths, Study Says
The use of nuclear power from 1971 to 2009 prevented more than 1.8 million premature deaths
related to air pollution and 64 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions, a new study says. Using historical production data and estimates of mortality per unit of electricity generated, scientists from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Columbia University calculated that replacing nuclear energy sources with fossil fuel-burning sources during that period would have caused about 1.84 million premature deaths. By midcentury, they project, nuclear power could prevent an additional 420,000 to 7 million deaths, depending on which fossil fuels it replaces, and 80 to 240 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions. “By contrast, we assess that large-scale expansion of unconstrained natural gas use would not mitigate the climate problem and would cause far more deaths than the expansion of nuclear power,” said Pushker A. Kharecha, who, along with NASA’s James Hansen, co-authored the study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology
. The study calculated that nuclear power plant accidents caused about 4,900 deaths during the same period.
29 May 2013:
Genetically Modified Salmon
Can Breed with Wild Fish and Thrive
Fast-growing, genetically modified salmon can interbreed with wild brown trout and produce offspring that grow rapidly and out-compete other wild salmon in streams
, according to a new study. Researchers from Memorial University in Newfoundland, Canada, found that so-called “Frankenfish” — which are close to being approved for sale in the United States
— can easily interbreed with brown trout in the wild, creating offspring that aggressively compete for food with salmon. In settings that simulated real streams, the offspring of the genetically modified (GM) salmon and brown trout were so aggressive that they suppressed the growth of GM salmon by 82 percent and wild salmon by 54 percent. “These findings suggest that complex competitive interactions associated with transgenesis and hybridization could have substantial ecological consequences for wild Atlantic salmon should they ever come into contact [with GM salmon] in nature,” the researchers wrote in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B
. The creator of the GM salmon, Aqua Bounty, said the risks were minimal since all the GM salmon will be female, sterile, and produced in tanks on land.
28 May 2013:
Electricity Availability Growth
Must Double to Achieve Global Access
The rate of expansion of access to electricity will have to double over the next 17 years
if the world's population is to achieve 100 percent access to modern energy, a new report says. While about 1.7 billion people became connected to electricity sources worldwide between 1990 and 2010, that increase barely outpaced population growth during that period, according to Sustainable Energy for All, a group lead by the World Bank and the United Nations. More than 1.2 billion people still do not have access to electricity, and 2.8 billion still rely on burning wood or other biomass for household fuel, a source of pollution that causes about 4 million premature deaths annually. Achieving universal access to modern energy will require investments of $45 billion annually, which is five times the current levels. If combined with an expansion of renewable energy sources and improved efficiencies, however, achieving this growth in energy access would increase CO2 emissions by less than 1 percent, the report says.
23 May 2013:
China Poised to Launch
Much-Anticipated Carbon-Trading Project
China has revealed details of a carbon cap-and-trade pilot project that will be launched next month, a much-anticipated market attempt to rein in carbon dioxide emissions by the world’s biggest emitter. The first phase of the program, which will be implemented in the southern city of Shenzhen, will cover 638 companies
that produce 38 percent of the city’s carbon emissions, according to the city branch of the government’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC). The system will impose caps on the companies’ CO2 emissions and establish a market for the buying and selling of emissions permits. Eventually, the program will be expanded to include the transportation, manufacturing, and construction sectors, the Guardian
reports. By 2014, the experimental scheme will be expanded into six other designated cities and provinces, including Beijing and Shanghai. Earlier this week, the Chinese newspaper 21st Century Business Herald
reported that the NDRC is contemplating a nationwide system to control CO2 emissions by 2020.
21 May 2013:
Large Majority of Americans
Believe Global Warming Should be a Priority
Roughly 70 percent of Americans say global warming should be a priority for President Obama and Congress and 61 percent support requiring fossil fuel companies to pay a carbon tax that would be used to help reduce the national debt, according to a new survey
by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. In a national survey conducted in April, 87 percent of respondents said that the president and Congress should make developing clean sources of energy a priority, 68 percent favored regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant, and 71 percent supported providing tax rebates for people who buy solar panels and energy-efficient vehicles. Seventy percent said global warming should be at least a “medium” priority, while 28 percent said it should be a low priority. The poll showed that 7 in 10 Americans support funding more research into green energy sources.
Interview: For Solar Sisters,
Off-Grid Electricity is Power
For Katherine Lucey, the lack of electricity in many parts of the developing world is not just an economic issue, it is a gender issue. A former investment banker,
Mother in Uganda with a solar lamp.
Lucey is the founder and CEO of Solar Sister
, a nonprofit that uses a market-based approach to provide solar power to communities in sub-Saharan Africa through a network of women entrepreneurs. Access to energy is critical to alleviating poverty, and women must be at the heart of any solution, says Lacey, since they are the family’s “energy managers,” responsible for cooking and heating needs. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Lucey explains how Solar Sister’s operations rely on selling inexpensive solar energy systems to households to power lamps and recharge cell phones. Since 2010, Solar Sister has created a network of 401 businesswomen in three countries that has provided electricity to 54,000 people. Lucey says the model can be rapidly expanded and can transform lives. “We’ve got to find a way to tap into market resources and let people in their own communities solve their own problems," she says. Read the interview
20 May 2013:
System Converts Pig Waste
Into Biogas at Chinese Pig Farms
An international team of researchers has developed a system that will help Chinese farmers convert massive amounts of pig waste
into a renewable source of energy
and fertilizer. The project, led by Australia-based Cooperative Research Centre for Contamination Assessment and Remediation of the Environment
(CRC CARE), uses a two-step anaerobic biodigester that is able to treat 73,000 tons of waste annually, producing 380 cubic meters of biogas daily and about 5,600 tons of fertilizer per year. According to its developers, it will also provide a solution to a growing waste disposal challenge in China, where pigs generate more than 1.4 million tons of excrement annually. “Only 10 percent of this waste is currently treated, posing a considerable disposal headache, as well as health and water quality risks,” said Ravi Naidu, managing director of CRC CARE. While the system is being introduced at pig farms across China, Naidu says the technology could eventually help solve critical waste management challenges worldwide and make the pork industry more sustainable.
17 May 2013:
‘Artificial Forest’ Nanosystem
Mimics Photosynthesis, Researchers Say
U.S. scientists have developed what they say is the first integrated nanosystem capable of replicating the process of photosynthesis
, a sort of “artificial forest” that could one day lead to the production of hydrogen that could be used to power fuel cells. Composed of nanowire structures — including silicon “trunks” and titanium oxide “branches” — the system mimics the role played by chloroplasts in promoting photosynthesis in green plants. By assembling the “trees” in a dense array, resembling a miniature forest, the network lowers sunlight reflection and provides more surface area for hydrogen-producing reactions, the scientists say. “We’ve integrated our nanowire nanoscale heterostructure into a functional system that mimics the integration in chloroplasts and provides a conceptual blueprint for better solar-to-fuel conversion efficiencies in the future,” said Peidong Yang, a chemist with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and co-author of the study, published in the journal NANO Letters
. The lab of Daniel Nocera
at Harvard University is doing related research into so-called artificial leaves
09 May 2013:
Third Coal Export Proposal
Falls By Wayside in Pacific Northwest
A large U.S. pipeline developer has dropped plans to build a $200-million coal export facility in northern Oregon, the third major terminal proposal to be shelved or canceled in the Pacific Northwest. Officials at Houston-based Kinder Morgan say the Columbia River site could not optimally accommodate the 30 million tons of coal that were expected to run through the site annually, largely for markets in Asia. While the company said the decision had nothing to do with public opposition to transporting massive amounts of coal from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming to the coast, critics of the plan say growing protests affected the decision. “If that site didn’t meet their physical constraints, they would have known that… years ago when they proposed this,” Brett VandenHeuvel, director of the group Columbia Riverkeeper, told the Los Angeles Times
. Thousands of residents have signed petitions to block the project, citing concerns that the coal trains would cause pollution from coal dust and create traffic congestion. Three other coal export projects — two in Washington and one in Oregon — are still on the table
07 May 2013:
Battery-Equipped Wind Turbine
Better Integrates Green Energy Onto Grid
General Electric recently introduced a wind turbine equipped with a storage battery, creating a type of “hybrid” turbine that industry leaders hope will improve the integration of intermittent energy sources onto the grid
and reduce the costs of wind power. The GE battery is able to store less than one minute of the turbine’s energy potential, but by pairing the battery with advanced wind-forecasting algorithms, wind farm operators could guarantee a certain amount of power output for up to an hour, MIT’s Technology Review
reports. Even small amounts of storage are able to compensate for rapid changes in output from renewable sources — such as when wind speeds fall — and thus exert less stress on conventional power plants in responding to the variability of wind and solar. This flexibility will become increasingly important as renewable energy accounts for a greater share of grid capacity, since major shifts in output can trigger voltage problems or blackouts.
06 May 2013:
Solar-Powered Airplane Finishes
First Leg of Coast-to-Coast U.S. Trip
A Swiss pilot this weekend completed the first portion of a five-leg trip across the U.S. in an airplane powered by solar energy
. The so-called Solar Impulse
aircraft, which runs on energy collected from 12,000 solar cells
View from the cockpit
in its long wings, flew from San Francisco to Phoenix in 18 hours and 18 minutes. The solar cells simultaneously power four batteries with the storage capacity of an electric car, which allows the plane to fly in darkness. The airplane, with a 208-foot wingspan, is made of lightweight, carbon fiber materials that help it conserve energy, but its spindly structure also makes the plane unable to fly in windy or stormy conditions. Project organizers hope the five-leg journey — which will include stops in Dallas, St. Louis, and Washington and end in New York — will demonstrate the feasibility of long-distance air travel without fuel. By 2015, the project's co-founders, Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg, hope to complete a flight around the world.
03 May 2013:
Seawater Energy Technology
Is Focus of Pilot Project in China
The U.S. defense and aerospace giant, Lockheed Martin, is partnering with a major Chinese company to build a pilot project off the southern Chinese coast that will use temperature differentials between the deep and shallow ocean to generate electricity
. The technology, known as ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC), uses the heat from warm surface waters to boil a fluid with a low boiling point, such as ammonia, producing steam to drive turbines. Colder water is then pumped from 2,500 to 3,000 feet under the sea, which condenses the steam into liquid; the liquid can then be boiled again to produce more steam and power. Lockheed Martin and its Chinese Partner, the Beijing-based Reignwood Group, said their project — the largest OTEC plant ever built — will produce 10 megawatts of power when it opens in 2017, enough to provide electricity for a large, planned resort that Reignwood is building.
30 Apr 2013:
U.S. Government Backs
New Way to Make Diesel from Biomass
The U.S. Energy Department is investing up to $4.3 million in a pilot biomass project that will convert the stalks and leaves of corn plants into diesel fuel using a new chemical process.
The pilot plant in Indiana will be run by Mercurius Biofuels, whose goal is to convert the corn biomass into fuel at prices cheap enough to compete with petroleum. Mercurius’s process uses recyclable acids to break down cellulose and make a chemical called chloromethylfurfural, which can be converted into diesel or jet fuel. The inventor of the process, Mark Mascal, a professor of chemistry at the University of California, Davis, says the technology makes more efficient use of the carbon in cellulose and avoids the significant releases of carbon dioxide involved in a common way of making fuel from biomass — converting the cellulose into sugar and fermenting it to make ethanol. Mercurius says the corn stalks and leaves can be converted into chloromethylfurfural at small, local plants and then shipped to larger refineries to make diesel fuel, thus avoiding the high cost of shipping the biomass itself to a central refinery.
26 Apr 2013:
NASA Tests Affirm Viability
Of Biofuel-Powered Commercial Jets
In recent test flights, NASA researchers have confirmed that commercial airliners can safely fly on an alternative jet fuel blend
and that under some conditions the biofuel mix produced 30 percent fewer emissions than
Contrails from a NASA DC-8 aircraft
typical jet fuel. After flying DC-8 aircraft using a biofuel blend containing 50 percent camelina plant oil
, scientists from Langley Research Center in Virginia say they observed no noticeable difference in the jets’ engine performance. And specially equipped planes that measured the exhaust emissions from the jets’ contrails found the biofuel blend produced fewer emissions, according to NASA. “In terms of these fuels being acceptable for use in commercial aircraft, they’re quite acceptable,” Bruce Anderson, a senior research scientist at Langley Research Center, told the Associated Press. “But we’re still digging into the data.” But while camelina plant oil might eventually emerge as an attractive biofuel source, since it can be grown in arid regions, researchers noted that it is currently cost-prohibitive. Currently, Anderson said, camelina oil costs about $18 per gallon, compared to $4 per gallon for typical jet fuel.
25 Apr 2013:
Metal Demand Could Increase
Nine-Fold as Developing Economies Grow
Global demand for metals could increase nine-fold in the coming years
as the world’s developing economies continue to grow, a trend that could have profound negative environmental impacts, a new UN report says. As populations in these countries continue to adopt modern technologies, and nations increasingly construct metal-intensive renewable energy projects, the need for raw metal materials will likely be three to nine times larger than the current global demand, said Achim Steiner
, executive director of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). While the current demand is typically met by mining for more metals, large-scale mining operations can have adverse environmental consequences, and the supply of some rare earth metals is running low. Saying that there is an urgent need for a more sophisticated approach to recycling the planet's increasingly sophisticated products, the UN suggested
that mining companies be enlisted to help sort out valuable metals when the products reach the end of their usefulness.
22 Apr 2013:
Green Energy Investments
To Triple by 2030, Analysis Predicts
Annual investment in renewable energy is predicted to triple between now and 2030
, according to a report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance. In an analysis
of several factors shaping the global energy future —
First Solar Inc.
including economic conditions, market demands, and the evolution of technologies — the group predicted that annual spending may increase from $190 billion last year to $630 billion by 2030. A key factor in the growth is the plunging cost of wind and solar energy, which in the short term has bankrupted many manufacturers. The Bloomberg report also forecast significant growth in hydropower, geothermal, and biomass sources of energy. In the most likely scenario, 70 percent of new power generation capacity between 2012 and 2030 would come from renewable sources — with wind and solar accounting for 30 and 24 percent, respectively — while only 25 percent would come from fossil fuel sources.
19 Apr 2013:
New Solar Cell Process
Achieves Record Efficiency, MIT Says
Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) say they have achieved a major breakthrough in the conversion of sunlight into electricity
, surpassing what was long believed to be an absolute limit to the efficiency of solar cell devices. While the process used in the typical photovoltaic (PV) cell process knocks loose one electron inside the PV material to produce an electrical current — but wastes any excess energy carried by a photon — a new process described in the journal Science
utilizes that extra energy to produce two electrons. That exploits so-called singlet exciton fission and makes the process far more efficient, creating more electrical energy. An exciton is the excited state of a molecule after absorbing energy. While the material used in the organic solar cell, known as pentacene, was previously known to produce two so-called excitons from one photon, researchers say this is the first time anyone has demonstrated the principle within a photovoltaic device. While the typical solar panel achieves efficiencies no greater than 25 percent, the scientists believe this process can be utilized to achieve efficiencies of more than 30 percent.
Interview: Using Citizen Power
To Fund a U.S. Solar Revolution
Billy Parish is the president of Mosaic
, an Internet “crowdfunding” service that lets individual investors put their money into commercial solar projects and earn a rate of return that
currently beats anything offered by a bank. This month, California regulators authorized Mosaic to offer up to $100 million in loans for solar projects. Its first loan under that authorization, $157,750 to install a 114-kilowatt array on the Ronald McDonald House in San Diego, was funded within six hours by 171 investors. Parish, 31, a co-founder of the Energy Action Coalition
, decided after the failure of the 2009 climate talks in Copenhagen that the best way to drive a clean energy transition was to dive into the renewable energy business. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Parish talks about why his generation has pursued environmental goals through entrepreneurship, how crowdfunding can fuel the solar revolution, and how he discovered “that sweet spot where making money and doing good overlap.” Read the interview
16 Apr 2013:
U.S. Offshore Seismic Testing
Threatens Many Marine Species, Study Says
The proposed use of seismic air guns in the search for offshore oil and gas reserves along the U.S. East Coast could injure or kill nearly 140,000 marine animals
annually and disrupt the vital activities of other species,
Moira Brown/New England Aquarium
North Atlantic right whale
a new study says. The seismic testing, in which guns filled with compressed air are fired repeatedly over deep-sea target areas to provide energy companies an image of the deposits below, would threaten marine species of all sizes, from tiny fish eggs to large whales, according to an analysis by the conservation group Oceana
. The group said that the powerful air gun blasts, which it describes as “100,000 times more intense than a jet engine,” could disturb the breathing, feeding, and mating habits for dolphins and whales and cause injury or death to endangered species such as the North Atlantic right whale. The analysis comes as the U.S. Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management completes a study of the potential impacts of seismic activities from Delaware to Florida. Oil industry officials point to other research that shows seismic testing is unlikely to threaten marine mammals.
15 Apr 2013:
Renewable Energy Generated
70 % Of Portugal’s Electricity in Quarter
Portugal generated more than 70 percent of its electricity
from renewable sources of energy during the first quarter of 2013, a record amount fueled largely by hydroelectric and wind energy sources, according to a report from the country’s grid operator. Hydroelectric generation provided 37 percent of the nation’s electricity from January to March, a 312-percent increase compared to last year, while wind energy accounted for 27 percent, a 60-percent increase, Redes Energéticas Nacionais (REN) reported
. While favorable weather helped drive the record levels in wind and hydroelectric power, the results also reflect Portugal’s investment in renewable energy projects
— including wind farms, hydroelectric, solar and wave energy — and an improved electricity grid that allows green energy providers to connect into the system. Nearly 45 percent of the country’s electricity will come from green sources this year compared with just 17 percent five years ago, ThinkProgress reports.
09 Apr 2013:
Artificial Leaf’s ‘Self Healing’
Could Expand Its Practical Use Globally
The so-called “artificial leaf,” a solar cell being developed by MIT and Harvard scientists to produce low-cost electricity, is now capable of “self healing” the damage
that occurs during energy production, clearing
The artificial leaf
a hurdle to deploying the device in the developing world, the researchers say. When dipped into water, the leaf — which is actually a catalyst-coated wafer of silicon about the size of a playing card — is able to split water into its two components, hydrogen and oxygen, which can then be collected and used as fuel to power a fuel cell. “Surprisingly, some of the catalysts we’ve developed for use in the artificial leaf device actually heal themselves,” Daniel Nocera of Harvard, the leader of the research team, told a meeting of the American Chemical Society. While earlier versions of the device required pure water, the self-healing properties enable users to operate the leaf using impure, bacteria-contaminated water. According to the researchers, the leaf is now able to generate 100 watts of electricity 24 hours a day with just a quart of water.
08 Apr 2013:
Project to Test Promise of
Small, Vertical-Axis Wind Turbines
A wind farm being planned in a remote Alaska village will seek to demonstrate that small, vertical-axis turbines can produce more energy than conventional wind turbines and cause less environmental damage.
Vertical-axis wind turbines
While the turbines used in most standard wind farm projects can produce turbulence that actually decreases the output of the turbines downstream, John Dabiri, a California Institute of Technology professor, says that small, vertical-axis turbines can create a wake that actually boosts the output of adjacent turbines
if positioned strategically. In addition, the smaller turbines can be placed closer together without causing aerodynamic interference, are cheaper to produce, and are less likely to kill birds, Dabiri told MIT’s Technology Review
. Dabiri says he hopes his Alaska project, which could eventually include 70 turbines in the village of Igiugig, can generate as much energy as the diesel generators currently used by the community. Critics argue that the vertical-axis turbines aren’t as efficient as conventional turbines.
04 Apr 2013:
U.S. Company Shelves Solar
Thermal Plant as Utility Cancels Contract
U.S.-based BrightSource Energy has shelved its second major solar thermal project this year as the company and Pacific Gas and Electric terminated the utility’s contract to buy power generated by the plant in south-central California. In an email, a BrightSource spokesman said the $2.9 billion Hidden Hills project, which would have been built in Inyo County near the Nevada border, was suspended due to “uncertainty around the timing of transmission upgrades,” Bloomberg News reports
, although regulators' environmental concerns also seemed to play a role. Like another project canceled by BrightSource earlier this year, the 500-megawatt Hidden Hills
plant would have utilized thousands of mirrors reflecting sunlight onto central towers to produce steam. The California Energy Commission, which was reviewing the project, found last year that the solar installation would have “significant” environmental impacts
, suggesting that the use of photovoltaic solar panels would be “environmentally superior.” Officials at BrightSource, which recently completed a solar thermal plant in the Mojave desert, disputed that analysis.