Business & Innovation
30 May 2014:
New Battery Technology
Could Offer Cheap Renewable Energy Storage
New battery technology that uses cheaper and safer materials to store large amounts of energy may soon enable utility companies to use more renewable power,
Iron-chromium flow battery technology
MIT Technology Review. The new device is a type of flow battery, and it uses liquid materials that rely on iron-chromium chemical reactions to store energy. California-based startup Enervault, developer of the new battery, figured out how to use materials that had been tried in batteries decades ago; Enervault overcame a key technical challenge that had caused the earlier batteries to quickly degrade. The new battery is large — it can store one megawatt-hour of electricity, or enough to run 10,000 100-watt light bulbs for an hour — and the materials last more than 20 years, according to its developer. Although the battery is inefficient compared to conventional batteries — it loses 30 percent of the energy used to charge it — it is still economically viable, the company says. The iron-chromium flow battery costs 80 percent less than vanadium flow batteries, a competing technology. The batteries are currently in use at a small power plant near Modesto, California.
29 May 2014:
Electric Airplane Debut
Offers Hopes for Cutting Emissions
The aircraft manufacturing giant Airbus recently unveiled
a fully-electric aircraft which, if widely adopted, could reduce the aerospace industry's carbon
The recently debuted, fully-electric E-Fan
dioxide emissions by an order of magnitude. The E-Fan aircraft has two, 30-kilowatt electric motors powered by a series of lithium-ion batteries in the wings of the plane, as well as a 6-kilowatt electric motor in the wheel to provide extra power during takeoff and taxiing. Despite incorporating highly energy-efficient and aerodynamic design elements, however, the E-Fan has only a one-hour range and cannot leave the vicinity of the airport. Airbus says that future designs will rely on electric-hybrid engine technology and that by 2050 such airplanes should be able to accommodate 70 to 80 passengers on a three-hour flight. The plans were spurred, in part, by the European Union's Flight Path 2050
, which aims to reduce the aviation sector's nitrous oxide emissions by 90 percent, noise pollution by 65 percent, and carbon dioxide emissions by 75 percent by 2050. "It's a very different way of flying," said Jean Botti, a technology officer at Airbus Group, "absolutely no noise, no emissions."
21 May 2014:
Trash-scooping Water Wheel
Cleans up Garbage From Baltimore Harbor
A new contraption
in a Baltimore river is helping to clear trash and debris — up to 50,000 pounds of it each day — from the city's Inner Harbor. The 50-foot-long
"water wheel" gathers garbage floating in the Jones Falls River, which runs through the city to the Baltimore Inner Harbor, and deposits it in a large dumpster so the trash can be hauled away. Two large booms funnel debris toward a conveyor belt powered by the wheel, which itself is powered primarily by the flowing river. When the flow isn't strong enough to turn the wheel, water pumps, run by solar panels lining a canopy over the wheel, turn on and push water up to spin the wheel. The water wheel was designed to handle the heavy debris and larger pieces of trash that the river often carries, said its designer, Baltimore-based Clearwater Mills. It began operating earlier this month and cost $750,000, with $500,000 of that contributed by the Maryland Port Administration, Co.Exist reports.
12 May 2014:
Global Renewable Energy Jobs
Grew by 14 Percent in 2013, Report Says
Renewable energy jobs grew by 14 percent to 6.5 million employees worldwide last year, led by the solar panel industry, according to a new report
from the International Renewable Energy Agency. Employing a
total of 2.6 million workers in renewable energy jobs, China led in hiring last year, followed by Brazil and the United States. The solar industry — spurred by increasing photovoltaic panel installations in Asia and falling prices — employed 2.27 million workers at the end of 2013, largely concentrated in China, the report said. The biofuel industry, with 1.45 million employees, and wind energy, with 830,000, were the second- and third-largest employers. Although policy changes in several countries have reduced wind energy installation jobs, operations and maintenance positions have experienced some growth, according to the report.
07 May 2014:
Stanford Drops Coal Stocks
From Its $18.7 Billion Endowment Portfolio
Stanford has become the first major U.S. university to divest its shares in coal-mining companies from its endowment funds, lending support to a growing nationwide movement calling for universities and
Fossil Free Stanford
pension funds to drop investments in fossil fuel companies. Citing guidelines that allow trustees to weigh whether “corporate policies or practices create substantial social injury” when choosing investments for the university's $18.7 billion endowment, the board decided, after five months of deliberation, to purge stakes in up to 100 companies worldwide that derive profits primarily from coal mining. A Stanford spokeswoman said that coal companies constitute a small fraction
of the university's total endowment investments, “but a small percentage is still a substantial amount of money." Board members said their decision was made partly because coal is the most carbon-intensive of any major fossil fuel and that less carbon-intensive energy sources are available.
29 Apr 2014:
Exxon Mobil Arctic Project
Possibly At Risk Over Russia Sanctions
Exxon Mobil's development of a Russian Arctic oil project valued at nearly $900 billion is at risk following recent U.S. sanctions on Russian officials as a result of Ukraine's ongoing political crisis, Bloomberg News reports
. Exxon Mobil has partnered with the Russian state-controlled oil company OAO Rosneft to drill an oil-rich geological structure known as Universitetskaya, which contains an estimated 9 billion barrels of oil, valued at $900 billion at current market prices. Rosneft's CEO, Igor Sechin, a longtime member of Russian President Vladimir Putin's inner circle, was sanctioned by the U.S. yesterday, exposing the partnership with Exxon Mobil to additional scrutiny. Exxon Mobil and Rosneft are set to invest an estimated $600 million in drilling at the site in the Kara Sea, which would make the project Exxon's most expensive to-date. A U.S. Treasury official said yesterday that U.S. companies can still do business with Rosneft, but some analysts say Russian companies could become wary of working with Western corporations in the future. Exxon said last week that the project is on schedule.
28 Apr 2014:
Economic Viability of Nuclear
Power Under Threat, Energy Group Says
Nuclear reactors in the U.S. need a boost — either through carbon taxes or regulations forcing coal-fired plants to slash emissions — or economic factors will force many to close, according to a report
from a non-profit group. Nuclear power — currently the only major zero-carbon, around-the-clock baseload power source — supplies 19 percent of U.S. electricity and is key to meeting President Obama's pledge to reduce emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, according to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. The economic viability of the 100 nuclear reactors in the U.S. is worsening, the report says, because of the abundance of cheap natural gas and rising wind energy production. A carbon tax or some form of carbon trading — for instance, requiring coal-fired plants to purchase and blend their electricity output with nuclear power — will be essential to keeping nuclear plants from closing before the end of their lifespans, the report contends. Four power companies recently announced the early retirement of five nuclear reactors, which constitute more than 4 percent of U.S. nuclear capacity, the group says.
22 Apr 2014:
Run-of-River Hydropower Set
For Big Gains, Turbine Maker Predicts
A type of hydroelectric technology known as "run-of-river" hydropower is set to grow 10-fold over the next decade
, potentially becoming a $1.4 billion industry,
Hugh Keenleyside Dam
according to Dutch turbine maker Tocardo International BV. Run-of-river hydropower stations redirect part of a waterway through a diversion to spin turbines and generate electricity. Run-of-river is considered a more benign type of hydropower than large dam projects because it is a smaller-scale technology that doesn't create large upstream reservoirs that flood ecosystems and disrupt a river's natural flow. Some conservation groups are concerned
that problems with migratory fish passage and other environmental issues could outweigh the power-generating potential of run-of-river hydro projects. The company implemented its first project to harness tidal streams at Den Oever, Holland, and it has been operating for five years.
10 Apr 2014:
Mapping Program Helps
Cities See Money Saved by Planting Trees
New open-source software is helping cities better understand the benefits trees provide by calculating the value of the trees' ecosystem services, such as air quality improvements and CO2 storage. More than a dozen
cities have undertaken tree inventory initiatives, thanks to the OpenTreeMap software
, and residents have helped map more than 1.1 million trees worldwide. In addition to plotting a tree's location, users record its size, species, and other parameters that allow the software to calculate the tree's ecological value in terms of dollars saved through such benefits as cleaner air. San Diego's more than 340,000 mapped trees
, for example, are estimated to provide the city more than $7 million in benefits each year, including $4 million in air quality benefits and $2 million in reduced energy costs. In the coming months, the software will allow city managers to decide where to plant trees for maximum environmental benefit.
04 Apr 2014:
Solar Panels Could Beam Power
From Space Down to Earth, U.S. Navy Says
Researchers from the U.S. military are developing technology that would harvest solar energy in space and beam it down to Earth, according to
the Naval Research Laboratory. Although the concept seems futuristic, the
Navy is currently testing two prototype designs, both of which combine solar panels with electronic components that convert the energy to radio waves and transmit it to Earth. Eventually, engineers plan to use robotic vehicles to transport the panels to space and assemble them into a 1-kilometer wide satellite orbiting the planet. Theoretically, harvesting solar energy in space is more efficient than on Earth, because panels can collect sunlight around the clock and regardless of weather conditions. The U.S. military, currently the world's largest oil consumer, is eager to develop the technology to save money on fuel and simplify military deployments. But the private sector also has plans for the technology: California utility company Pacific Gas & Electric plans to buy space solar power by 2016.
Comment: e360 Point/Counterpoint Debate
On University Fossil Fuel Divestment
Scientists Charles H. Greene, of Cornell University, and Daniel M. Kammen, of the University of California, Berkeley, offer commentary on the recent Yale Environment 360 Point
articles on the
Student protest at Tufts University last spring
issue of whether universities should take a stand against climate change by divesting from companies that produce oil, natural gas, or coal. Greene and Kammen make the case that the movement to divest is gaining ground on U.S. campuses and will eventually succeed because fossil fuels are increasingly seen as a potentially risky investment. "We predict that divestment at the nation’s colleges and universities will occur much more rapidly than anybody imagined at the start of the campaign just over a year ago," they write. Read their comment.
27 Mar 2014:
Wind Turbine in a Blimp
Can Bring Power to Remote Locations
A Massachusetts company will soon deploy a portable wind energy system using a conventional turbine blade inside a cylindrical blimp that floats about 1,000 feet above the ground
, drawing on the stronger winds at
. The Buoyant Airborne Turbine (BAT), developed by Altaeros
, is designed to be used in off-the-grid locations where importing diesel fuel or other energy is expensive. The company recently announced a $1.3 million demonstration project in Alaska that will supply power to about a dozen homes. Altaeros says it is also working on deals to install projects in remote locations in Canada and Australia. The BAT, made of industrial fabric, sends power back via high-strength tethers that hold it to the ground. Altaeros is one of several companies developing wind turbines that hover above the earth or fly, including Makani
, which has invented a turbine that looks like a flying wing. Makani was acquired last year by Google X.
25 Mar 2014:
Consumer Products Giants
Commit to Deforestation-Free Palm Oil
Two major consumer products companies — General Mills and Colgate-Palmolive — have committed
to using palm oil in their products that does not come from lands cleared from tropical forests, adding to the wave
of corporations that have pledged measures to protect southeast Asian rainforests. The consumer giants' new policies go beyond standards set by the industry's main certification body and include provisions to protect wildlife-rich rainforests, carbon-dense peatlands, and the rights of local communities. Environmental groups are welcoming the commitments, though some believe the companies' pledges should go further. The Union of Concerned Scientists questions General Mills' definition of "high carbon stock" forests, while Greenpeace is urging Colgate-Palmolive to move implementation up to 2015 from 2020. Environmental groups are hopeful that new commitments will pressure Proctor & Gamble, the last remaining consumer products giant without a similar pledge, to adopt deforestation-free palm oil policies.
24 Mar 2014:
Ride-Sharing Could Cut Taxi
Trips by 40 Percent in NYC, Analysis Shows
New interactive maps from MIT analyze the potential environmental and economic savings of ride-sharing in dense urban areas — in particular, the benefits of sharing taxicabs in New York City. The project, called
, uses data from 170 million trips made by New York City's 13,500 taxis in 2011. High-resolution GPS coordinates and timestamps for each trip allowed researchers to pinpoint locations in the city that are high-traffic hubs for taxi pick-ups and drop-offs, as well as calculate fare savings, decreases in total miles traveled, and cuts in CO2 emissions if ride-sharing existed. The researchers found that taxi-sharing could reduce the number of trips by 40 percent with only minimal inconvenience to the passengers. The findings highlight the potential benefits of ride-sharing in New York and other cities, including lower vehicle emissions, reduced congestion, and savings in time and money.
21 Mar 2014:
Koch Brothers Biggest Lease
Holders in Alberta Tar Sands, Report Finds
The largest lease holder in Canada's oil sands is a subsidiary of Koch Industries
, the conglomerate that is the source of the fortune owned by the controversial conservative political donors, Charles and David Koch. The Koch's holdings in the tar sands were disclosed by an activist group
that analyzed mineral records of the Alberta government. The Koch subsidiary holds leases on at least 1.1 million acres in the northern Alberta oil sands, which span roughly 35 million acres; other industry experts estimate the total Koch holdings could be closer to 2 million acres. That puts Koch Industries ahead of energy heavyweights Royal Dutch Shell and Conoco Phillips, both of which lease significant acreage in the oil sands. The findings are likely to inflame the debate surrounding the proposed Keystone XL pipeline — which would transport tar sands oil to refineries in Texas — although the Koch's company has not reserved space in the pipeline. Activists argue that the Kochs do have a stake in the outcome of the Keystone XL battle because the pipeline would drive down crude oil transportation costs, benefiting all lease holders.
13 Mar 2014:
Solar City Partnering With
Best Buy to Sell Residential Solar Leases
Solar City, a company that installs and leases solar panels to homeowners, is partnering
with big-box electronics seller Best Buy in hopes of boosting solar sales in California, Arizona, Hawaii, Oregon, and New
A Solar City residential installation in Hawaii
York. Solar City will station salespeople in 60 stores throughout those states to pitch the benefits of their 20-year solar contracts directly to consumers, and Best Buy will take a cut of the sales. Based on a homeowner's utility company and monthly electric bill, Solar City representatives will be able to quickly give potential customers an estimate of the costs and savings associated with a solar lease. Leasing enables a homeowner to avoid the large upfront costs associated with purchasing and installing solar panels by spreading those investments over a 20-year lease and locking in a set rate for electricity generated by the panels. Residential solar installations have accelerated in recent years due largely to the popularity of leasing programs, with 2013 showing the fastest growth ever.
11 Mar 2014:
'Space Frame' Wind Tower
Allows Turbines to Be Built in Remote Places
New wind power technology could bring turbines to hard-to-reach locations, according to engineers from General Electric
. The company has developed a new
type of wind tower, dubbed the "Space Frame Tower," consisting of metal latticework wrapped in weather-resistant fiberglass. Unlike conventional steel tube wind towers, the latticework can be bolted together on-site, which means the tower's framework can be transported using standard shipping containers and trucks, allowing taller wind towers to be installed in locations previously inaccessible to the longer trucks needed to transport conventional towers. The Space Frame Tower also has a five-leg base that's wider than conventional towers, increasing stability and ultimately allowing it to reach heights up to 450 feet — an advantage at sites where higher turbines can reach stronger winds. A 318-foot tall prototype is up and running in Tehachapi, California, with a 2.75 megawatt turbine nearly 400 feet wide.
10 Mar 2014:
Arsenic Remediation Project
Will Begin Decontaminating Water in India
New technology that removes arsenic from drinking water is set to be deployed on a large scale in India, according to
researchers from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and an India-based water technology company. The device removes arsenic by passing electricity through steel plates submerged in a water reservoir. The electric current causes the plates to rust more quickly than they would under normal conditions, and the rust chemically binds to arsenic in the water and sinks to the bottom of the reservoir. The precipitated sludge can be removed from the tank, rendering the water safe to drink. Notoriously high levels of arsenic, a tasteless and odorless contaminant, naturally occur in groundwater sources in India, Bangladesh, and even California's Central Valley. Long-term exposure can cause cancer and severe damage to organs. A commercial plant is set to begin operations in West Bengal, India, this year and researchers estimate the drinking water can be sold for as little as eight cents per gallon.
07 Mar 2014:
U.S. Car-Sharing Programs Have
Taken 500,000 Cars off Roads, Report Says
The rapid growth of car-sharing programs has cut the number of vehicles on U.S. roads by more than half a million, according to new research
by AlixPartners, a consultancy group with clients in the automotive industry. The trend will continue beyond 2020, the group projects, at which point 4 million people will be participating in car-sharing programs and 1.2 million fewer cars will be on the road. Of the 10 cities surveyed, residents of Boston, home of the Zipcar company, were most aware of car-sharing programs. Young people and, surprisingly, households with children were least likely to own their own cars, the survey said. Roughly half of the people who had tried car-sharing had already decided not to purchase or lease their own car, and did not plan to do so in the future. Rather than environmental concerns, nearly 60 percent of interviewees said cost and convenience led them to participate in car-sharing.
04 Mar 2014:
Atlanta Leads U.S. in
Electric Vehicle Sales Growth
Atlanta is the fastest growing market for electric cars in the U.S., according to an analysis
by the electric vehicle charging network ChargePoint. Electric vehicle (EV) sales in Atlanta jumped by 52 percent from the third quarter to the fourth quarter of 2013, with more than
3,000 EVs sold in the final three months of the year, according to state motor vehicle records. Washington, D.C., was the second-fastest growing market, with a 21 percent increase in sales, and Portland, Oregon, had the third-fastest growth, at 19.4 percent. While Los Angeles added the most EVs — more than 5,000 — to its streets, for a 19 percent growth rate, Atlanta outpaced it on a per capita and percent growth basis. Nationally, EV sales grew by nearly 450 percent
in the first three quarters of 2013 compared to the same period in 2012. ChargePoint's CEO speculated that popularity is increasing because charging station networks have expanded and EV designs have improved. "We’re well on our way to having twice the number of EVs on the road by the end of 2014," he said.
26 Feb 2014:
Large Offshore Wind Farms
Could Soften Blow of Hurricanes, Study Says
Offshore wind farms with thousands of wind turbines could have sapped much of the power of hurricanes Sandy, Katrina, and Isaac, significantly slowing their wind speeds, decreasing their accompanying storm surges, and possibly preventing billions of dollars in damages, according to a new study
. Computer models
used in the study said that deploying tens of thousands of offshore wind turbines could absorb enough energy from a hurricane to reduce peak wind speeds by 56 to 92 mph and storm surges by 6 to 79 percent. "We found that when wind turbines are present, they slow down the outer rotation winds of a hurricane," said Stanford engineer Mark Jacobson, who led the research. "This feeds back to decrease wave height ... which in turn slows the winds of the entire hurricane and dissipates it faster." For Hurricane Katrina, a massive turbine array could have slowed wind speeds by 58 percent and storm surge by 79 percent, and for Sandy wind speeds could have been cut by 14 percent and storm surge by 34 percent, according to findings published in Nature Climate Change
24 Feb 2014:
Maps Show Extent of
Oil and Gas Drilling in Southwest Wyoming
Oil and gas wells, including those involved in hydraulic fracturing operations, scar a major portion of southwest Wyoming, according to a recent analysis by the U.S. Geological Survey
. Nearly 17,000 well pads and former
drilling areas associated with oil and natural gas production were identified in satellite images across a 30,000-square-mile region. The maps include well scars dating from around 1900, when oil drilling started in the region, up to 2009, at which point natural gas extraction far outweighed oil production. Since then, production has only intensified in Wyoming, a leading state in the U.S.'s unconventional oil and gas boom. The mapping effort, a first step in determining how oil and gas drilling operations impact wildlife and ecosystems, focused on southwestern Wyoming because it not only has some of the nation's largest natural gas reserves, but also because the region has high-quality wildlife habitat and encompasses a major portion of the country's remaining intact sagebrush steppe.
21 Feb 2014:
Rewritable Paper and Water Ink
Could Cut Paper Waste, Scientists Report
A new type of rewritable paper that uses water as ink could slash the amount of paper that's wasted daily, researchers say
. The paper contains hydrochromic dyes — chemicals that change color when wet — and a single
page can be reused dozens of times, the scientists report in Nature Communications
. Other types of rewritable papers have been developed, but they are all more expensive and energy-intensive to produce, and some versions use inks that pose environmental and safety hazards. The new system costs less than 1 percent of standard inkjet printing, the researchers estimate, primarily because ink cartridges are expensive. The researchers found they could refill cartridges with water and use them, along with the rewritable paper, in typical desktop printers. Print on the rewritable paper is only visible for about 22 hours, or as long as it takes the paper to dry completely. The scientists note that, while 90 percent of business information is retained on paper, most printed documents are read only once before being discarded.
12 Feb 2014:
Despite Costs, Most Americans
Want Action on Climate Change, Report Finds
A large majority of Americans — 83 percent — say the U.S. should make an effort to reduce global warming, even if those efforts have economic costs, according to a new report
from the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. As many as 56 percent of Americans would be willing to pay an extra $100 each year if their power company would generate 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources. Corporations and industry should be doing more to stave off climate change, according to 65 percent of people interviewed in a national survey, and 61 percent believe individual citizens should also be taking a more active role. Many of the survey's findings are similar across Democratic and Republican party lines. Tax rebates for energy-efficient vehicles and solar panels are popular among people aligned with both parties, for example, as well as funding renewable energy research and regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant. And people from both parties are generally supportive of ending all fossil fuel subsidies, although Democrats (67 percent) are more supportive of that policy than Republicans (52 percent).
31 Jan 2014:
U.S. State Department Report
Boosts Prospects of Keystone XL Pipeline
In a long-awaited report, the U.S. State Department has concluded that the carbon-heavy oil from Alberta's tar sands will be extracted whether or not the Keystone XL pipeline is built, improving the prospects
that the highly controversial project will be built. In an environmental impact statement
that was six years in the making, the State Department concludes that the process of extracting and burning tar sands oil creates 17 percent more greenhouse gases than traditional oil, but that the heavily polluting oil will be brought to market with or without the pipeline. "It's unlikely for one pipeline to change the overall development of the oil sands," said a State Department official. If completed, the pipeline would carry 830,000 barrels of oil a day from Alberta to refineries on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. President Obama will make the final decision on the Keystone XL pipeline and he vowed last year that he would approve the pipeline only if it would not "significantly exacerbate" the problem of carbon emissions. Environmental activists such as Bill McKibben of 350.org have said it would be "game over" for the climate if Keystone XL is built.
29 Jan 2014:
Driven by State Incentives
Electric Cars Top Vehicle Sales in Norway
Norwegians have been snapping up electric cars: In the last three months of 2013, the Tesla Model S and Nissan Leaf outsold all other cars, including conventionally fueled models. But rather than environmental concerns,
An EV charges up in Oslo
a host of government incentives — totaling an estimated $8,300 per vehicle — are largely driving the boom, the Guardian reports
. Norway, a country of only 5 million people, currently has around 21,000 electric vehicles (EVs) on the roads, compared to 70,000 EVs among 313 million Americans and 5,000 EVs among 63 million people in the UK. More than 1,200 EVs are being sold in Norway per month thanks to incentives that include free electricity for recharging, lower sales tax rates, waived tolls, free parking, insurance discounts, and permission to drive in bus lanes, which are less crowded. The EV rush is expected to slow, however, as bus lanes become more crowded, and the government plans to end financial incentives once 50,000 EVs are registered, which could occur by 2016.
Interview: How Citizen Science Is
Aiding and Democratizing Research
When biologist Caren Cooper
carries out her avian studies, she’s aided by thousands of assistants, none of whom are paid for their work. That’s because Cooper, a research associate at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology
, relies on the help of so-called citizen scientists, volunteers from across the country who contribute data
to her research projects. These lay people provide information that enables her and other scientists to study bird life in ways that would otherwise be impossible. But, as Cooper notes in an interview with Yale Environment 360
, the uses of citizen science go well beyond bird research. Bushmen in the Kalahari are using apps to document wildlife and natural resources that need to be protected. Environmental activists also are employing open-source technology to measure and monitor pollution, including the deployment of kites and balloons to document such events as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. “A lot of the ways for us to move forward in certain fields require massive collaboration,” says Cooper. “And so we’re building all the infrastructure for these collaborations, all of the web tools — whatever we need to make that happen.”
Read the interview.
27 Jan 2014:
Changes in Humidity
Are Used to Generate Electricity
Researchers have created a new kind of generator that uses bacterial spores to harness the untapped power of evaporating water
. Scientists from Harvard and Columbia universities have created small, prototype generators by coating a sheet of rubber with a soil
Bacillus subtilis bacterial spores
bacterium, Bacillus subtilis
, that greatly expands and contracts with changes in humidity. Building a generator out of Legos, a miniature fan, a magnet, and the spore-covered sheet of latex, the researchers used the humidity-driven flexing of the rubber sheet to drive the movement of the magnet, which generated electricity. The developers of the potential renewable energy technology said that large electrical generators could one day be powered by changes in humidity from sun-warmed ponds and harbors. The scientists said that moistening and then drying a pound of the spores produces enough force to lift a car one meter. “If this technology is developed fully, it has a very promising endgame,” said Columbia University researcher Ozgur Sahin.
16 Jan 2014:
Pebble Mine Would Endanger
Alaska's Bristol Bay, Major EPA Study Finds
A three-year study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has determined that mining in Alaska's Bristol Bay area would pose significant dangers to the environment
, a potentially fatal setback for plans
Mulchatna River, part of Bristol Bay watershed
to develop Pebble Mine, a major open-pit mining project that aimed to exploit one of the largest and richest mineral deposits in the world. The EPA study cited concerns for the region's thriving sockeye salmon population
and its native people, saying the mine would destroy 24 to 94 miles of salmon streams and 1,300 to 5,350 acres of wetlands, ponds, and lakes. Pebble Mine proponents, including Alaska Governor Sean Parnell, criticize the study as flawed and rushed, since the development company wasn't allowed to submit its mining plan before the EPA study. Native groups, fishermen, and environmental organizations are applauding the study. The proposed mine — which seeks to exploit gold, copper, and other metals — was already in trouble, with one of two major partners withdrawing from the project last year.
14 Jan 2014:
Google's Acquisition of Nest
Expected to Boost Smart Grid Expansion
Google's purchase of Nest, a leading manufacturer of smart thermostats, further deepens the Internet search giant's involvement in the green energy sector and is likely to help accelerate development of a more efficient
smart grid, experts say
. Google has already invested $300 million in distributed solar companies, which have been helping homeowners install photovoltaic panels to offset their conventional grid-based power consumption. The success of distributed solar hinges on effective smart-metering, and acquiring Nest — whose thermostats can be controlled remotely and can track and reduce energy consumption — could help Google gain valuable insight into millions of individuals' daily power consumption patterns, Quartz reports. As power grids and meters get "smarter," demand for technology like Nest's thermostats will likely grow; incorporating distributed solar energy sources should become easier for households, as well. The $3.2 billion deal will also give Google access to Nest Energy Services, a branch of the company that manages partnerships between Nest and U.S. power companies.