Sep 25, 2009 | 25
The U.S. Secretary of Energy—channeling former Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev perhaps?—has one thing to say in this week's Science to the greenhouse gases emitted by coal-fired power plants: We will bury you. Nobel laureate Steven Chu's department has funneled $3.4 billion in stimulus dollars to research and develop the technology known as carbon capture and storage (CCS).
But to give you a sense of the challenge, here are his estimates of the scale of the challenge: six billion metric tons of coal burned every year, producing 18 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide and requiring an underground storage volume of 30,000 cubic kilometers per year with untold consequences on subsurface pressure, mineral composition and the like. And we are nowhere near that scale: "We now sequester a few million metric tons of CO2 per year," he wrote, largely from cleaning natural gas or so-called "enhanced oil recovery" efforts, in which CO2 is pumped down to flush out more of the valuable petroleum (and therefore not as useful, from a climate perspective, as sequestration for its own sake).
Sep 23, 2009 | 73
Population growth, now at roughly 78 million extra people per year, is the don't-go-there zone of modern environmentalism and political discourse.
But let's go there for the moment: The biodiversity crisis. The water crisis. The climate crisis. Lurking behind all these crises is at least one shared factor: human population. Species extinction? Think land clearing for agriculture to feed a growing population of 6.8 billion people. Water? The majority of water goes directly to growing that same food supply. And giving a helping hand to all these other crises as a result of all the fossil fuel burning needed to power our lives and lift billions out of poverty: anthropogenic climate change.
Sep 22, 2009 | 16
President Obama gave his first major speech on climate change today at the United Nations, part of a special session convened by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. The reason for the session? Lack of speed in international negotiations to address climate change.
You can see the president's speech here:
In addition to reaffirming the U.S. commitment to addressing climate change, the president listed some recent accomplishments: new efficiency standards for all vehicles, billions of dollars for renewable energy development, and the nation's first mandatory greenhouse gas reporting system. He even noted a plan to work with the world's other largest economies, known as the G20, to "phase out fossil-fuel subsidies so that we can better address our climate challenge."
Sep 18, 2009 | 26
You really can drive across the country on algae--and a 700-pound battery pack--or so proved the crew behind the documentary Fuel . Embarking on September 8 and pulling into New York City today, just in time for the film's premiere, the Algaeus covered 3,750 miles.
"It got 147 miles per gallon in the city," says Fuel director Josh Tickell of the converted to plug-in Prius hybrid that he drove on a mix of battery power and algae fuel blended with conventional gasoline. The Algaeus did less well on the highway: 52 mpg, because of the lack of regenerative braking that recharges the battery, among other things.
Sep 18, 2009 | 31
At least some members of the Obama administration plan to call for an end to fossil-fuel subsidies as part of next week's G20 economic leaders summit, citing positive impacts ranging from improved energy security to combating climate change. But how much does the U.S. government pay? Well, according to a new analysis from the Environmental Law Institute released today, roughly $72 billion between 2002 and 2008.
More than $54 billion of that was in the form of 23 different tax credits for oil, coal and natural gas producers, including those overseas, most of which are permanent provisions of the U.S. Tax Code. Just $18.3 billion was grants and other direct cash for research and development and other pursuits, such as the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
Sep 14, 2009 | 8
Norman Borlaug went from a small farm in Iowa to feeding half the world, thanks to a lifelong interest in tinkering with the genetic design of wheat. He passed away on September 12 from cancer at the ripe age of 95 and the question remains: Is the Green Revolution dead, too?
In 1944 Borlaug, trained as a plant pathologist, left the U.S. for Mexico to fight stem rust, a fungus that infects wheat, at the invitation of the Rockefeller Foundation, among others. He and his colleagues spent the next decade crossing thousands of strains of wheat from across the globe, ultimately developing a high-yielding, disease resistant variety. Unfortunately, it couldn't stand, heavy with grain.
So Borlaug crossed it again with Japanese dwarf wheat to produce a so-called semidwarf wheat, both shorter (and therefore not prone to tipping over with all that extra grain at the tip) as well as disease-resistant and amenable to fertilization. Where the variety was planted, yields soared.
Sep 11, 2009 | 23
How do you make a movie about changes to the ocean's chemistry? See here:
Sven Huseby and wife Barbara Ettinger have made a new documentary about ocean acidification, the other offspring (along with global warming) of the rising concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere (and the one that can't be covered up with a good batch of geoengineering.) As a staffer at the marine environmental group Oceana once told me: "If the ocean goes, we're all toast."
Sep 7, 2009 | 6
There appears to be literally nothing microbes cannot do. From the invention of photosynthesis to lifecycles that require no sunlight—even surviving extreme radiation—the most extreme microbes thrive almost everywhere scientists look. And now microbiologists have added two more energy-related tricks to the microbial arsenal.
At the European Society for General Microbiology meeting this week, Richard Johnson and his fellow scientists from the University of Essex will present research showing that a mixed ecosystem of particular bacteria can survive—and clean up—one of the most lethal man-made environments: the residue from extracting petroleum from oil sands.
Sep 3, 2009 | 65
The Burger King on U.S. Highway 22 in Hillside, N.J., looks no different from any other franchise in the state. Customers pull in and out all day, and at least 100,000 cars visit the drive-thru each year. And now a newly installed, mechanized speed bump (video) will both help them slow down and harvest some of that coasting energy.
"We use the weight of a car to throw a lever," explains Gerard Lynch, the engineer behind the MotionPower system developed for New Energy Technologies, a Maryland-based company. "The instantaneous power is 2,000 watts at five miles-per-hour, but it's instantaneous [which means some form of storage will be required.] The real key is how do I get a million cars to do that for me."
Sep 2, 2009 | 91
The Japanese government is prepared to spend some 2 trillion yen on a one-gigawatt orbiting solar power station—and this week Mitsubishi and other Japanese companies have signed on to boost the effort. Boasting some four kilometers of solar panels—maybe of the superefficient Spectrolab variety but more likely domestically sourced from Mitsubishi or Sharp—the space solar power station would orbit some 36,000 kilometers above Earth and transmit power via microwave or laser beam.
The benefit? Constant solar energy production as the space-based power plant never passes out of sunlight. The downsides? Only enough power for roughly 300,000 Japanese homes at a price tag of $21 billion, according to Japan's science ministry (about 127 million people live in Japan in some 47 million households, according to Wikipedia and the CIA's World Factbook). The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) aims to have a system in space by 2030.
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The Dow Chemical Company is the leading producer of polyalkylene glycols (PAGs) used in synthetic fluids and lubricants where petroleum,
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