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U.S. solar installations soared 76% in 2012

March 14, 2013 11:01 am | by JONATHAN FAHEY - AP Energy Writer - Associated Press | News | Comments

Solar panel installations in the U.S. grew 76 percent in 2012 as the cost of panels and the surrounding equipment continued to fall, according to an annual report by a solar trade group. The U.S. installed panels capable of producing 3,313 megawatts of peak electricity, up from 1,887 megawatts in 2011, the report said.

Researchers map out an alternative energy future for New York

March 12, 2013 2:39 pm | by Rob Jordan, Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment | News | Comments

Hydraulic fracturing may soon be approved for the state of New York. However, a new study finds that it is technically and economically feasible to convert New York's all-purpose energy infrastructure to one powered by wind, water, and sunlight. The authors say that overall switch would reduce New York's end-use power demand by about 37% and stabilize energy prices.

Nuclear chief: U.S. plants safer after Japan crisis

March 11, 2013 9:10 am | by Matthew Daly, Associated Press | News | Comments

Two years after the nuclear crisis in Japan, the top U.S. regulator says American nuclear power plants are safer than ever, though not trouble-free. A watchdog group calls that assessment overly rosy and has issued a scathing report saying nearly one in six U.S. nuclear reactors experienced safety breaches last year, due in part to weak oversight.

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Can seaweed be used as a building material?

March 8, 2013 10:22 am | News | Comments

For many coastal dwellers, seaweed washed up on the shore is nothing but a nuisance. But this raw material has proven itself capable of keeping buildings well insulated. Washed up on shore, it is generally regarded as a waste product and ends up as landfill. Together with industry partners, researchers in Germany have succeeded in turning it into insulation.

Agreement will lead to grid-friendly electric vehicle charging

March 7, 2013 3:16 pm | News | Comments

A technology that will allow widespread adoption of plug-in electric vehicles without negatively impacting the electrical grid is the subject of a commercial license agreement between Battelle and AeroVironment, Inc., of Monrovia, Calif. The technology may also ultimately result in lower costs for plug-in electric vehicle owners.

New Fischer-Tropsch catalyst invented in Amsterdam

March 5, 2013 9:38 am | News | Comments

The Fischer-Tropsch process is used for producing fuels from synthesis gas, which in turn is made from natural gas, biomass, or coal. Large reserves of shale or natural gas now changing the world energy market have raised interest in this technology, but prior reactors have been too bulky. Inspired by patents from the 1960s audio cassette recording industry, University of Amsterdam chemists have recently developed a new Fischer-Tropsch catalyst that is significantly cheaper and more scalable.

Improved synchronicity: Preventive care for the power grid

March 4, 2013 10:17 am | News | Comments

President Obama in this year's State of the Union address talked about the future of energy and mentioned "self-healing power grids"—a grid that is able to keep itself stable and self-recover even in severe weather. But as the national power-grid network becomes larger and more complex achieving reliability across the network is increasingly difficult. Scientists have now identified conditions and properties that power companies can consider using to keep power generators in the desired synchronized state and help make a self-healing power grid a reality.

Avoiding virus dangers in “domesticating” wild plants for biofuel use

February 15, 2013 11:36 am | News | Comments

According to Michigan State University plant biologist Carolyn Malmstrom, when we start combining the qualities of different types of plants into one, there can be unanticipated results. In the domestication of wild plants for bioenergy, for example, long-lived plants are being selected for fast growth like annuals. In contrast, perennial plants in nature grow slower, but are usually better equipped to fight off invading viruses. When wild-growing perennials do get infected they can serve as reservoirs for viruses.

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Nanoantenna array could be vast improvement over silicon

February 5, 2013 12:01 pm | by Colin Poitras, University of Connecticut | News | Comments

For years, scientists have studied the potential benefits of a new branch of solar energy technology that relies on incredibly small nanosized antenna arrays that are theoretically capable of harvesting more than 70% of the sun’s electromagnetic radiation and simultaneously converting it into usable electric power. A new fabrication technique developed by University of Connecticut engineering professor Brian Willis could provide the breakthrough for this technology.

Energy industry develops nontoxic fracking fluids

February 3, 2013 12:23 pm | by KEVIN BEGOS - Associated Press - Associated Press | News | Comments

The oil and gas industry is trying to ease environmental concerns by developing nontoxic fluids for the drilling process known as fracking, but it's not clear whether the new product will be widely embraced by drilling companies. Houston-based energy giant Halliburton Inc. has developed a product called CleanStim, which uses only food-industry ingredients. Other companies have developed nontoxic fluids as well.

License will lead to faster-charging batteries

January 31, 2013 7:58 am | News | Comments

An enhanced battery technology that can potentially reduce the time it takes to charge cell phones, electric vehicles, and other battery-powered devices from hours to minutes is the subject of a commercial license agreement between Battelle and Vorbeck Materials Corp. The agreement will allow Vorbeck to bring lithium batteries incorporating Vor-X graphene technology to market for use in consumer portable electronic and medical devices, tools, and electric vehicles.

Ethanol industry turns to plant residue, scraps

January 31, 2013 6:13 am | by DAVID PITT - Associated Press - Associated Press | News | Comments

After decades of talk, the ethanol industry is building multimillion dollar refineries in several states that will use corn plant residue, wood scraps and even garbage to produce the fuel additive. The breakthrough comes at a key time for the industry, after the drought heightened criticism about the vast amount of corn used to brew up ethanol rather than be transformed into animal feed or other foods.

Wind in the willows boosts biofuel production

January 21, 2013 9:43 am | News | Comments

A curious characteristic of willows is that when they are cultivated for green energy they can yield five times more biofuel if they grow diagonally, compared with those that grow naturally straight up. Scientists were previously unable to explain why some willows produced more biofuel than others, but researchers have now identified a genetic trait that causes this effect and is activated in some trees when they sense they are at an angle, such as where they are blown sideways in windy conditions.

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Doubling down on energy efficiency

January 18, 2013 11:15 am | by Allan Chen, Berkeley Lab | News | Comments

Recent research at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory finds utility customer-funded energy efficiency programs expanding across the United States. Spending on these programs, which are funded by mandatory charges on utility bills, will double to nearly $10 billion per year by 2025. Drivers for this growth include energy efficiency resource standards required of utilities.

PNNL recognized for transferring innovations to the marketplace

December 21, 2012 9:21 am | News | Comments

The Federal Laboratory Consortium announced this week that the Department of Energy national laboratory in Richland is receiving three 2013 Excellence in Technology Transfer awards in recognition for creating technologies or processes that can store large amounts of renewable energy until it's needed, fight cancer and detect explosives, and then moving the innovations to the marketplace.

Analysis of Marcellus flowback finds high levels of ancient brines

December 19, 2012 9:03 am | News | Comments

According to a recent study, brine water that flows back from gas wells in the Marcellus Shale region after hydraulic fracturing is many times more salty than seawater, with high contents of various elements, including radium and barium. The findings show that these elements, found in high levels in the late stages of hydraulic fracturing, come from the ancient brines rather than from salts dissolved by the water and chemicals used as part of the fracking process.

AVEtec plans proof-of-concept to extract energy from tornado

December 13, 2012 9:52 pm | News | Comments

The Thiel Foundation this week announced three new grants awarded through Breakout Labs, a revolving fund to promote innovation in science and technology. The most recent award takes the program into clean energy, with a bold new proposal from Canadian company AVEtec to harness the power of atmospheric vortexes.

Study: Wind, solar, and energy storage could power electric grid

December 11, 2012 9:49 am | by Teresa Messmore, University of Delaware | News | Comments

According to new research by the University of Delaware, renewable energy could fully power a large electric grid 99.9% of the time by 2030 at costs comparable to today’s electricity expenses. The study’s authors developed a computer model to consider 28 billion combinations of renewable energy sources and storage mechanisms, each tested over four years of historical hourly weather data and electricity demands.

Energy experts say drilling can be made cleaner

December 11, 2012 8:46 am | by Kevin Begos and Seth Borenstein, Associated Press | News | Comments

In the Colorado mountains, a spike in air pollution has been linked to a boom in oil and gas drilling. About 800 miles away on the plains of north Texas, there's a drilling boom, too, but some air pollution levels have declined. Opponents of drilling point to Colorado and say it's dangerous. Companies point to Texas and say drilling is safe.

Geoscientists cite need for basic research to unleash new energy sources

December 3, 2012 12:26 pm | News | Comments

Geological and environmental challenges facing developers of renewable energy and shale gas resources will be a dominant at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union this week in San Francisco. Experts on shale gas and hydraulic fracturing will be speaking about enhanced geothermal technology, which takes advantage of fracking techniques to access deep well thermal energy, delivered as steam.

Solar-powered storage could save crops

December 3, 2012 12:03 pm | by Judy Ashton, University of Cincinnati | News | Comments

Spoilage of harvests on their way to market is a major contribution to food shortages in India. A university-industry partnership has produced an innovative solar chiller container and distribution plan to change that. The SolerCool container and business venture has been developed as a solar generator that can store energy.

DOE, NASA demonstrate simple, robust fission reactor

November 27, 2012 11:18 am | News | Comments

A team of researchers have built a new type of nuclear reactor that is reliable enough to be used on space flights. The prototype, which has been used to generate 24 W of electricity, relies on heat pipe technology developed at Los Alamos National Laboratory in 1983. The fluid-based cooling system requires no moving parts and the reactor itself is based on a simply closed-loop Stirling engine.

New study shows saltwater algae viable for biofuels

November 26, 2012 5:32 pm | News | Comments

The Algae Biomass Organization, the trade association for the U.S. algae industry, this week hailed a  new University of California San Diego study showing saltwater algae is just as capable as freshwater algae in producing biofuels. The findings may mean that algae production will no longer be tied to constraints placed on the use of freshwater. They also suggest potential use of up to 10 million acres of land otherwise unsuitable for agriculture.

Nano insights could lead to improved nuclear reactors

November 16, 2012 11:41 am | by Kimm Fesenmaier, Caltech | News | Comments

In order to build the next generation of nuclear reactors, materials scientists are trying to unlock the secrets of certain materials that are radiation-damage tolerant. Now researchers at the California Institute of Technology have brought new understanding to one of those secrets—how the interfaces between two carefully selected metals can absorb, or heal, radiation damage.

Official backs studying quake risks at nuke plants

November 9, 2012 4:51 pm | by Ray Henry, Associated Press | News | Comments

In March, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission instructed power companies to re-evaluate the seismic and flooding hazards that their power plants face. Recent earthquakes in the eastern U.S., coupled with evidence of the results of the 2011 earthquake in Japan, have highlighted the importance of this effort in order to implement new design measures.

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