Carbon dioxideAfter remaining steady for three years, global fossil fuel emissions are rising again and may increase again next year. But improved energy efficiency and a booming renewables market may offer a bit of a silver lining.

“This year’s result is discouraging, but I remain hopeful,” says Rob Jackson, professor at the School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences at Stanford University and chair of the Global Carbon Project, which released a series of reports in Environmental Research Letters.

“In the US, cities, states, and companies have seized leadership on energy efficiency and low-carbon renewables that the federal government has abdicated.”

The report appears with data published simultaneously in an Earth System Science Data Discussions paper led by Corinne Le Quéré of the University of East Anglia, who is also part of the Global Carbon Project.

Together, they forecast that global fossil fuel emissions will reach a record 37 billion tons of carbon dioxide in 2017, with total emissions reaching a record 41 billion tons, including deforestation. Atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration reached 403 parts per million in 2016, and is expected to increase by 2.5 parts per million in 2017.

(more…)

GridEngineers have developed a 4-in-1 smart utilities plant that produces electricity, water, air-conditioning, and heat in an environmentally friendly and cost-effective way.

The eco-friendly system harvests waste energy and is suitable for building clusters and underground cities, especially those in the tropics.

“Currently, significant amount of energy is required for the generation of electricity, water, air-conditioning, and heat. Running four independent processes also result in extensive energy wastage, and such systems take up a huge floor area,” says Ernest Chua, associate professor in the mechanical engineering department at National University of Singapore Faculty of Engineering.

“With our smart plant, these processes are carefully integrated together such that waste energy can be harvested for useful output. Overall, this novel approach could cut energy usage by 25 to 30 percent and the 4-in-1 plant is also less bulky.

“Users can also enjoy cheaper and a more resilient supply of utilities.”

(more…)

By: Gunnar W. Schade, Texas A&M University

FrackingUrban air pollution in the U.S. has been decreasing near continuously since the 1970s.

Federal regulations, notably the Clean Air Act passed by President Nixon, to reduce toxic air pollutants such as benzene, a hydrocarbon, and ozone, a strong oxidant, effectively lowered their abundance in ambient air with steady progress.

But about 10 years ago, the picture on air pollutants in the U.S. started to change. The “fracking boom” in several different parts of the nation led to a new source of hydrocarbons to the atmosphere, affecting abundances of both toxic benzene and ozone, including in areas that were not previously affected much by such air pollution.

As a result, in recent years there has been a spike of research to determine what the extent of emissions are from fracked oil and gas wells – called “unconventional” sources in the industry. While much discussion has surrounded methane emissions, a greenhouse gas, less attention has been paid to air toxics.

(more…)

Transitioning to 100% Renewable

On the latest episode of the Science Vs podcast, host Wendy Zukerman takes a look at renewable energy in the United States. Through research and interviews with scientists across the board, Zukerman poses the ultimate question: Can the U.S. go 100 percent renewable by 2050?

Listen to Mark Delucchi, Christopher Clack, and David Connolly as they navigate the renewable energy debate and discuss the role of renewables.

PS: Want more science podcasts? Check out the nearly 70 epiosdes of the ECS Podcast!

Using unique design and building methods, researchers have created a prototype for an ultra-thin, curving concrete roof that will also generate solar power.

The self-supporting, doubly curved shell roof has multiple layers: the heating and cooling coils and the insulation are installed over the inner concrete layer. A second, exterior layer of the concrete sandwich structure encloses the roof, onto which builders install thin-film photovoltaic cells.

Philippe Block, a professor of architecture and structures at ETH Zurich, and Arno Schlüter, a professor of architecture and building systems, led the team. They want to put the new lightweight construction to the test and combine it with intelligent and adaptive building systems.

(more…)

Our guest today, James Fenton, is the director of the Florida Solar Energy Center at the University of Central Florida – the nation’s largest and most active state-supported renewable energy and energy efficiency institute.

Fenton is also the current secretary of the ECS Board of Directors.

Listen to the podcast and download this episode and others for free through the iTunes Store, SoundCloud, or our RSS Feed. You can also find us on Stitcher.

(more…)

By: Joshua M. Pearce, Michigan Technology University

SolarAs the U.S. military increases its use of drones in surveillance and combat overseas, the danger posed by a threat back at home grows. Many drone flights are piloted by soldiers located in the U.S., even when the drones are flying over Yemen or Iraq or Syria. Those pilots and their control systems depend on the American electricity grid – large, complex, interconnected and very vulnerable to attack.

Without electricity from civilian power plants, the most advanced military in world history could be crippled. The U.S. Department of Energy has begged for new authority to defend against weaknesses in the grid in a nearly 500-page comprehensive study issued in January 2017 warning that it’s only a matter of time before the grid fails, due to disaster or attack. A new study by a team I led reveals the three ways American military bases’ electrical power sources are threatened, and shows how the U.S. military could take advantage of solar power to significantly improve national security.

A triple threat

The first threat to the electricity grid comes from nature. Severe weather disasters resulting in power outages cause between US$25 billion and $70 billion in the U.S. each year – and that’s average years, not those including increasingly frequent major storms, like Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

The second type of threat is from traditional acts of crime or terrorism, such as bombing or sabotage. For example, a 2013 sniper attack on a Pacific Gas and Electric substation in California disabled 17 transformers supplying power to Silicon Valley. In what the head of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission called “the most significant incident of domestic terrorism involving the grid that has ever occurred,” the attacker – who may have been an insider – fired about 100 rounds of .30-caliber rifle ammunition into the radiators of 17 electricity transformers over the course of 19 minutes. The electronics overheated and shut down. Fortunately, power company engineers managed to keep the lights on in Silicon Valley by routing power from other sources.

(more…)

From Wastewater to Fertilizer

The National Science Foundation is spearheading a $2.4 million research initiative to develop new methods to create commercial fertilizer out of wastewater nutrients. Among the researchers working on this project, ECS member and chair of the Society’s Energy Technology Divison, Andrew Herring, is leading an electrochemical engineering team in electrode design, water chemistry, electrochemical operations, and developing a bench-scale electrochemical reactor design.

The goal of this project is to take the nitrogen and phosphorus that exists in wastewater and transform it into fertilizer struvite, which is made up of magnesium, ammonium, and phosphate.

“Basically, you’d have a hog barn and you’d collect the liquid effluent from the farm and run it through a reactor and you’d get a solid fertilizer out of the back and, hopefully, energy,” Herring, Colorado School of Mines professor, says in a statement. “At the end of the day, we hope to optimize this thing so it makes energy, saves water, and produces fertilizer for food production.”

This work is is a collaborative effort with ECS members Lauren Greenlee, lead princial investigator and Assistant Professor at the University of Arkansas; and Julie Renner, Assistant Professor at Case Western Reserve University.

This isn’t Herring’s first foray into water and energy research. During the PRiME 2016 meeting, Herring co-organized the Energy/Water Nexus: Power from Saline Solutions symposium.

(more…)

ARPA-EIn a recent post by Bill Gates, the business magnate identified the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, more commonly known as ARPA-E, as his favorite obscure government agency.

Gates cited the agency as a key in solving pressing energy issues, referencing his faith in ARPA-E as demonstrated through his involvement in the $1 billion investment funding created in 2016 through Breakthrough Energy Ventures (BEV).

BEV was developed as an initiative to provide affordable, clean energy to people across the globe. In order to make that energy future possible, Gates and his partners at BEV knew they would have to depend on public, government funded research.

Since its establishment in 2009 under then U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, ARPA-E has acted as an arm of the U.S. Department of Energy that can help deliver the highly innovative technology that ventures like BEV depend on. From the agency’s REFUEL program, which promotes the development of carbon-neutral fuels to BEEST, funding research in energy storage for transportation, ARPA-E funds high-risk, high-reward endeavors capable of transforming energy landscapes.

(more…)

Renewable grideThe U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) released a report Wednesday night on electricity markets and grid reliability, stating that the decline in coal and nuclear production has not impacted grid reliability, instead the rise in a diverse energy portfolio has increased the grid’s stability.

The study, commissioned by Energy Secretary Rick Perry in April, also states that coal plant closures across the country have been due to market pressure and competition from low-priced natural gas plants, not policy changes that support renewables such as wind and solar.

(MORE: Listen to our interview with former U.S. Energy Secretary and Nobel Laureate Steven Chu.)

“America is also fortunate to have a variety of fuel sources. We need to consider how to use each effectively while recognizing our differences and unique state and regional circumstances,” Perry says in the report’s cover letter. “We must utilize the most effective combination of energy sources with an ‘all of the above’ approach to achieve long-term, reliable American energy security.”

While the report does not state that there is a current concern with grid reliability, it does warn that future problems could arise if coal and nuclear plants continue to close at the current rate. Many environmental advocates cite this as a last-ditch effort for these companies to remain relevant in the energy landscape. However, the report does go on to highlight the role of renewables in developing a diverse energy infrastructure.

(more…)