Energy

Parched California Pours Mega-Millions Into Desalination

Publication: NBC News   Date: February 17, 2014   View Article

Besieged by drought and desperate for new sources of water, California towns are ramping up plans to convert salty ocean water into drinking water to quench their long-term thirst. The plants that carry out the high-tech “desalination” process can cost hundreds of millions of dollars, but there may be few other choices for the parched state.

Where the Pacific Ocean spills into the Agua Hedionda Lagoon in Carlsbad, Calif., construction is 25 percent complete on a $1 billion project to wring 50 million gallons of freshwater a day from the sea and pour it into a water system that serves 3.1 million people.

Desalination was a dreamy fiction during the California Water Wars of the early 20th century that inspired the classic 1974 movie “Chinatown.” In the 1980s, however, the process of forcing seawater through reverse osmosis membranes to filter out salt and other impurities became a reliable, even essential, tool in regions of the world desperate for water.

Methane emissions soar past previous estimates, study says

Publication: NBC News   Date: November 25, 2013   View Article

Emissions of the potent greenhouse gas methane from industrial activities in the United States are vastly higher than previous estimates, according to a new study.

“We think our result for the oil and gas sector could be up to five times higher” than figures reported in a widely used international emissions database, Scot Miller, the study’s lead author and a graduate student at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., told NBC News.

Beetle juice? Trees killed by bugs eyed as biofuel for cars

Publication: NBC News   Date: November 8, 2013   View Article

Millions of acres of U.S. forest lands are carpeted with stands of unsightly reddish-brown trees that were killed by voracious beetles the size of rice grains. A $10 million, five-year research program launched this week aims to determine if the beetle-killed trees can be turned into biofuel for cars and trucks without breaking the bank or exacerbating climate change, which is aiding the beetle mania.

“A crucial thing with biofuels is that we understand just how much greenhouse gases do we really offset. Because obviously if we use lots of fossil fuels or we cause lots of emissions in producing the biofuels, then we are really not gaining as much as we might hope to,” Keith Paustain, a soil ecologist who is leading the project at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, told NBC News.

Girl power! 9th grade girls developing electricity-generating desks

Publication: NBC News   Date: October 23, 2013   View Article

A team of 9th grade girls is developing a system of interconnected desks that turns the nervous foot-tapping energy of school kids into electricity to power study lights, laptops and fans. The young students aim to bring the desks to school children in Africa.

“In order to get a good education, one of the basic foundations is electricity,” Rose DelleFave, the team leader at Providence Day School in Charlotte, N.C., told NBC News. “So we decided it would be good to start there and give them that basic tool.”

Pummeled kite surfer dreams up new way to harvest wave energy

Publication: NBC News   Date: October 11, 2013   View Article

Samuel Etherington first hit the waves with a board and kite in hand, the waves hit back with a bruising vengeance. But in learning to harness their power for his kitesurfing adrenaline rush, he found inspiration to design a next-generation wave energy harvester. The contraption scored him a coveted finalist spot in an engineering design competition and could serve as a viable alternative source of energy to boot.

“The waves would just roll and smash over you and then you would tumble and try to get back up on the board and try again and try again,” the mechanical design student at Brunel University near London told NBC News about his early days kitesurfing. “That then really physically hit home. There is a lot of power to be had here.”

‘Living battery’ generates electricity from sewage and wastewater

Publication: NBC News   Date: September 16, 2013   View Article

A new type of living battery has been created that generates electricity from dissolved organic matter such as that found in wastewater flushed down the toilet or washed off farms and out to sea.

The system is as efficient as the highest performing solar cells and, in theory, could generate as much energy as is needed to treat wastewater with current technology, according to researchers working on the so-called microbial battery at Stanford University in California.

Leaky Fukushima nuclear plant raises seafood poisoning concerns

Publication: NBC News   Date: August 20, 2013   View Article

The 300 tons of radioactive water leaked to date from a storage tank at the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan is raising new concerns about the safety of seafood from the region, according to scientists.

Highly contaminated water from the newly reported leak is seeping into the ground, officials with Tokyo Electric Power Company told reporters Tuesday. They do not believe the water has reached the ocean, given the distance of the tank from the harbor. Still, it is likely only a matter of time before it does, said William Burness, an oceanographer at Florida State University, who studies environmental radioactivity.

The concern is that the radioactive water leaking from the storage tanks will eventually end up in the ocean and contaminate the marine environment, in particular fish that people eat, Burnett told NBC News.

© 2008-2010 Collected Writings By John Roach