Energy

Is algae biofuel too thirsty?

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: April 14, 2011   View Article

Biofuel produced from algae, essentially pond scum, has long titillated green energy boosters as a potential big time player in the U.S. renewable fuels portfolio. Now, a-first-of-its-kind look at industrial-scale freshwater farming of algae suggests it could indeed make a sizeable dent in U.S. oil imports, but drain water resources.

Specifically, the U.S. could produce enough of the algae-derived fuel to eliminate 48 percent of the fuel it currently imports for transportation needs, according to researchers at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. But doing so would require 5.5 percent of the land area in the lower 48 states and consume about three times the water currently used to irrigate crops.

“The water use is significant,” Mark Wigmosta, a hydrologist at the lab who led the study, told me today.

Water harvested from diesel exhaust

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: April 6, 2011   View Article

A new technology to harvest drinkable water from diesel exhaust could help the U.S. military become more nimble and mobile as it engages in conflicts around the world.

Warfare is hot, dirty, and exhausting work that requires a steady stream of water to slake thirst, prepare meals and maintain healthy hygiene — up to nearly 7 gallons a day per person.

Supplying that water to soldiers increases vulnerability to military personnel and limits the tactical use of field troops, according to researchers at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory who are developing the new technology.

Their solution is to use the fuel that the military burns to run its tanks, Humvees, generators and other machines that power field operations. When fuel is combusted, it gets oxidized and produces carbon dioxide and water.

Can traffic lights help save energy?

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: March 9, 2011   View Article

Humans are visual creatures. When we see a red traffic light, we know to apply the brakes. Electric utilities are hoping a new generation of traffic light-like smart meter monitors will help people curb their energy consumption.

“When information is in real time and it’s in your face it helps change habits,” Catherine Cuellar, a spokeswoman for Oncor, an electric utility in Texas that is piloting two of the new monitors, told me Wednesday.

Race for better biofuels heats up

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: March 7, 2011   View Article

Scientists who engineer microbes to efficiently produce biofuels from plants and algae are busy reporting breakthroughs that could wean us from fossil fuels — offering a glimmer of hope to consumers eyeing gas prices skyrocket.

In one breakthrough, a microbe has been genetically engineered to produce isobutanol, a gasoline-like fuel, directly from cellulose.

Ancient rocks hold climate forecast

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: March 2, 2011   View Article

What will the planet’s climate be like by the end of this century? The answer may lie in really, really old rocks, according to a new report that urges a coordinated research effort to study them.

Scientists have already pieced together a comprehensive record of Earth’s changing climate from studies of rocks and ice that stretches back about 2 million years. The problem is that the amount of carbon dioxide already pumped into the atmosphere is 25 to 30 percent higher than at any point in that record.

Bacteria turned into biofuel factories

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: March 2, 2011   View Article

Researchers have genetically engineered the bacteria E. coli to produce a gasoline-like biofuel called n-butanol at a rate that is about 10 times better than competing systems.

N-butanol (normal butanol) is naturally made by various species of the bacteria Clostridium. Since the 1920s, researchers and industry have genetically tweaked these bacteria to boost their butanol-producing abilities, said Michelle Chang, a chemist at the University of California at Berkeley.

Microbe makes hydrogen out of air

Publication: Cosmic Log on MSNBC.com   Date: December 15, 2010   View Article

An ocean microbe may open a new frontier in the search for clean, renewable energy: In a sense, it makes hydrogen — a clean-burning fuel — out of the air.

The bug, a cyanobacterium called Cyanothece 51142, performs photosynthesis during the day and fixes nitrogen at night. Hydrogen is a byproduct of the nitrogen fixation process. And when you burn hydrogen, the main byproduct is water.

© 2008-2010 Collected Writings By John Roach