Energy

The Next Exxon Valdez? Remote Alaskan Waters, Experts Fear

Publication: NBC News   Date: March 24, 2014   View Article

A quarter-century after 10.8 million gallons of crude oil gushed from the Exxon Valdez and scarred Alaska’s Prince William Sound, oil spill responders fear that another disaster looms in more remote Alaskan waters where ship traffic is on the rise, due in part to the North American energy boom.

The largest concern centers on the Arctic, where oil exploration and development is progressing in fits and starts, and Unimak Pass in the Aleutian Islands, a choke point on a major shipping route between North America and Asia. Both regions are expected to see increased traffic as summer sea ice disappears and producers of North American crude oil and coal look to export fossil fuels to Asia.

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.

Algae converted to crude oil in less than an hour, energy department says

Publication: NBC News   Date: December 17, 2013   View Article

The day when planes, trucks and cars are commonly revved up on pond scum may be on the near horizon thanks to a technological advance that continuously turns a stream of concentrated algae into bio-crude oil. From green goo to crude takes less than an hour.

The goo contains about 10 percent to 20 percent algae by weight. The rest is water. This mixture is piped into a high-tech pressure cooker where temperatures hover around 660 degrees Fahrenheit and pressures of 3,000 pounds per square inch in order to keep the mixture in a liquid phase.

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.”

© 2008-2010 Collected Writings By John Roach