Move over corn, a new source of ethanol is in town

Publication: NBC News   Date: August 1, 2013   View Article

Commercial quantities of the alternative fuel ethanol are being produced from wood waste and other vegetative matter, a chemical company announced Wednesday. The milestone holds potential to curb the controversial practice of using corn kernels to brew the fuel that is commonly mixed with gasoline.

Several companies have been racing in recent years to develop the technology required to produce ethanol from cellulose — the woody parts of plants — and many are close to firing up commercial facilities. INEOS Bio is at the finish line.

Silver lining? Greenhouse gas could be vast, untapped source of energy

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

The greenhouse gas carbon dioxide emitted from power plants and other industrial activities around the world is a vast source of untapped energy, according to new research that describes a proof-of-concept technique to harvest it.

Akin to harvesting energy from the wind, this combination of chemistry and mechanics would generate electricity from the carbon dioxide (CO2) already flowing out of plants. While it wouldn’t destroy the CO2, it would pull far more energy from existing waste gas. It could arguably even enable plants to resist scaling up and becoming more wasteful, just to keep up with demand.

Catastrophic power outages on the rise, but new tech helps keep lights on

Publication: NBC News   Date: July 2, 2013   View Article

Last year, nearly a tenth of the world’s population — 620 million people — lost power at once. The cause? Two simultaneous failures on India’s enormous electric grid.

While these catastrophes are a symptom of infrastructure investment lagging behind rapid urbanization and modernization, technology can help: A new computer algorithm could lower the chances of such massive blackouts from recurring.

Experts call Obama climate plan an ‘important first step’

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

With his jacket off on a sweltering afternoon, President Barack Obama Tuesday unveiled a strategy to slow the effects of climate change so that future generations will have a cleaner and more stable environment, including curbs on pollution from new and existing power plants.

“As a President, as a father and as an American, I’m here to say, we need to act,” he said to applause at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., where he unveiled the climate action plan. “I refuse to condemn your generation and future generations to a planet that is beyond fixing.”

Natural gas found in drinking water near fracked wells

Publication: NBC News   Date: June 24, 2013   View Article

Elevated levels of methane and other stray gases have been found in drinking water near natural gas wells in Pennsylvania’s gas-rich Marcellus shale region, according to new research. In the case of methane, concentrations were six times higher in some drinking water found within one kilometer of drilling operations.

“The bottom line is strong evidence for gas leaking into drinking water in some cases,” Robert Jackson, an environmental scientist at Duke University in Durham, N.C., told NBC News. “We think the likeliest explanation is leaky wells,” he added.

World ‘off-track’ in effort to limit warming, report says

Publication: NBC News   Date: June 10, 2013   View Article

Global emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide notched up 1.4 percent to 31.6 gigatonnes in 2012, a move in the opposite direction of an international climate goal to limit global warming, the International Energy Agency said in a report released Monday.

Instead of limiting warming to a long-term rise of no more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius), the report said the world is currently on a path toward a rise of as much as 9 degrees Fahrenheit (5.3 degree Celsius) above pre-industrial levels.

Such a rise would come “with potentially disastrous implications in terms of extreme weather events, rising sea levels, and the huge economic and social costs that these can bring,” Maria van der Hoeven, executive director of the International Energy Agency, said at the report’s launch.

Hack a virus, win a prize: Scientist recognized for ‘useful’ germ modding

Publication: NBC News   Date: June 4, 2013   View Article

The inventor of a viral technology behind tomorrow’s electric car batteries, flexible touchscreen computers, and non-invasive cancer screening was awarded a $500,000 prize Tuesday.

Angela Belcher, a materials chemist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, alters the genetic code of viruses to build things that are useful to humans. The technique is already being harnessed to produce touchscreen gadgets and convert methane gas to gasoline, jet fuel, and plastics.

She received the 2013 Lemelson-MIT Prize, which honors mid-career inventors who are dedicated to making the world a better place through technology.

© 2008-2010 Collected Writings By John Roach