Good News? Bad News? Confuse?


by Emil Morhardt

Woodard et al. (2019) have calculated that climate change is sufficiently disruptive of the global economy that it will lower carbon dioxide output significantly going forward.  In other words, no matter what we do about the Paris Climate Agreement, CO2 levels from burning fossil fuels are likely to fall.  This might be viewed as good news…it ought to offset the existing high levels of CO2 in the atmosphere and at least stabilize things, never mind that the economy (and therefore, we) will suffer.  Not so fast. The other thing that climate change is doing is heating up the oceans which reduces their ability to absorb CO2 from the atmosphere; this and other natural climate sinks are failing, so even with reduced human CO2 production, atmospheric levels are still going to rise.  Plus the global economy is going to sink. This latter fact suggests that we’ll have fewer economic resources (money) to spend on adapting to the adverse effects of climate change.  We know what these are: wealth inequality, crop failures, coastal flooding, etc.

I guess it’s bad news all around.

Woodard DLDavis SJRanderson JT (2019) Economic carbon cycle feedbacks may offset additional warming from natural feedbacks. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 116:759764.

Proper Assessment of Shale Oil

by Catherine Parsekian

According to the results of a study done in China by Li et. al (2016), there is no method for measuring oil potential in shale reservoirs that includes both residual oil contents in the rocks as well as hydrocarbon expulsion and migration conditions. Li and his colleagues developed soon an index for determining oil potential. If the index is greater than zero, then some of the oil has migrated to external reservoirs which means that it has poor shale oil potential. Li et. al. argue that because current methods include absorbed, as well as free hydrocarbons, they are overvaluing the shale oil and not looking at oil that can readily be used. The method developed in this paper has multiple parameters and is a more comprehensive measurement since it takes into account oil saturation, free oil content, and shale oil expulsion. Continue reading

CO2 Conversion System Converts Greenhouse Gases

by Byron R. Núñez

Sustainable Innovations, Inc. (SI) was awarded a contract from the United States Department of Energy to continue working on its electrochemical process that converts greenhouse gases into usable byproduct. The rising levels of greenhouse gases has increased a demand for new energy solutions that address geopolitical concerns as well as economic ones. Stakeholders, for example, are actively searching for economically viable pathways that can reduce carbon dioxide emissions while developing means to produce fuels that decrease global reliance on oil. This includes, but is not limited to, searching for more efficient ways to utilize traditional fuels such as coal, as well as to capture and recycle the national production of greenhouse gases. Continue reading

Call to Action: Urge to Take Advantage of Solar Energy Potential in Mexico City Metropolitan Area

by Alejandra Chávez

The Mexico City Metropolitan Area (MCMA) has a population of 8.851 million people (2010), making it the largest and most populated urban area in the country. It is well within the “sun-belt” of Earth, with solar incidence areas of over 5 kWh/m2/ day radiation. Though there is a high potential for renewable energy, there is little incentive by policymakers to take advantage of an energy source that could better conserve the environment, limit the amount of natural and/or technical interruptions, and be an economic relief to the MCMA. The authors support the development of and rationalize that solar photovoltaic (PV) technology to harvest its energy potential. This technology is economically competitive to give energy to vulnerable areas that often do not require as much power. Because energy transition diagnostic is not very organized, it is vital for decision-makers to be aware of the social and economic difficulties in MCMA. Continue reading

Reforming the US Coal Leasing Program

by Emil Morhardt

Almost half of the coal mined in the US comes from lands, mostly in Wyoming and Montana in the Powder River Basin (PRB), owned by the federal government and which have nearly 10% of the world’s known reserves. Gillingham et al. review the social costs of this coal extraction, and weigh them against the revenues flowing to the government from the leases and the resulting relatively low energy prices paid by consumers. According to their calculations, the monetized climate change damages caused by combustion of this coal are about six times the coal price of $0.51 per million British thermal units, which is only about a third of the price of coal from other major producing basins. Continue reading

Competition is Heating Up in Battery Systems: the Rise of Sonnen

by Sharon Ha

Sonnen, a German start-up that specializes in battery systems, is rapidly growing and challenging established companies in the energy storage market, such as Tesla. Sonnen’s product, the sonnenBatterie, is available in a range of capacities for home and businesses. In addition to producing and storing solar energy, it detects optimal times to store energy or to draw down the battery, and saves energy in case of a power outage. While the system and installation starts at $10,000, Sonnen promises a return on investment since the battery cuts back on utility costs. Sonnen has sold over 10,000 batteries, and started its expansion into the US—they recently launched their LA headquarters, have partnered with 30 local solar installers in the area, and are ready to start installing systems in Hawaii. In a strategic move, Sonnen is focusing on locations where electricity is expensive, such as Hawaii and California. Furthermore, Sonnen continues to grow in European countries, Australia, and the Philippines. Continue reading

Exxon Mobil and Their Move to Cellulosic Biodiesel

by Maithili Joshi

Exxon Mobil has made continuous efforts to look for alternative energy sources in the past few years. Recently, in the last four years, they had invested more than $100 million in developing algae-derived biofuels, and recently have refocused their efforts on researching the production of biodiesel by fermenting renewable cellulosic sugars from sources like agricultural waste. Exxon Mobil has teamed up with Renewable Energy Group (REG) and other universities to find a new source of renewable fuels, focusing on using sugars from non-food sources. Continue reading

Microsoft’s Project Natick Seeks To (Literally) Put Big Data Underwater

by Gage Taylor

Microsoft Research’s New Experiences and Technologies wing (NExT) recently went public with Project Natick, a data center enclosed in a steel capsule designed to rest on the ocean floor. In theory, if developed at a commercial scale, the concept could represent a massive step forward for data storage, as these centers are more easily deployed, reduce consumer latency (due to their proximity to the most populated regions of the earth, the coasts), and save money on air conditioning and cooling compared to traditional server farms. It may also answer the growing energy demands of the tech world, as Microsoft is attempting to pair the system with either a wind or hydropower system to generate electricity. This could mean that no new energy would be added to the ocean, and as a result, there would be no overall heating, a conclusion supported by the early research. Continue reading

For Wind Energy, Bigger May Actually Be Better

by Erin Larsen

A new design for offshore 50-megawatt (MW) collapsible wind turbine blades could help bring wind energy mainstream in the United States. Sandia National Laboratories was tasked with the challenge of designing a low-cost, offshore 50-MW turbine requiring a rotor blade more than 200 meters long. The research and development for the gigantic blades was funded by the Department of Energy’s ARPA-E program. These blades are two-and-a-half times longer than any existing wind blade and longer than two football fields.

The design of the huge blades is inspired by by the way palm trees move in storms. The “trunk” of the turbine features a segmented build with a cylindrical shells that bend at the joints in the wind, while still retaining segment stiffness. The turbines themselves are called Segmented Ultralight Morphing Rotors (SUMR). They are lightweight, flexible, and assembled in multiple segments. At dangerous wind speeds, the blades are stowed, while at lower wind speeds, the blades spread out more to maximize energy production. Continue reading

Geothermal Energy in the Caribbean

by Maithili Joshi

 Two tiny volcanic island located in the Caribbean, Nevis and St. Kitts, have set a date to go 100% renewable energy using geothermal energy starting December 2017. Currently, Nevis imports 4.2 million gallons of diesel fuel, and uses 10 mega watts (mw) of energy annually, for a population of almost 60,000 people. For the last ten years, since discovering that the island has geothermal energy that they can harness, they have explored and researched ways in which to use that utilize that energy to their full advantage. Nevis and St. Kitts are going to become fully dependent on renewable energy through the use of geothermal energy in particular. Continue reading