Municipal Solid Waste: To the Landfill or the Incinerator?

by Nadja Redmond

A global phenomenon is slowly beginning to pick up traction and conversation in the United States: energy recovery through use of waste to energy facilities. WtE, the waste management process that involves generating electricity and/or heat from waste through combustion, is already widely used in Europe. By 2014, Europe had 452 such facilities [http://www.cewep.eu/information/data/studies/m_1488], and compared to the United States’ 71, it is no secret there is an ongoing debate on whether WtE facilities are effective or hazardous for the environment and for the communities they inhabit. When the country produces over 250 million tons of municipal solid waste a year [https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=25732], alternative routes of waste management and energy recovery that utilizes that waste that have proved effective overseas are worth considering. Continue reading

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

Comparison of Carbon Footprints of Electric and Gasoline Vehicles

by Bradley Newton

Authors Yuksel, Tamayao, Hendrickson, Azevedo, and Michalek (2016) have conducted a study concerning the carbon footprints of electric and gasoline vehicles. They cite several past studies looking at a similar topic, but point out that none of those studies accounted for grid emissions (pollution created by generated electricity), people’s driving patterns, and how diverse temperatures are in different regions. It is also pointed out that past studies used vehicles of differing battery life spans, which can make comparisons harder. The factors that the authors of the study look at for their comparisons are: availability of electricity for Plug-in electric vehicles, temperatures of studied regions, vehicle miles traveled, and driving conditions (meaning whether it is city or highway driving). The vehicles they used were a mix of conventional, hybrid electric, plug-in electric, and battery-electric vehicles. They were driven to the end of their life-cycle (complete depletion of gas tank or battery) and had their respective CO2 emissions measured. The authors decided that the driving conditions of an area would be based off its urbanization level, VMT (Vehicle Miles Traveled) would be obtained from the National Household Travel Survey from its respective state, and they assigned marginal grid emission factors (amount of electricity available) for each North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) to the counties that lie within their encompassed area. Continue reading

Hydrogen Cars: Open Roads but with out Enough Filling Stations

by Kieran McVeigh

This weekend as I zoomed along the ten freeway passing thousands of cars I found myself wondering what happened to Hydrogen fuel cars that in the early 2000’s were heralded as the next big thing. A late January article in Bloomberg technology gave me my answer, hydrogen fuel cells cars are alive and well. Many car manufacturers are preparing to or have already rolled out commercially available hydrogen fuel cars but these cars face major logistical hurdles because of the lack of available hydrogen fuel stations.

With the introduction of Toyota’s Mirai, hydrogen fuel cell cars became commercially available in 2016, however Hydrogen comes at a price as a Mirai starts at about 60,000 dollars. Toyota currently only makes 3,000 Mirai a year so if demand and production ramp up this price will likely decrease. The major hurdle more then the relative expense of hydrogen fuel cell cars is the lack of network of filling stations. California leads the way with a total of 100 hydrogen fuel stations. Hydrogen fuel manufacturers insist that government subsidies are necessary for hydrogen fuel infrastructure to be completed, saying the costs of creating hydrogen fuels stations currently outweigh the benefits. As the all-too familiar problem surrounding global warming of how to get people take responsibility for our planets wellbeing when it will cut into their pocket books. Continue reading

Turning the Kinetic Energy of Everyday Movements into Light

by Nina Lee

What would happen if we thought of energy not as a resource to be saved up, but as a resource to be constantly created and used? Uncharted Play, the brainchild of Jessica O. Matthews, is a company that challenges the way our society values energy. Matthews is a Nigerian-American Harvard graduate, inventor, and CEO who was inspired to create alternative energy sources after an experience with her family in Nigeria. During her aunt’s wedding, there was a power outage- a very common occurrence- and diesel generators had to be used to supply energy. The generators were emitting toxic fumes that everybody but Matthews seemed to be used to. When she later returned to the United States and continued her education, she wanted to create a cleaner alternative to the energy sources her community in Nigeria were utilizing. Continue reading

Offshore Wind Farm Industry Takes Off in the United States

by Genevieve Kules

The offshore wind farm industry appears to be growing despite the current political disinclination towards environmentally friendly energy initiatives. In 2016 Deepwater Wind created the US’s first offshore wind farm off the coast of Rhode Island’s Block Island consisting of five turbines. In January of 2017 Deepwater Wind submitted permits for approval of fifteen turbines off the coast of Long Island, NY. This could only be the start for the construction of over 200 turbines nearby.

Offshore wind farms are far more prominent in Europe, and China has a wind farm with enough turbines to power a small country, but lack of buyers has left many of those turbines unused. Continue reading

The Future of Energy in Britain

by Cybele Kappos

As an energy crisis looms in the horizon of UK energy, the nation prepares for alternative energy sources. The BBC’s Jane-Frances Kelly talks about the plan to build an interconnector, which is a large cable connecting Hampshire to the French coast. This project is completely privately funded and Aquind, the developer behind this, is currently working on a deal with the French. The purpose of this interconnector would be to supply energy in a time when coal-fired stations are slowly being phased out but the infrastructure for gas and nuclear energy is not yet equipped to take over. It is predicted that nuclear stations will take 10 years to be able to run. The interconnector is allegedly said to be ready to run in 2021 and the technology has already been tested out by Aquind. The cable is to play a significant role in the supply of energy across the nation. Moreover, it is said that it will ease the pressure on the UK grid and reduce the possibility of blackouts. The interconnector will be completely underground and undersea. It will not be visible to the public but it will provide up to 2GW of energy to almost four million homes. Continue reading

Long Range Power Transmission

by Matt Johnson

One of the problems that has grappled electrical engineers over the last few decades is the long-distance transmission of power. As the shift towards renewable energy continues, we are finding more and more electricity being generated farther and farther away from consumers. With an unavoidable power loss directly related to transmission distances, engineers have found themselves in a tough situation. The Economist (2017) dives into one technology, ultra-high-voltage direct-current connectors, as a particularly promising solution. Electric power grids were standardized on alternating current (AC) in the late 1880s and 1890s, and have stayed that way ever since. Alternating current travels like a wave: the energy shimmies back and forth through a conducting medium. As the distances of transmission increase, it takes more and more energy to push this wave through. Inherently, the more energy you put in, the more that is lost. Direct current on the other hand is a steady flow of energy, there is no oscillation. Therefore, over transcontinental distances, direct current power lines are much more efficient. The power lines are cheaper to build, because a smaller wire can carry more power: reducing weight and cost. Whereas the transformers for AC are relatively cheap, the comparable thyristors for voltage conversion in DC are pricy; but these prices are justified by increased transmission efficiency, especially over long distances. Continue reading

China’s Coal Mining Hypocrisy

by Vikramaditya Jhunjhunwala

In light of President Trump’s uncertain stance on climate change, China has assumed the leading role in battling it. In an attempt to mobilize global initiative, China has publically implored its powerhouse compatriots, such as the United States, to acknowledge the science behind the phenomenon, and reduce their dependence on harmful fuels like coal and oil.

However, Keith Bradsher (2016), tells us of a troubling and rather ironic narrative of China mining and burning increased quantities of coal.

Even though there was a dip in production by 3 percent last year in a governmental effort to mitigate pollution and rising sea levels, Chinese coal is still the planet’s greatest source of carbon emission from human activities and the reopening of mines spells all kinds of environment-related troubles. Continue reading