Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Battery advancements look promising

Better batteries could change the energy mix for consumers. Auto manufacturers are looking at lithium-ion batteries for plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles. These batteries have a high energy-to-weight ratio.

The Chevy Volt, a new plug-in hybrid, reportedly can run about 40 miles on its batteries.

Scientists working on cutting-edge battery technology are developing lithium-air batteries, which they believe could provide tenfold the performance of lithium-ion batteries.

The idea behind a lithium-air battery is that it pulls oxygen from the atmosphere for its charge, meaning the battery can be smaller and lighter than existing batteries. But commercializaton of this technology could still be 10 years away, researchers say.

One railroad took a different approach in its efforts to come up with a fully electric train not tied to the grid.

In late September, Norfolk Southern Railway introduced a prototype locomotive powered by 1,080 12-v lead-acid batteries. The railroad’s research found lead-acid batteries to be the most cost effective, the Black & Veatch Pathfinder newsletter reported in its October online edition.

“The engine, which is used for moving rolling stock around its Rose Yard in Altoona, Pa., puts out 1,500 hp with zero exhaust fumes,” wrote Samuel Glasser, a Pathfinder editor in Black & Veatch’s Long Island office.

In September, Norfolk Southern Corp. issued its second annual sustainability report, including the company’s first measurement of its greenhouse gases produced from operations. About 90% was carbon dioxide emissions from diesel-burning locomotives.

Norfolk Southern calculated its total carbon footprint for 2008 was 5.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents. That compares with a US total of 7.2 billion tonnes during 2007.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Gas flaring reduction efforts progressing

The World Bank-led Global Gas Flaring Reduction partnership (GGFR) reports the global estimate for gas flaring has declined for a third consecutive year.

GGFR helps countries and companies to both implement gas-flaring reduction projects and seize opportunities to increase the utilization of associated gas.

“Our work in different countries, from Russia to Azerbaijan and from Nigeria to Mexico, illustrate this common effort of preparing for potential opportunities to improve energy efficiency, expand access to energy, and contribute to climate change mitigation hence promoting sustainable development,” GGFR said in a newsletter posted on its web site.

In December 2008, the GGFR held a Global Forum on Flaring and Venting Reduction in Amsterdam. Some 175 delegates from over 100 different organizations and 38 countries attended the Amsterdam event.

Numerous oil companies helped sponsor or sent delegates and speakers to the conference; They included Royal Dutch Shell PLC, Total SA, Chevron, ExxonMobil Corp., BP PLC, StatoilHydro ASA, and Petrobras.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

NOAA questions offshore drilling plan

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration questions a plan to expand offshore oil and gas drilling, according to documents posted online by the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

NOAA recommends safeguards for fisheries, marine mammals, and coastal populations that would significantly reduce the number and size of offshore tracts offered for exploration and development leasing.

NOAA filed its 26-page comment on Sept. 21, which was the US Minerals Management Service’s deadline for the Draft Proposed Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2010-2015.

The 5-year leasing plan, issued in January, reflects the ideas of the former President George Bush administration. The plan would offer 12 lease areas (4 in Alaska, 3 in the Atlantic, 2 in the Pacific and 3 in the Gulf of Mexico) covering much of the OCS. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is considering the plan.

In its comments, NOAA outlined its positions, including:
--Exclusionary zones that would block lease sales in the Northern Aleutians (including Bristol Bay), near shore in the Chukchi Sea, as well as all the proposed Atlantic and Eastern Gulf tracts.
--Buffer zones that would bar drilling “around national marine sanctuaries, habitat areas of particular concern, critical habitat for endangered and threatened species, major fishing grounds, and to provide visual buffers to coastal areas dependent upon tourism.”
--A moratorium on any Arctic Ocean drilling until better oil spill prevention and response capability is in place. NOAA also contends that MMS understates the expected frequency of and risk from spills, especially after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

PEER calls itself a service organization assisting federal and state public employees. “PEER allows public servants to work as ‘anonymous activists’ so that agencies must confront the message, rather than the messenger,” its website said.

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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

EPA seeks emission control status for US waters

In March 2010, the International Maritime Organization is scheduled to vote on whether to designate US coastal waters as an Emission Control Area (ECA) under international law.

The designation would regulate the fuel type burned by oil tankers and other ocean vessels. Container ships, tankers, and other large vessels that dock at US port cities burn low-grade residual fuel.

The US Environmental Protection Agency applied for an ECA in an effort to reduce air pollution from ships. The application was a joint US-Canadian proposal that the IMO’s Marine Environmental Protection Commission favorably received at a London meeting.

The Environmental Defense Fund supports the EPA’s request, saying the ECA designation will help ensure federal air-quality standards around US ports.

“Ships are floating smokestacks that deliver soot and smog straight to the heart of our most crowded coastal cities, home to 87 million Americans,” said Elena Craft, air quality specialist with the EDF in Houston. An ECA could help reduce air pollution from ships, she said.

Ocean vessels account for about 3% of the world’s total greenhouse gas pollution, EDF said in a report it released earlier this year. The EPA applied for a designation under international law because government officials estimate foreign-flagged vessels account for the majority of the ship calls on US ports.

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