Environment Forum

Federal purse reopens for solar science

 

The U.S. Department of Energy announced this week $60 million in funding for scientists to develop “revolutionary research” to lower the cost of solar power systems.

The DOE SunShot Initiative is baiting researchers to increase efficiency of commercial solar power (CSP) systems and lower costs to six cents per kilowatt hour by the end of the decade. 

The initiative is being called a “sign of the times for the sector“, and comes amidst accusations the government is squandering taxpayer money on businesses doomed to fail, best exemplified by recently bankrupt solar heavyweight Solyndra.

The DOE says the SunShot CSP grant is meant to look beyond short-term innovation and explore transformative concepts with the “potential to break through performance barriers like efficiency and temperature limitations,” the DOE announced. It wants scientists to think big.

With billions invested in multiple CSP plants throughout the southwestern states, improving CSP generation to the point where it can once again compete with cheaper solar photovoltaic panels appears to be an important priority for the DOE, writes Energy Matters.

Steve Jurvetson on clean tech innovation that will change the world

(This article by Felicity Carus first appeared on Clean Energy Connection and has been edited for length. Any opinions expressed are her own.)

What venture capitalists really think and what they say aren’t always the same thing.

Steve Jurvetson, from Draper Fisher Jurvetson, last week gave his overview of disruptive innovation in clean tech at the Always On Going Green conference in San Francisco.

Special report: Ten years of oil spills

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The Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and subsequent oil leak this summer captured urgent intellectual efforts of leading scientists around the world.

Though it was the largest marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry, it was not the first oil spill nor will it be the last.

To date, scientific studies and published reports on the topic number in the hundreds of thousands. After two months of sorting these reports, Thomson Reuters’ Science Watch is releasing their findings in an extensive Special Topic report with the  most influential research on oil spills, from remediation (including dispersants) to bioindicators.  Citation data from January 2000 to June 2010 was approached from various angles, and trends and anomalies emerge handily.

Genetically engineered fish, anyone?

Would you eat a genetically modified fish? What about pork from a pig with mouse genes? Beef from cattle with genes spliced to resist “mad cow” disease?

CHILE-SALMON/CRISISThese are questions Americans may soon have to answer for themselves if the U.S. health regulators allow the sale of a genetically engineered salmon. The company that makes it, Aqua Bounty Technologies Inc <ABTX.L>, expects an agency decision by year’s end.

The biotech says its Atlantic salmon grows nearly twice as fast as normal salmon and could help Americans get more locally farmed fish. That could cut down on U.S. imports of roughly $1.4 billion a year in Atlantic salmon from other countries such as Chile while also easing pressure on wild Atlantic salmon in the nation’s Northeast.

Scottish scientists brew up whisky biofuel

Professor Martin Tangey, Director of Edinburgh Napier University Biofuel Research Centre, holds a glass of whisky during a media viewing in Edinburgh, Scotland August 17, 2010. The University, which has filed a patent for a new super butanol biofuel made from whiskey by-products, 'pot ale' - a liquid taken from the copper stills, and 'draff' which is the spent grain, claims the bio-fuel gives 30 percent more output power than ethanol. REUTERS/David Moir

Scientists in Scotland have unveiled a new biofuel made from whisky byproducts that they say can power ordinary cars more efficiently than ethanol.

A research team from Edinburgh’s Napier University spent two years creating the biofuel butanol that can be used in gas tanks either as a stand-alone fuel or blended with petrol or diesel, they announced Tuesday. It is derived from distillation byproducts pot ale (liquid from copper stills) and draff (the spent grains).

Is this the answer for critics of corn-based, energy-intensive ethanol?

“While some energy companies are growing crops specifically to generate biofuel, we are investigating excess materials such as whisky by-products to develop them,” Professor Martin Tangey, director of Napier’s Biofuel Research Center told the Financial Times.

Introducing 100 innovations

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One man alone does not make a movement. But can he influence one?

There are no limits is the attitude espoused by PhD, MBA, entrepreneur, eco-designer, and visionary Gunter Pauli (above), who is now pouring his life’s work into a project to spark a new way of doing business, ergo a new economy.

He calls it the Blue Economy, because it’s not enough to be green and good to the environment. Blue creates a competitive and sustainable society and blue thrives on innovation. Blue is better than green, he asserts.

The 54-year-old founder and former CEO and president of Ecover is releasing the English and Korean editions of his book The Blue Economy at the Business for the Environment B4E Global Summit in Seoul today, Earth Day. It is to be published in 14 languages.

from Tales from the Trail:

Boycott Copenhagen, Palin urges Obama

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 If Sarah Palin had her way, President Barack Obama would be staying away from this month's global climate change talks in Copenhagen and "sending a message that the United States will not be a party to fraudulent scientific practices."

The summit will hear from scientists like those from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, where recently revealed e-mails showed information that raised questions about climate change was suppressed, writes Palin.

"Without trustworthy science and with so much at stake, Americans should be wary about what comes out of this politicized conference. The president should boycott Copenhagen," she wrote in an op-ed in the Washington Post.

Fishing for information

The research vessel Professor Khromov is just a few kms off the easternmost point of Siberia, and U.S. technologist Kevin Taylor is struggling to reel in an orange buoy that had been deep beneath the Bering Strait for nearly a year.

The first time he tries, the ship veers too far away from the prize and must make a slow, wide turn for another pass. The second time, Taylor’s hook is not quite ready and the float bobs again into the Khromov’s wake. This takes practice, even in calm waters.

A main task of the RUSALCA expedition, a joint-U.S.-Russian scientific effort taking place in August and September, is to retrieve data-gathering moorings that were dropped 50 meters to the bottom during stormy weather last October, and to leave new ones.

from FaithWorld:

Do animals have moral codes? Well, up to a point…

wild-justice-2"We believe that there isn't a moral gap between humans and other animals, and that saying things like 'the behavior patterns that wolves or chimpanzees display are merely building blocks for human morality' doesn't really get us anywhere. At some point, differences in degree aren't meaningful differences at all and each species is capable of 'the real thing.' Good biology leads to this conclusion. Morality is an evolved trait and 'they' (other animals) have it just like we have it."

That's a pretty bold statement. If a book declares that in its introduction, it better have to have some strong arguments to back it up. A convincing argument could influence how we view our own morality and its origins, how we understand animal cognition and even how we relate to animals themselves.

Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals, a new book by Marc Bekoff and Jessica Pierce, presents a persuasive case for some animals being much more intelligent than generally believed. The authors show how these animals have emotions, exhibit empathy, mourn for their dead and seem to have a sense of justice. They draw interesting parallels to similar human behaviour that many people think stems from our moral codes and/or religious beliefs rather than some evolutionary process. All this is fascinating and their argument for open-mindedness about recognising animals' real capabilities is strong.

from FaithWorld:

White U.S. evangelicals most skeptical on climate change

Among U.S. religious groups, white evangelical Protestants are the least likely to believe that human activities are contributing to climate change, according to a new survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. You can see the numbers, based on a broader 2008 poll, here.

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Overall the Pew Forum found that a plurality, or 47 percent, of the adult U.S. population accepts that there is solid evidence that the earth is warming because of human activities. Most scientists have reached the conclusion that the planet's climate is changing because of human-induced factors, notably the emissions from burning of the fossil fuels that drive the global economy.

Among religious groups Pew found that those who said they were unaffiliated with any faith tradition were the most likely to accept that humanity was warming the planet, with 58 percent of them taking that view.

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