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Report outlines algae biofuel sustainability issues

A raceway pond used for the cultivation of microalgae. The water is kept in constant motion with a powered paddle wheel. Photo courtesy the Wikimedia Commons.

Water availability, nutrient use seen as key challenges

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Algae-based biofuels have been touted as the next big thing in renewable energy. But based on existing technologies, production on a significant scale — for example enough to supply 5 percent of U.S. transportation fuel needs — would put unsustainable demands on energy, water, and nutrients, according to a new report from the National Research Council.

But those concerns are not a definitive barrier for future production, the report concluded, emphasizing that technical innovations could change the equation.

Biofuels derived from algae and cyanobacteria could help the U.S. meet its energy security needs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Potential advantages over biofuels made from land plants, including algae’s ability to grow on non-croplands in cultivation ponds of freshwater, salt water, or wastewater. Continue reading

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Colorado: Court ruling puts uranium mining on hold

A mine in a uranium-bearing sandstone formation near Moab, Utah. PHOTO VIA WIKIPEDIA AND THE CREATIVE COMMONS.

Judge rules that Department of Energy violated environmental laws with leasing approval

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Uranium mining in southwestern Colorado is on hold following an Oct. 19 ruling by U.S. District Court Judge William Martinez.

The court ruled that the U.S. Department of Energy acted arbitrarily and capriciously” by failing to analyze site-specific impacts when it approved a leasing program on 42 square miles of federal land in Mesa, Montrose and San Miguel counties.

The Energy Department approved the leasing program under an environmental assessment, concluding with a formal “Finding of No Significant Impact.” A coalition of environmental groups challenged the approval and asked the court to order an in-depth environmental impact statement based on the potential for the mining and related activities to significantly affect the quality of the human environment. Continue reading

U.S. shale gas boom could tilt global ‘petro-power’ balance

Conservative think tank advocates for responsible development of  domestic resources, saying increased U.S. production could curb Russia’s petro-power

U.S. natural gas production could quadruple in the next 30 years.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — In Colorado, the debate over natural gas production from shale formations like those in the northwestern part of the state often focuses on environmental impacts, including the growing fragmentation of wildlife habitat and concerns about air and water quality from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

But there’s also a geopolitical dimension dimension to the rising tide of U.S. gas production. By some recent estimates, shale-gas production will quadruple by 2040, to more than 40 billion cubic feet per day. And that level of production has the potential to affect Russia’s ability to wield an “energy weapon” over its European customers, according to a recent study by the Baker institute. Continue reading

Photovoltaic systems add to home resale values

A new study suggests photovoltaic systems add to the resale value of homes. PHOTO COURTESY U.S. DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY.

Berkeley Lab study quantifies economic benefits of solar installations

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Adding a photovoltaic solar system to your home is a good environmental move, and now, new research by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory suggests that those homes sell for a premium over homes without solar systems.

“We find compelling evidence that solar PV systems in California have boosted home sales prices,” said lead author Ben Hoen, a researcher at Berkeley Lab. “These average sales price premiums appear to be comparable with the average investment that homeowners have made to install PV systems in California, and of course homeowners also benefit from energy bill savings after PV system installation and prior to home sale.”

The research finds that homes with PV in California have sold for a premium, expressed in dollars per watt of installed PV, of approximately $3.90 to $6.40/watt. This corresponds to an average home sales price premium of approximately $17,000 for a relatively new 3,100 watt PV system (the average size of PV systems in the Berkeley Lab dataset), and compares to an average investment that homeowners have made to install PV systems in California of approximately $5/W over the 2001-2009 period. Continue reading

Energy: New nanotech material could boost hydrogen fuel

This schematic shows high-capacity magnesium nanocrystals encapsulated in a gas-barrier polymer matrix to create a new and revolutionary hydrogen storage composite material. IMAGE BY JEFF URBAN.

New composite solves some of the challenges of storing enough hydrogen in a small space to make it useful as fuel for vehicles

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — A new composite nanotech material may speed up the development of hydrogen-based energy by storing concentrated amounts of hydrogen and releasing it easily without the application of extreme heat.

Researchers at the  U.S. Department of Energy Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory said their new product is a major breakthrough in materials design for hydrogen storage, batteries and fuel cells.

The material consist of nanoparticles of magnesium metal sprinkled through a polymer related to Plexiglas. This pliable nanocomposite rapidly absorbs and releases hydrogen at modest temperatures without oxidizing the metal after cycling.

One of the key applications could be to use hydrogen as a fuel for vehicles, said Jeff Urban, deputy director of the Inorganic Nanostructures Facility at the Molecular Foundry, a Department of Energy nanoscience center and national user facility located at Berkeley Lab. Continue reading

BLM extends comment period on draft solar study

Solar energy study areas in south-central Colorado.

Plan could result in streamlined approvals for industrial-scale photovoltaic installations

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY —Citizens will get an extra 30 days to comment on a massive draft environmental study for development of solar power on public lands in the West. The BLM this week announced the extension after getting numerous requests for more time to scrutinize the complex document.

The draft study, a joint effort with Department of Energy, is a comprehensive environmental analysis that has identified proposed solar energy zones on public lands in six western states that are most suitable for environmentally sound, utility-scale solar energy production.

The comment period will now run until April 16, 2011.  No additional public meetings will be held during the extended public comment period.

The Draft Solar PEIS assessed the environmental, social, and economic impacts associated with solar energy development on lands managed by the BLM in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah. Continue reading

New research could speed biofuel production

A new genetically engineered microbe could significantly speed production of biofuel. PHOTO FROM WIKIPEDIA VIA THE CREATIVE COMMONS.

Genetically modified microbe at the heart of streamlined conversion of biomass to isobutanol

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Researchers working at the Department of Energy’s BioEnergy Science Center say they have cracked a genetic code that will help speed the production of biofuel from tough cellulose raw materials like corn stover and switchgrass by developed a strain of a cellulose-degrading microbe that can synthesize isobutanol directly from cellulose.

Up to now, production of biofuel has involved several time-consuming steps that add to the cost, including pretreatment, enzyme treatment and fermentation.

Isobutanol is a higher grade of alcohol than ethanol and could eliminate the need for dedicated infrastructure in tanks or vehicles, Liao said. Compared to ethanol, higher alcohols such as isobutanol are better candidates for gasoline replacement because they have an energy density, octane value and Reid vapor pressure – a measurement of volatility – that is much closer to gasoline, he explained. Continue reading

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