Energy

Soon solar will be the cheapest power everywhere
July 22, 2016 10:04 AM - Chris Goodall, The Ecologist

Solar is already the cheapest available power across large swathes of the tropics, writes Chris Goodall - its cost down 99.7% since the early 70s. Soon it will be the cheapest electricity everywhere, providing clean, secure, affordable energy for all.

Towards the end of last year, Shell CEO Ben van Beurden made a little-noticed remark. He said that solar would become the "dominant backbone" of the world's energy system.

He didn't give a date for his prediction, or indeed define what 'dominant' means, but he accepted that the sun will eventually provide the cheapest energy source across almost all of the world.

Trees' surprising role in the boreal water cycle quantified
July 21, 2016 04:55 PM - University of Alaska Fairbanks via EurekAlert!

Approximately 25 to 50 percent of a living tree is made up of water, depending on the species and time of year. The water stored in trees has previously been considered just a minor part of the water cycle, but a new study by University of Alaska Fairbanks scientists shows otherwise.

Research published this week in Nature Scientific Reports is the first to show that the uptake of snowmelt water by deciduous trees represents a large and previously overlooked aspect of the water balance in boreal watersheds. The study was led by Jessica Young-Robertson, who worked with other scientists from the National Weather Service and UAF's International Arctic Research Center and Geophysical Institute.

Scientists unlock 'green' energy from garden grass
July 21, 2016 11:52 AM - Cardiff University via EurekAlert!

Garden grass could become a source of cheap and clean renewable energy, scientists have claimed.

A team of UK researchers, including experts from Cardiff University's Cardiff Catalysis Institute, have shown that significant amounts of hydrogen can be unlocked from fescue grass with the help of sunlight and a cheap catalyst.

It is the first time that this method has been demonstrated and could potentially lead to a sustainable way of producing hydrogen, which has enormous potential in the renewable energy industry due to its high energy content and the fact that it does not release toxic or greenhouse gases when it is burnt.

Co-author of the study Professor Michael Bowker, from the Cardiff Catalysis Institute, said: "This really is a green source of energy.

Oceans may be large, overlooked source of hydrogen gas
July 21, 2016 11:33 AM - Duke University via ScienceDaily

Serpentinized rocks formed near fast-spreading tectonic plates under Earth's seafloor could be a large and previously overlooked source of free hydrogen gas, a new study finds. The finding could have far-ranging implications since scientists believe hydrogen might be the fuel source responsible for triggering life on Earth. And, if it were found in large enough quantities, hydrogen could be used as a clean-burning substitute for fossil fuels today.

The finding could have far-ranging implications since scientists believe H2 might be the fuel source responsible for triggering life on Earth. And, if it were found in large enough quantities, some experts speculate that it could be used as a clean-burning substitute for fossil fuels today because it gives off high amounts of energy when burned but emits only water, not carbon.

Recent discoveries of free hydrogen gas, which was once thought to be very rare, have been made near slow-spreading tectonic plates deep beneath Earth's continents and under the sea.

'Perfect storm' brought sea louse epidemic to BC salmon
July 20, 2016 04:52 PM - University of Toronto via ScienceDaily

High ocean temperatures and poor timing of parasite management likely led to an epidemic of sea lice in 2015 throughout salmon farms in British Columbia's Queen Charlotte Strait, a University of Toronto-led study has found.

The sea lice spread to migrating juvenile wild salmon, resulting in the highest numbers of sea lice observed on wild salmon in a decade.

In spring of 2015, a team of U of T ecologists led by postdoctoral researchers Andrew Bateman and Stephanie Peacock found that more than 70 per cent of fish the team sampled in the Strait's Broughton Archipelago had at least one sea louse: the highest prevalence of such parasites since 2005.

"It was sort of a perfect storm of environmental conditions and mismanagement of treatment," says Peacock, a postdoctoral fellow in the U of T's Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology when the research was conducted. "A lot of people talk about how sea lice are natural, but in farms, you have these parasites in larger numbers. Juvenile wild salmon are then exposed as they migrate past these areas."

NASA science flights target melting Arctic Sea ice
July 19, 2016 05:22 PM - NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center via ScienceDaily

This summer, with sea ice across the Arctic Ocean shrinking to below-average levels, a NASA airborne survey of polar ice just completed its first flights. Its target: aquamarine pools of melt water on the ice surface that may be accelerating the overall sea ice retreat.

NASA's Operation IceBridge completed the first research flight of its new 2016 Arctic summer campaign on July 13. The science flights, which continue through July 25, are collecting data on sea ice in a year following a record-warm winter in the Arctic.

The summer flights will map the extent, frequency and depth of melt ponds, the pools of melt water that form on sea ice during spring and summer. Recent studies have found that the formation of melt ponds early in the summer is a good predictor of the sea ice yearly minimum extent in September: if there are more ponds on the ice earlier in the melt season, they reduce the ability of sea ice to reflect solar radiation, which leads to more melt.

2016 climate trends continue to break records
July 19, 2016 04:44 PM - NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center via ScienceDaily

Two key climate change indicators -- global surface temperatures and Arctic sea ice extent -- have broken numerous records through the first half of 2016, according to NASA analyses of ground-based observations and satellite data.

Each of the first six months of 2016 set a record as the warmest respective month globally in the modern temperature record, which dates to 1880, according to scientists at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York. The six-month period from January to June was also the planet's warmest half-year on record, with an average temperature 1.3 degrees Celsius (2.4 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than the late nineteenth century.

Five of the first six months of 2016 also set records for the smallest respective monthly Arctic sea ice extent since consistent satellite records began in 1979, according to analyses developed by scientists at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, in Greenbelt, Maryland. The one exception, March, recorded the second smallest extent for that month.

Offshore wind powers ahead as prices drop 30% below nuclear
July 19, 2016 09:30 AM - Kieran Cooke, The Ecologist

The cost of offshore wind power in the North Sea is 30% lower than that of new nuclear, writes Kieran Cooke - helped along by low oil and steel prices, reduced maintenance and mass production. By 2030 the sector is expected to supply 7% of Europe's electricity. Output from the Dogger Bank project will be 1.2 GW (gigawatts) - enough to power more than a million homes. Next year, a 150-turbine wind farm off the coast of the Netherlands is due to start operating, and other schemes along the Dutch coast are in the works. Denmark, Sweden and Portugal are major investors in offshore wind, and China has ambitious plans for the sector. Wind farms - both onshore and offshore - are a key ingredient in renewable energy policy, and an important element in the battle against climate change. WindEurope, an offshore wind industry group, says that at the present rate of installations it's likely Europe will be producing about 7% of its electricity from offshore wind by 2030.

Offshore wind developers benefit from falling costs

By some calculations, all this building work would seem to make little economic sense. Fossil fuel prices are low on the world market, and constructing offshore wind farms several kilometres out at sea, in often treacherous conditions, has traditionally been an expensive business.

A battery inspired by vitamins
July 18, 2016 03:12 PM - John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences via EurekAlert!

Harvard researchers have identified a whole new class of high-performing organic molecules, inspired by vitamin B2, that can safely store electricity from intermittent energy sources like solar and wind power in large batteries.

The development builds on previous work in which the team developed a high-capacity flow battery that stored energy in organic molecules called quinones and a food additive called ferrocyanide. That advance was a game-changer, delivering the first high-performance, non-flammable, non-toxic, non-corrosive, and low-cost chemicals that could enable large-scale, inexpensive electricity storage.

While the versatile quinones show great promise for flow batteries, Harvard researchers continued to explore other organic molecules in pursuit of even better performance. But finding that same versatility in other organic systems has been challenging.

WSU researchers determine key improvement for fuel cells
July 18, 2016 02:15 PM - Washington State University via EurekAlert!

Washington State University researchers have determined a key step in improving solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs), a promising clean energy technology that has struggled to gain wide acceptance in the marketplace.

The researchers determined a way to improve one of the primary failure points for the fuel cell, overcoming key issues that have hindered its acceptance. Their work is featured on the cover of the latest issue of Journal of Physical Chemistry C.

Fuel cells offer a clean and highly efficient way to convert the chemical energy in fuels directly into electrical energy. They are similar to batteries in that they have an anode, cathode and electrolyte and create electricity, but they use fuel to create a continuous flow of electricity.

Fuel cells can be about four times more efficient than a combustion engine because they are based on electrochemical reactions, but researchers continue to struggle with making them cheaply and efficiently enough to compete with traditional power generation sources.

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