- A (Long) History of Federal Investment in Fracking Technology
- “Within 6 Hours Deserts Receive More Energy from the Sun than Humankind Consumes Within a Year”
- Swarming Crabs Act Like Energy Efficient Computers
- Telecom Tower Market a 2 GW Solar Power Opportunity in India
- Donald Sadowy Liquid Batteries TED Talk
Posted: 15 Apr 2012 10:15 AM PDT
With the battle over new federal natural gas drilling regulations heating up, now is a good time to recall the pivotal role that federal dollars have played in developing the drilling method called fracking. Short for hydraulic fracturing, the practice has been linked in recent years to significant public health and environmental problems including air pollution, water contamination and even earthquakes, yet it has been largely exempt from regulation on a national level.
Fracking and federal funds
Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus of The Breakthrough Institute make a detailed case for the role of federal funds in fracking technology, in a recent article at American.com, the online magazine of the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute.
They acknowledge that fracking, which involves shooting liquid into rock at high pressure, was pioneered by the private sector beginning in the 19th century. However, they provide a research history showing that these relatively primitive operations have little to do with the modern commercial-scale fracking technology developed later in the 20th century, which is based on foundational research conducted by government scientists.
They back up their case with examples of specific research projects (see the Breakthrough blog for more details), and they also unearth direct pleas from the oil and gas industry for federal investment in research leading to improved fracking technology.
Drilling and the geothermal connection
In a separate but related line of research, the high efficiency drill bits commonly used by the oil and gas industry today were initially developed about 30 years ago at Sandia National Laboratory. The technology was originally intended for the geothermal industry, which deals with much more difficult rock formations than are typical for oil and gas drilling.
At the time, the geothermal industry wasn’t ready to invest in the new technology but the oil and gas industry has enthusiastically embraced it ever since.
Things have come full circle now that the geothermal industry is beginning to gather steam. Sandia researchers are currently working with a private company in partnership with the U.S. Navy, tweaking the technology a bit further to enable cost-effective geothermal drilling (if you’re wondering about that Navy connection, the U.S. military has vast geothermal potential at many of its facilities and the Navy has been operating a geothermal plant at its China Lake research base since the 1980′s).
A stronger case for federal clean tech funding
The Breakthrough article demonstrates how federal research dollars have played a role in an energy boom that is proving to be highly profitable for the private sector. That in turn makes a good argument for continued federal investment in foundational energy research in general, whether for fossil fuel recovery or new clean tech.
However strong the evidence for Breakthrough’s case, it appears that a counter-effort is afoot (round up the usual suspects!). In a followup article that appeared in American.com just last week, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) asserts that only private sector innovation can claim credit for the current boom.
According to an article in The Hill, Upton’s Energy and Commerce Committee is also working on "an exhaustive review of the limits of government-sponsored energy production."
In a similar vein, last week saw the debut of good-sized television ad buy from American Crossroads, which backs Upton’s underlying pitch for private sector credit by claiming that all of the current increase in energy production can be accounted for by drilling on private land, not on federal lands.
That’s certainly not the last word on the subject, so count on things to heat up as we get closer to the November elections.
Follow Tina Casey on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.
Posted: 15 Apr 2012 07:00 AM PDT
This is a nice quote from the Desertec site that, featured on the image above, that I thought made for another nice, short weekend share. And, of course, that’s a pretty stunning statistic. Any wonder why some of the world’s top companies are putting over half a trillion dollars into Desertec?
Thanks to one of our top readers for this share.
Posted: 15 Apr 2012 05:13 AM PDT
A team of scientists from Japan and England has developed a computer made from live crabs, and though it sounds like something out of a Monty Python skit this crustaceous computing device could lead to a new generation of ultra-efficient computers. The basic concept is a form of biomimicry, as the researchers were inspired by soldier crabs, which can form into swarms to accomplish a task that none dare to accomplish individually.
Crabs and computers
In an article at complex-systems.com, the research team describes how they observed the swarming behavior of soldier crabs, or Mictyris guinotae, which live in colonies numbering into the hundreds of thousands:
“A single crab or a small group of crabs do not usually enter the water; however, a large swarm enters the water and crosses a lagoon without hesitation. The large swarm crossing the water consists of an active front and passive tail. The crabs in the tail simply follow the crabs at the front.”
Based on their observations, the researchers theorized that crabs are practicing a form of collision-based computing, analogous to the behavior of colliding billiard balls (it’s worth noting that one part of the team is from the Unconventional Computing Centre of the University of the West of England).
Like billiard balls that behave differently depending on whether they collide with another ball or not, an individual crab will follow passively or lead aggressively depending on their location within a swarm.
Crabs, biomimicry and energy efficient computers
According to a post at MIT’s Technology Review, conventional computers are about eight orders of magnitude less energy efficient than they could be in theory. A basic principle of biomimicry is that natural systems evolve toward efficiency, and the researchers’ findings so far appear to confirm that.
After testing their theory in computer models, they built a simple maze-like structure roughly in the shape of an X. That enabled them to observe the behavior of crabs in channels, and sure enough, they found similarities to the highly efficient “billiard ball” computer established by earlier research.
Teeny tiny crab computers
Don’t turn in your smart phone for a bucket of soldier crabs just yet, though – the next challenge, of course, is to miniaturize the principles of collision computing for real life applications. In the meantime, computer researchers are attacking Moore’s Law from other angles, including nanoscale computing devices that could spell the end of conventional transistors, and exploring the potential for photon-based computers based on the behavior of light in diamonds.
Follow Tina Casey on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.
Posted: 15 Apr 2012 04:48 AM PDT
According to Bridge to India’s latest quarterly market analysis, The India Solar Compass, 2GW of solar power could be installed in conjunction with telecom towers in India by 2016.
According to Bridge to India, “this segment is emerging as a front-runner among diesel-parity based market segments for solar PV solutions.”
While this segment hasn’t taken off already, due to the capital expenditures required by the telecom company as well as the cost of operating and maintaining the systems, solar’s tremendous cost reductions in the past year, combined with more supportive solar policies in India, have made this investment a very attractive one for telecom tower companies.
Bridge to India “believes there is now traction in the market, leading to the emergence of a new model of operations, the Renewable Energy Service Company (RESCO) model,” the solar market analysis and consulting firm writes. “The RESCO business model is described in greater detail in the latest edition of the India Solar Compass. In addition, the report details the commercial opportunity as well as market potential associated with the telecom tower solar opportunity. The analysis also highlights the key factors that impact the maximum cash demand, profitability and project life-cycle involvement and therefore the overall financial viability of the RESCO business model.”
All in all, Bridge to India sees this as an immediate business opportunity for companies in the solar and telecom sectors. We’ll see if they really tap it and increase solar power capacity at such towers 2 GW by 2016.
Image: cell tower & solar panels courtesy shutterstock
Posted: 14 Apr 2012 02:55 PM PDT
Nicholas wrote in February about an innovative ‘liquid battery’ designed by Dr. Donald Sadowy and his research team at MIT. Sadowy’s liquid metal batteries have many people a tad excited, so it’s natural that he’d be talking about the batteries at TED. He recently spoke at TED 2012: Full Spectrum — here’s a video of that:
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