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Termite-gut microbes extract clean energy from coal

Tech Xplore | Posted on January 9, 2019

Termites generally don't elicit a whole lot of love. But surprisingly, this wood-eating insect may hold the key to transforming coal—a big polluting chunk of the global energy supply—into cleaner energy for the world, according to University of Delaware researchers. A community of termite-gut  converts  into methane, the chief ingredient in natural gas. The study, which produced computer models of the step-by-step , was a collaboration with ARCTECH, a company based in Centerville, Virginia, that has been working with these microbes for the past 30 years. ARCTECH provided the UD team with the experimental data that was used to validate the models.

Coal mines closing despite Trump's promises

WTHI-TV | Posted on January 9, 2019

It sits on the banks of the Monongahela River like a monstrous monument to extinction. With no fire in its belly and no smoke in its stacks, the rusting power plant provides only one sign of its former inhabitants, scribbled on a white board in a padlocked guard booth."RIP Mitchell," the handwriting reads. "You gave us a good few years."The Mitchell Power Station, just south of Pittsburgh, actually turned Pennsylvania coal into power for a good 65 years before the discovery of cheaper, cleaner forms of energy.As fracked natural gas and renewables like wind and solar undercut the price of coal, both Mitchell and the nearby Hatfield's Ferry power plants were deactivated on the same day in 2013.Many in this corner of coal country blamed Obama-era regulations on their demise, so when a candidate named Donald Trump promised to end a so-called "war on coal," they were ready to believe.But thanks largely to free-market forces, more coal-fired power plants have been deactivated in Trump's first two years in office then in Obama's entire first term. When asked about the President's claim to be the savior of coal, veteran miner and industry consultant Art Sullivan bristles."He's trying to get their votes," he says, standing by the fenced-off entrance to a mine not far from Mitchell where he once served as Face Boss, a coal industry term for managers. "He's lying to them."

Trump Administration Works Overtime to Make Sure Shutdown Doesn’t Stop Oil Drilling

Bloomberg | Posted on January 9, 2019

The partial U.S. government shutdown has docked fishing boats in Alaska, delayed public meetings on a proposed wind farm off the Massachusetts coast and blocked pharmaceutical companies from seeking approval for new drugs. But the Trump administration is working overtime to make sure the shutdown doesn’t halt oil drilling too -- in ways critics say may flout federal law.“One of the principles of government is that you serve everybody equally,” but that’s not what’s happening here, said Matt Lee-Ashley, a former deputy chief of staff at the Interior Department. “The oil industry is still getting business as usual and everybody else is getting shut out, so it’s fundamentally not fair and it may be illegal too.” The Interior Department is still issuing permits for oil companies to drill wells on federal land and in the Gulf of Mexico. It is also moving forward on oil development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and other parts of Alaska, going so far as to convene public meetings over whether to allow pipelines and drilling rigs near wetlands that sustain caribou and threatened birds.

PG&E could sell gas division, or seek bankruptcy, as Camp Fire woes mount

The Sacramento Bee | Posted on January 8, 2019

PG&E, facing billions in potential losses from the Camp Fire and other wildfires, is reportedly exploring the sale of its natural gas division or a bankruptcy filing as it tries to deal with its staggering financial liabilities. NPR, quoting anonymous sources, said Friday that PG&E might sell the gas division as well as some of its real estate, including its headquarters in San Francisco, to raise cash for wildfire claims. The entire effort is part of a strategy code-named “Project Falcon,” NPR reported.

Farmers fear another hit as shutdown threatens Trump ethanol vow

Chicago Tribune | Posted on January 7, 2019

Farmer Bruce Buchanan was so elated with Donald Trump's October vow to allow higher sales of corn-based ethanol that he carved a huge thank-you note in his Indiana cornfield. Now, though, the president's actions have him worried. The government shutdown that Trump says could last "a long time" without funding for a border wall may hurt farmers by delaying the administration's ability to steer through the approval for year-round sales of a 15 percent ethanol blend for gasoline before the summer begins. That's up from 10 percent allowed now.The increased sales would certainly be helpful. Farm income has dropped in five out of the last six years. And this season, growers have been been hamstrung in selling their crops by an ongoing trade war with China. While Buchanan supports Trump on border security, the shutdown is troubling for a farming community that's clearly struggling, he said."It's not all fun and games out here," said Buchanan, a third-generation farmer from Fowler, Ind., in a telephone interview. "It's a daily challenge."The schedule for getting approval of the higher ethanol blend was already ambitious prior to the shutdown. The Environmental Protection Agency had promised to present a final rule in May, just four weeks before existing restrictions on 15 percent ethanol become binding. Now, though, the agency is largely inoperative.

Greener days ahead for carbon fuels?

Science Daily | Posted on January 3, 2019

A discovery by researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP) shows that recycling carbon dioxide into valuable chemicals and fuels can be economical and efficient -- all through a single copper catalyst. When you take a piece of copper metal, it may feel smooth to the touch, but at the microscopic level, the surface is actually bumpy -- and these bumps are what scientists call "active sites," said Joel Ager, a researcher at JCAP who led the study. Ager is a staff scientist in Berkeley Lab's Materials Sciences Division and an adjunct professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at UC Berkeley.Ever since the 1980s, when copper's talent for converting carbon into various useful products was discovered, it was always assumed that its active sites weren't product-specific -- in other words, you could use copper as a catalyst for making ethanol, ethylene, propanol, or some other carbon-based chemical, but you would have to go through a lot of steps to separate unwanted, residual chemicals formed during the intermediate stages of a chemical reaction before arriving at your final destination -- the chemical end-product.

Oregon:Commissioners to vote on 94-acre farm-land solar project

Herald and News | Posted on January 2, 2019

A proposed solar project could be developed on 94 acres of high-value farm land east of Klamath Community College and south of Olene.Klamath County commissioners plan to vote in early January on whether or not to grant Santa Monica, Calif. company Cypress Creek Renewables a permit to build the solar farm, which is called the Merrill Solar project. The project would generate about 10 megawatts of energy, said county planning director Mark Gallagher, powering roughly 2,000 homes annually.The proposed site is on high-value land exclusively zoned for agricultural use. Oregon statewide planning goals stipulate that counties must “preserve and maintain” these lands for farming use. Any non-agriculture project on zoned farmland — like a 94-acre solar farm — must be granted a special county exemption by the county.

Dakota Access pipeline developer slow to replace some trees

Washington Post | Posted on January 2, 2019

The developer of the Dakota Access oil pipeline missed a year-end deadline to plant thousands of trees along the pipeline corridor in North Dakota, but the company said it was still complying with a settlement of allegations it violated state rules during construction. Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners, which built the $3.8 billion pipeline that’s now moving North Dakota oil to Illinois, is falling back on a provision of the September 2017 agreement that provides more time should the company run into problems. The company must provide 20,000 trees to county soil conservation districts along the pipeline’s 359-mile (578-kilometer) route across North Dakota.The deal with North Dakota’s Public Service Commission settled allegations that ETP removed too many trees in some areas and that it improperly handled a pipeline route change after discovering Native American artifacts. The artifacts were not disturbed.The agreement required the company to replant trees and shrubs at a higher ratio in the disputed areas, along with an additional 20,000 trees along the entire route. ETP filed documents in October detailing efforts by a contractor to plant 141,000 trees and shrubs, but the PSC asked the company a month later to provide more documentation that it had complied with all settlement terms.

Administration moves closer to opening Arctic refuge for oil

AP | Posted on January 2, 2019

The Trump administration moved closer to opening thousands of miles within Alaska’s pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas leasing, issuing a draft report that concluded the polar bears, caribou and other wildlife could safely share their untouched wilderness with oil and gas producers. The report released by the Bureau of Land Management studied the environmental impact of opening between two-thirds and all of 1.65 million acres (667,731 hectares) of coastal plain within the remote refuge for oil and gas leasing. The administration’s environmental review acknowledged that opening the coastal plains within the nation’s largest wildlife refuge would impact Alaska Native hunters, as well as caribou herds and other arctic animals and migratory birds that depend upon the refuge.The report concluded, however, that the lease sales could be carried out “while balancing biological and ecological concerns.”Official publication of Thursday’s environmental impact statement opens a period of public review, which ends in February. The report examines wildlife and habitat at risk from opening the wilderness area.For example, a declining local population of 900 polar bears uses the targeted area for raising cubs and hunting.The pounding of seismic testing for underground oil and gas reserves could drive those bears to abandon dens and the cubs in them, the report acknowledges.Bears at large would be at increased risk from oilfield spills and chemicals, traffic, and run-ins with oil and gas and construction crews, the report warns.“The potential for injury or mortality could be high when developing new oil and gas projects in polar bear habitat,” the report said.

2018 Farm Bill Includes Key Renewable Energy Program

Clean Technica | Posted on January 2, 2019

Funding for a wide-ranging renewable energy funding program that benefits farmers and other rural businesses somehow made it into the new Farm Bill intact.  REAP is already laying plans for its 2019 round of funding. Eligible clean power projects include:Biomass (for example: biodiesel and ethanol, anaerobic digesters, and solid fuels)Geothermal for electric generation or direct use. Hydropower below 30 megawatts, Hydrogen, Small and large wind generation, Small and large solar generation, Ocean (tidal, current, thermal) generation, The REAP program also covers energy efficiency upgrades, including:High efficiency heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems (HVAC), Insulation, Lighting, Cooling or refrigeration units, Doors and windows, Electric, solar or gravity pumps for sprinkler pivots, Switching from a diesel to electric irrigation motor, Replacement of energy-inefficient equipment.