"Energy and Global Warming News for December 2nd: Obama halts plan to drill in eastern Gulf; New fiber can harvest energy from the wind, rain, sun, body movements; Amazon deforestation slows"
The Obama administration announced on Wednesday that it had rescinded its decision to expand offshore oil exploration into the eastern Gulf of Mexico and along the Atlantic Coast because of weaknesses in federal regulation revealed by the BP oil spill.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said that a moratorium on drilling would be in force in those areas for at least seven years, until stronger safety and environmental standards were in place. The move puts off limits millions of acres of the Outer Continental Shelf that hold potentially billions of barrels of oil and trillions of cubic feet of natural gas.
The decision essentially reverses the much-disputed drilling plan announced in March, which would have initiated environmental studies and exploration activity in previously untouched areas off the Gulf Coast of Florida and along the East Coast from Florida to Delaware.
“As a result of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, we learned a number of lessons,” Mr. Salazar said in an afternoon briefing, “most importantly that we need to proceed with caution and focus on creating a more stringent regulatory regime.”
After the BP spill, Mr. Salazar disbanded the discredited agency charged with regulating offshore oil and gas operations, the Minerals Management Service, and replaced it with a new bureau with enhanced powers. The agency was faulted for inadequate staffing, a cozy relationship with the oil industry, a failure to perform regular inspections of oil rigs and lax enforcement of environmental and safety rules.
The versatile organism Lactococcus lactis, the workhorse bacterium that helps turn milk into cheese, may also be valuable in the understanding of how microbes turn the organic compound cellulose into biofuels.
New research from Concordia University, published in the journal Microbial Cell Factories, suggests the bacterium can be engineered to transform plant material into biofuels or other chemicals.
Concordia biology professor Vincent Martin and his PhD student Andrew Wieczorek demonstrated how structural or scaffolding proteins on the surface of the bacteria can be engineered in Lactococcus lactis towards the breakdown of plant material.
They showed how these scaffold proteins were successful in providing a stable surface outside the cell for chemical activity, e.g. the transformation of plant material into biofuels.
“This is the first study to show how the scaffolding proteins, can be secreted and localized to the cell surface of Lactococcus,” says Dr. Martin, who is also Canada Research Chair in Microbial Genomics and Engineering.
Rain gardens are increasingly popular with homeowners and municipalities and are mandatory for many communities nationally. U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientists are finding ways to improve rain gardens so they not only reduce runoff, but also keep toxic metals out of storm drains.
Rain gardens are plantings in depressions that catch stormwater runoff from sidewalks, parking lots, roads and roofs. Rain gardens come in various shapes and sizes, from large basins carved by front-end loaders to small artificial streambed-like formations complete with pebbles. Rain gardens not only slow water down to give it time to soak into the ground and be used by plants, but also filter out sediment and chemical pollutants.
Plant physiologist Rich Zobel at the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Appalachian Farming Systems Research Center (AFSRC) at Beaver, W.Va., and research associate Amir Hass, who works for West Virginia State University in Institute, W.Va., and is stationed at Beaver, are working on improving rain gardens. They are collaborating with ARS hydrologist Doug Boyer and ARS soil chemist Javier Gonzalez at Beaver, and colleagues at the ARS Southern Regional Research Center (SRRC) in New Orleans, La., and the ARS Eastern Regional Research Center (ERRC) in Wyndmoor, Pa.
ARS is USDA’s principal intramural scientific research agency, and this research supports USDA’s commitment to agricultural sustainability.
Scientists at the University of Bolton in the U.K. have come up with a new fiber that can harvest energy from the wind, rain, sun, and even body movements. The lightweight, flexible material could be used to make self-charging casings for laptops, phones, and other portable devices, and it could lend itself to many other uses from clothes to camping gear. The researchers have embarked on a three-year project to develop and commercialize the new fiber with researchers in China.
A New Piezoelectric Fiber
Piezoelectricity refers to a charge that is created when certain crystalline structures are subjected to stress or pressure. Micro scale piezoelectric devices can be used to harvest energy from relatively small vibrations. On a macro scale, many surfaces that are subjected to variable pressure – from highways and train station platforms to dance floors – can generate piezoelectric energy. One limiting factor has been the rigidity of piezoelectric devices, but the Bolton scientists have developed a way to weave piezoelectric capability into a flexible structure that lends itself to a wider variety of uses.
Piezoelectricity Goes Mainstream
Piezoelectricity may sound somewhat exotic right now, but it is just steps away from the mainstream: Energy Harvesting Journal reports that the U.S. military is developing a real-time remote sensor system that run on piezoelectric technology. Along with military applications, wireless energy-scavenging sensors can be used to monitor the reliability of bridges and other infrastructure, and their use could become widespread in many other areas.
Deforestation in the Amazon forest fell to its lowest level on record, the Brazilian government said on Wednesday, marking what could be a watershed in the conservation of the world’s largest rain forest.
The figures coincide with a United Nations global climate conference in Mexico. There, Brazil wants to showcase it is one of the few major economies significantly slashing its greenhouse gas emissions, which for it come mostly from burning or rotting trees.
“We will honor the pledge we made and we don’t need any favors. We do it because it’s our obligation,” said President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, adding that the developed world was failing to agree to ambitious cuts in greenhouse gases and was not transparent about financial aid to developing nations.
Deforestation fell to around 2,509 square miles (6,500 sq km) in the 12 months through July 2010, down 14 percent from the year before and a peak of 11,235 square miles (29,100 sq km) in the mid-1990s. It is the lowest rate since the series began in 1988.