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

U.S. Halts Plan to Drill in Eastern Gulf

The Obama administration announced on Wednesday that it had rescinded its decision to expand offshore oil exploration into the eastern Gulf of Mexico and along the Atlantic Coast because of weaknesses in federal regulation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.

Can Engineered Bugs Help Generate Biofuels?

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 Sprouting Up Everywhere

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.

New Solar-Piezoelectric Hybrid Fiber Makes Clean Energy as Easy as Putting on a T-Shirt

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.

Amazon deforestation slows in Brazil

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.

21 Responses to 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

  1. dbmetzger says:

    From the eco friendly front…

    Mumbai’s Orchid “Ecotel” Offers Green Lodging
    Amidst the bustling concrete sprawl of modern Mumbai, green architecture and business is taking root. The Orchid Hotel in Mumbai is making a name for itself as an “ecotel,” designed to have as small an environmental impact as possible.

  2. Prokaryotes says:

    Coming Soon: $20 ‘Solar to Hydrogen’ Conversion System

    Sun Catalytix, an American company founded by a MIT professor, is working on a low-cost ‘solar to hydrogen’ power system and plans to launch it within the next 18 months. The product which was announced about two years ago has attracted millions of dollars in investment from the Indian industrial giant Tata.

    The system works by utilizing solar energy to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen is then stored to be used later. While there is nothing new in this technology, the way in which the the system does these things is completely revolutionary. The system can use water from any source, be it river water, sea water or even waste water. The company claims to that the system is highly efficient and is capable of powering a house with only two bottles of water from ‘any source’.

    The conventional technology used for splitting water into hydrogen is costly as it requires extremely high energy to break the bonds between the water molecules. Commercially available electrolysis technologies are expensive as they use precious metals like platinum or operate at high pressures or temperatures making them practically and economically unviable for small-scale use. Professor Daniel Nocera, however, thought of a more natural way to achieve the same results. The hydrogen-splitting technology closely resembles the natural processes found in plant and bacteria. The system uses cobalt phosphate-based catalyst which operates at atmospheric pressure which is significantly advantageous when compared to the conventional catalysts.

  3. Prokaryotes says:

    Ontario Feed-In Tariffs Create Tens of Thousands of Solar Jobs, Cost = 1 Donut/Month

  4. Prokaryotes says:

    Carter Era Solar Panel Performance Amazes Owner

    A story in Green building advisor sheds some light on how long the solar panels on your roof just might keep on pumping out power. While most appliances only use energy, rather than make energy, and are not subject to the rigorous second-guessing of solar arrays (when was the last time you demanded a payback… Read More…

  5. JasonW says:

    “We’re not raping 100 women every day anymore, only 25. Our raping levels have reached an all-time low!” Yes, well done Lula – here, have some sweets!

  6. Colorado Bob says:

    Rain gardens –

    Another great resource is Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond by Brad Lancaster. Vol I & II .

    I have a water harvesting system for my greenhouse. I haven’t used city water in it for over 2 1/2 years.

  7. TomG says:

    Deforestation fell to 2,509 square miles?
    Well it’s an improvement.
    They keep improving like this and I suspect they will be able to halt deforestation just about the same time they run out of trees…

  8. Dan from Canada says:

    Why doesn’t Climate Progress cover the Cancun climate conference in greater detail in its daily blog? Whether the Cancun conference is a succeess or failure (right now it looks like it will be a failure), it is the big global warming news for the next few days.

  9. Prokaryotes says:

    Alaska acknowledges effects of climate change

    ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Alaska wildlife officials have released a report acknowledging that scientific and traditional evidence increasingly shows climate change at unprecedented rates throughout the Arctic.

    The report released this week marks a departure for the state, which is suing to overturn the federal listing of polar bears as a threatened species because of declining sea ice habitat.

    The report, called “Climate Change Strategy,” says warming temperatures could affect Alaska’s bodies of water, leading to changes in sport fishing and subsistence opportunities.

    A Department of Fish and Game official, Doug Vincent-Lang, says the agency has stayed out of the climate change debate but thought it was time to take stock of the effects.

  10. Prokaryotes says:

    Cholera cases reach more than 72,000 in Haiti

  11. Prokaryotes says:

    HAITIAN mobs fearing a cholera epidemic have killed at least 12 people in recent days whom they accused of trying to spread the disease, including through witchcraft, police say.

  12. Prokaryotes says:

    Stuart Rose warns companies must radically change – and work together
    Outgoing Marks & Spencer chairman says business models must be geared towards sustainability and finite resources

    Sir Stuart Rose, outgoing chairman of Marks & Spencer, has warned that companies will need to radically alter their business models if they are going to cope with a perfect storm of climate change, a growing global population, and finite resources.

    He also said that the retailer is only a tenth of the way to becoming a truly sustainable company, despite the success of its Plan A strategy, which itself is held up as one of the most ambitious of its kind.

    In one of his last major speeches before he steps down at the end of this year, Rose said the recession has masked the fundamental shifts in the way business will need to respond in order to access their resources, customers, markets and capital.

    He gave a stark warning that “there just isn’t enough to go around. Period. No argument. So I believe we can’t go on as we are.”

  13. Michael T. says:

    Day 1 – 1st Keynote: Storms of My Grandchildren (Part 1)

  14. Mike says:

    I’ll try this again.

    Food security wanes as world warms
    Global warming may have begun outpacing ability of farmers to adapt


    Loss of Species Large and Small Threatens Human Health, Study Finds

    ScienceDaily (Dec. 1, 2010) — The loss of biodiversity — from beneficial bacteria to charismatic mammals — threatens human health. That’s the conclusion of a study published this week in the journal Nature by scientists who study biodiversity and infectious diseases.

  15. Bevan says:

    Rain gardens and other low impact development approaches can also save huge amounts of energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions:

  16. CW says:

    China mulls $1.5-trillion industry boost (Toronto Star)

    Beijing— Reuters

    Last updated Thursday, Dec. 02, 2010 11:20AM EST

    China is considering investments of up to $1.5-trillion (U.S.) over five years in seven strategic industries, sources said, a plan aimed at accelerating the country’s transition from the world’s supplier of cheap goods to a leading purveyor of high-value technologies.

    Analysts expressed skepticism at the sheer amount of money – it equates to about 5 per cent of China’s gross domestic product on an annual basis – but said that the eye-popping headline figure was an indication of the government’s determination to catalyze a structural shift in the economy.

    The targeted sectors include alternative energy, biotechnology, new-generation information technology, high-end equipment manufacturing, advanced materials, alternative-fuel cars and energy-saving and environmentally friendly technologies.

  17. Prokaryotes says:

    Foreign crews help Israel battle massive forest fire

    Meanwhile, local media has criticised the government’s lack of readiness, with Ben Caspit, a commentator in the Maariv daily, said Israel had been caught “with its pants down”.

    “A country above which hover spy satellites, a country to which foreign sources attribute chilling military operations…is also the country that has its firefighting material run out after seven hours, a country whose fire-trucks date back to the previous century, and a country that therefore finds itself caught, standing before the flames, with its pants down,” he wrote.

    Israel has been experiencing a period of drought, suffering its driest November in 60 years.

    How often will we read that resources are not enough to cope with climate change disruption?
    If the richest do not start conservation efforts, they are the ones who will lose their entire business.

  18. Mike says:

    (3rd attempt to post this)

    New Scientist
    Goodbye grey skies, hello extra warming
    02 December 2010 by Michael Marshall

    LOW, grey clouds help keep the planet cool. But as the world warms they will shrink and temperatures will rise ever higher, according to a study that could help to resolve one of the biggest uncertainties in climate science.

  19. Chris Winter says:

    CNN does a decent reporting job on ocean acidification:
    Oceans failing the acid test, U.N. says
    By Matthew Knight for CNN
    December 2, 2010 2:34 p.m. EST

    “Ocean acidification is yet another red flag being raised, carrying planetary health warnings about the uncontrolled growth in greenhouse gas emissions. It is a new and emerging piece in the scientific jigsaw puzzle, but one that is triggering rising concern,” Achim Steiner, UNEP executive director, said in a statement.