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Making ethanol from CO2 at ORNL sparks considerable interest

Oakridger | Posted on June 15, 2017

In the Secret City, the not-so-secret passwords of “carbon dioxide” and “ethanol,” combined with a press release and video sent out at the same time, triggered intense media coverage last fall of an “accidental” discovery at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.  The ORNL video went viral, with a quarter million views the first week after its release (as well as more than 100,000 views since then). You can play the YouTube video by searching for “ethanol ORNL video.”  An article based on the Oak Ridge National Laboratory release became Popular Mechanics’ most popular story of the year. And ORNL researchers were interviewed on NPR, CBS, NBC and CNBC — while other news sources such as Wired and Time magazines highlighted the discovery.That’s what happened in mid-October when the media learned that Adam Rondinone and a dozen colleagues at ORNL’s Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences accidentally made the fuel ethanol from carbon dioxide ... or CO2.Rondinone told this story and explained the science behind the discovery and its possible applications during a recent talk to Friends of Oak Ridge National Laboratory (FORNL). The research was published in 2016 in ChemistrySelect.Scientists have linked surging emissions of CO2, a greenhouse gas, to increased warming of the atmosphere and planet, potentially causing devastating climate change. Ethanol, currently made from corn, has been blended into gasoline for a decade in the United States. CO2 released when ethanol is burned in vehicles is offset by the CO2 captured when corn is grown.

New York will sink $1.5B into renewable energy projects to spur clean energy jobs

Utility Dive | Posted on June 15, 2017

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo last week announced a new Clean Climate Careers (CCC) initiative that will aim to create 40,000 clean energy jobs by 2020. Renewable energy, aiming to procure an additional 2.5 million MWh each year. According to the governor's announcement, it is "the largest clean energy procurement by a state in U.S. history." New York rolled out its plan in the wake of President Trump's announcement that he would pull the United States out of the United Nations Paris climate accord. Similarly, the California Senate voted to move to 100% renewables after the decision was announced.

Nuclear Subsidies Slow to Catch on as Opposition Steps Up

Bloomberg | Posted on June 14, 2017

Almost a year after New York became the first state to approve subsidies for nuclear reactors threatened with closure, efforts to replicate the model elsewhere are proving a tough sell. Lawmakers in Connecticut failed to pass a bill overnight that was designed to shore up a nuclear plant. Dominion Energy Inc., which mounted a high-profile campaign to win higher revenue for its Millstone station, said it would “continue assessing our investments” in the state as a result. With the exception of Illinois, supporters of state aid are similarly struggling to make headway in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Those with the most to lose -- such as renewable energy providers and big electric customers -- are pushing back in state legislatures, said Peter Bradford, a consultant who used to serve on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. That’s making it harder for states to come to the rescue of reactors grappling with plunging power prices.At least five nuclear power plants have retired in the past five years including Fort Calhoun in Nebraska, which closed in October. Those in favor of state subsidies say the carbon-free electricity provided by nuclear is needed to help states meet ambitious clean-energy targets and preserve local jobs, while opponents counter that they distort the idea of a level playing field.Dominion had backed a bill proposing that the state takes competitive bids for both nuclear and renewable power. “Continued inaction harms customers, the state’s ability to meet its climate goals, and the state’s economy,” Ken Holt, a spokesman for Dominion’s Millstone plant, said in a statement on Thursday. 

FirstEnergy's nuclear zero emission credits may have stalled | Posted on June 14, 2017

FirstEnergy's effort to convince state lawmakers that it must have more than $300 million a year in new customer charges to keep its nuclear power plants running is approaching a stall point.The Ohio Senate's Public Utilities Committee wrapped up its fourth hearing Thursday on the special nuclear funding legislation, without reaching a conclusion.In fact, most of the 13 members on the committee had drifted away by the time the last witnesses gave their testimony opposing Senate Bill 128.Over 40 witnesses have submitted written testimony, much of it in opposition.  Many of them have then appeared before the committee to present the testimony formally and take questions from lawmakers.State Sen. William Beagle, a Tipp City Republican and chairman of the utilities committee, said there were still a few requests from opponents of the legislation to appear before the committee.

Heritage Foundation attacks ethanol policies

Farm Futures | Posted on June 8, 2017

The Heritage Foundation Blueprint for Agriculture includes a lengthy chapter on U.S. biofuels policy and the renewable fuel standard (RFS). Heritage concludes that ethanol and other current biofuels are harmful to agriculture, the environment, and consumer.Heritage claims the U.S. biofuels policy “is a case study in the unintended consequences of government intervention.” For example, biofuels have created higher livestock prices for livestock farmers and ranchers. Heritage suggests biofuel policies, over a 30-year time frame, have diverted over $35 billion in taxpayer money to agriculture. It goes on to conclude renewable fuel mandates have assisted corn growers at the expense of livestock producers. (I suspect my friends in the livestock community are not complaining about corn prices now.)The report claims “The renewable fuel standard has certainly contributed to increased prices [in food].” To support this charge, Heritage quotes the USDA Economic Research Service, which writes, “Increased corn prices draw land away from competing crops, raise input prices for livestock producers, and put moderate upward pressure on retail food prices.”Heritage also claims that diverting food to fuel has hurt both rural America and the world’s poorest citizens. I suspect there is some dispute over this assertion.The report relies on the 2012 summer drought to assert that existing subsidies for ethanol and other biofuels “needlessly” diverted food to fuel. Although the report does accurately state “The magnitude of the ethanol mandate’s effect on corn prices and overall agricultural products is difficult to determine, partly because of the uncertainty of estimates regarding how much ethanol would be used for fuel absent a mandate…”

Nevada Legislature Passes Bill to Restore Net Metering for Rooftop Solar

Green Tech Media | Posted on June 7, 2017

The Nevada State Legislature has passed a bill that's expected to revive the state's ailing rooftop solar market. The Assembly voted to approve a Senate version of the bill late Sunday night, with just a day remaining in the legislative session. The bill (AB 405) would reinstate net energy metering for residential solar projects, but at a discounted compensation rate. AB 405 would immediately allow rooftop solar customers to be reimbursed for excess generation from a solar system at 95 percent of the retail electricity rate. Over time, though, customer compensation would decline. The amended bill would create tiers, where credit rates decrease in increments for every 80 megawatts of rooftop solar generation deployed -- to a floor of 75 percent of the retail rate. A previous version of the bill lowered compensation in increments based on peak load. If signed into law, AB 405 would also allow net-metered customers to lock in their rate for at least 20 years, eliminating the risk that rates could change retroactively. Other consumer protections are also included in the bill, like the requirement for solar companies to offer a 10-year warranty and to provide transparent information as to how they calculate customer savings. 

U.S. coal demand falls to lowest level since ’84

Fuel Fix | Posted on June 7, 2017

The U.S. power sector consumed 677 million short tons of coal last year, the lowest level since 1984, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported.That was a 35 percent decline from 2008, when coal demand in the power sector hit its peak.The fall comes not only as natural gas, wind turbines and solar panels take on increasing shares of the U.S. power market but overall demand has leveled off amidst increasingly efficient homes and buildings and middling economic growth nationally.Coal prices fell to an average of less than $42 per ton last year, a 6 percent drop from 2015 and the second year in a row of decline.

Corn ethanol faces its limits under EPA fuel mandate

Washington Examiner | Posted on June 6, 2017

Corn ethanol has reached its official limit under the Environmental Protection Agency's renewable fuel program, which means other less-developed, low-carbon fuels will have to step up to fill a 21 billion-gallon gap by 2022.Depending on where you stand on the future of the Renewable Fuel Standard, the cap on corn can be a blessing, a challenge or a curse.Under the Renewable Fuel Standard, which was passed by Congress in 2007, refiners must blend 36 billion gallons of biofuels in the nation's gasoline and diesel fuel supply by 2022. Corn ethanol, the biggest component of the program, and other conventional biofuels are capped at 15 billion gallons beginning in 2017.That means the remaining 21 billion gallons must be met by advanced biofuels derived from everything from municipal waste to switch grass cellulose and even algae. But those fuels are falling short of the amount required to be blended as of this year, raising serious questions about the future of the program after 2022.Gasoline and diesel refiners say the gap will create a situation in which differing biofuel factions spar against one another over their share of the market.

As Trump touts coal while ditching the Paris accord, three more coal-fired plants shut

The Los Angeles Times | Posted on June 5, 2017

On the same day that President Trump announced the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, environmentalists took consolation in the closure of three large coal-fired power plants — the kind often blamed as big contributors to climate change. The three plants, two in New Jersey and another in Massachusetts, are the latest in a national trend toward phasing out coal-fired power plants in the face of tighter regulations and competition from cheap natural gas.But in the end, industry officials said they had to close because they were no longer economically viable.“The sustained low prices of natural gas have put economic pressure on these plants for some time.

Former North Nashville landfill to transform into city's first solar program

Fox 17 | Posted on June 5, 2017

A former North Nashville landfill will now be the site of the city's first solar program. The Nashville Electric Service (NES) and Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) are partnering with the city and Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee to launch the project dubbed Music City Solar.The two megawatt solar array will consist of 5,966 panels on 10 acres along I-65 on Old Due West Avenue.The project is expected to generate 2.8 million kilowatt-hours of electricity a year, the equivalent of the yearly energy needs for 210 homes.