“Michael Bloomberg’s war on coal” – Politico, 8 April 2015

The fight to bring an end to coal has been raging on for months, and now Michael Bloomberg is attempting to serve the final blow: donating millions of dollars to the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, with the aim to close down hundreds of US coal plants.

First, however, Bloomberg required the Sierra Club to collect data on how his money would be used. He required, for instance, that the organization measure the impact their work would have by mapping out every US coal facility and outlining the facilities’ pollution controls.

The group was successful in collecting data from 45 states. So, in addition to the $50 million he donated in 2011 to the group’s campaign, Bloomberg donated another $110 million, and then donated a supplementary $30 million in early April. So far, the group has secured the shuttering of 188 coal plants. In 2010, these coal plant owners had already planned on closing or re-purposing the plants — the Sierra Club and Bloomberg gave them that extra push. Previously, before Bloomberg’s first donation in 2011, the Sierra Club’s reach was only a mere 15 states.

Bloomberg’s pledge to stop coal has had a profound effect on the industry, wiping out jobs and prompting higher electricity costs. Before, the campaign’s set goal was to shutter a third of US coal plants by 2020. With the extra money, the campaign has presented a new goal: to cut US coal plants in half by 2017.

While Bloomberg was mayor of New York City, we became familiar with his passion for bettering health, spearheading many crusades against guns, sodas, and tobacco. According to Bloomberg, the 188 shuttered coal plants means that there will be 7,500 less heart attacks and 80,000 less asthma attacks in 2015.

Bloomberg has taken his fight against coal a further step by giving $24 million to aid states in developing low-carbon solutions to meet the Obama administration’s power plant regulations.

The Sierra Club doesn’t get all the credit for closing those 188 coal plants. The US’s lower natural gas price is effecting the coal industry, as well as the EPA’s mercury rule, which first became enforced in April 2015 for existing power plants. There are a lot of organizations — both governmental and private — working multiple angles to stop any gains coal might make.

Having said that, coal — the world’s most abundant energy source — will always have an optimum role to play in the global generation of electricity and steel production for a foreseeable future.

(From Politico)

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

April 17, 2015

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“Aluminum ‘superatoms’ hint at a new type of superconducting materials” – GizMag, 28 February 2015

Scientists at the University of Southern California (USC) are currently in the throes of uncovering new superconductor materials that could be very useful for the electronics, medical imaging, microscopy, and electric motors industries, amongst other markets.

In electronics, as electrons move through a circuit, they generate electrical resistance and emit waste energy in the form of heat, which is why, for instance, when our laptops overheat, the internal fan turns on and cools it down. Superconductors are helpful because they don’t create resistance and thus, don’t create waste energy, or heat. Currently, the superconductor materials that do exist don’t operate at high temperatures; instead, they bottom out at -210 °F, which doesn’t work for us when our electronics heat up.

However, the USC scientists’ new superconductor materials look promising, since they can work at higher temperatures. The team discovered that they need to utilize clusters of aluminum atoms called “superatoms,” rather than single atoms. Clusters become superconductive at greater temperatures.

Superconductivity can only occur when Cooper pairs take shape in the material. The electron pairs are only slightly bound together—two electrons are not typically attracted to each other. As a pair, the electrons trigger a process that allows the electrons to stay on their prescribed path and prevents them from wasting energy. External factors, such as heat, can disturb the electrons’ fragile balance, which is the reason why superconductors can only operate at low temperatures.

Aluminum superatoms work at temperatures as low as -280 °F; the hope is that using a diverse set of materials will yield a superconductor that functions at higher temperatures. The USC team believes that grouping different metals into superatoms, instead of just aluminum, could direct them to superconductors that will be optimal for electronic industries. Their discovery could allow our technology to operate more efficiently.

(From GizMag)

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

March 4, 2015

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“US New Auto Sales: Ford F-Series Pickup Truck Deliveries Drop; Ford Explorer Soars” – International Business Times, 3 March 2015

This past December, Ford rolled out its aluminum-body F-150 truck, the first of its kind for the company, but it seems like the new truck is just not cutting it: sales dipped for the car manufacturer’s F-Series truck line this February, and has put the company squarely behind its competitors.

Typically, the F-150 has the highest selling rate in the US; however, this February, overall sales dropped by two percent. Ford believes sales will continue to grow by 8 percent this year to 1.29 million units, compared to February 2014.

The Ford Transit light commercial vehicle and the Transit Connect compact panel van gave Ford trucks a four percent boost, even though the F-series line dropped by 1.2 percent. The Explorer full-sized crossover also gave the company’s stats a little nudge— the crossover jumped by 32 percent to sell 17,027 units.

It’s a shame that Ford’s F-150 isn’t selling as well as we’d hoped, since the company went through the entire process of shifting from a steel to aluminum body, which required new equipment and manufacturing processes. Obama has made this move a requirement for the automobile industry, mandating that manufacturers double new-car average fuel economy by 2025.

(From International Business Times)

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

March 4, 2015

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“4 Ways Election Results Could Intensify U.S. Energy Battles” – National Geographic, 5 November 2014

After November’s midterm elections and the newly elected Republican majority in the both houses of Congress, President Obama might have a difficult time moving forward with his climate policy agenda. Now there’s a chance that Republicans will obstruct the EPA‘s funding so that it won’t be able to enact its proposed regulations of curbing power plants emissions. Meanwhile, we might get closer to authorizing construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, and repealing our 1970s crude oil export ban. Only a few days before the elections, the UN’s International Panel on Climate Change issued another report with grave warnings about the effects of climate change.

One method that Republicans can employ to hinder the Obama administration is with a joint congressional resolution of disapproval, which asks for a majority vote in favor of blocking proposed regulations. However, in order to advance their own bills, Republicans need 60 votes to stop filibusters by Senate Democrats, or a two-thirds majority to quash any of Obama’s vetoes.

Though those odds might seem unlikely, the Republicans can still play a huge hand in climate policy and the energy debate by:

  1. Further Opposing the EPA‘s Power Plant Regulations
    Previously, climate activist and Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer (CA) chaired the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works; however, now the position will transfer to Republican Senator James Inhofe (OK), a staunch climate denier and author of the 2012 book The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future.That title itself says it all. Inhofe is staunchly again the idea that climate change is caused by human activity. So it’s reasonable to assume that his goal — along with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — is to block funding for the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, where the EPA’s goal is to reduce existing power plants’ emissions by 30 percent by 2030.

  2. Advancing the Keystone XL Pipeline
    Another one of McConnell’s targets is the Keystone XL Pipeline — he would do whatever possible to advance the project, including strategizing a plan that would make sure the legislation would end up on Obama’s desk. Obama would then have to either approve the pipeline or use his veto power.Obama is more likely to approve the pipeline if it has no impact on emissions; according to the State Department, Keystone will not increase emissions.
  3. Increasing Fossil Fuel Exports
    Republicans are now more motivated than ever to end the circa-1970s crude oil export ban that was authorized amid the Arab oil embargo. So far, the Department of Energy has already authorized a few projects that would allow the US to export natural gas, but Republicans would like to push more through.Many Republicans and those in the oil industry contend that exporting crude could push gas prices down even more. Environmentalists assert that repealing the ban might prompt the US to generate more oil, at the cost of the environment.
  4. Introducing a Bipartisan Energy Efficiency Bill
    Republican Senator Rob Portman (OH) and Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen (NH) have created a bipartisan bill that advocates for energy efficiency in many spheres, including residential, commercial, and federal buildings. The bill tried to get through the Senate in 2014, but was unable to because of the debate around Keystone. The bill will have another go, but might very well be blocked by Republicans who don’t support implementing rules that require stronger efficiency guidelines for appliances.

(From National Geographic)

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

January 26, 2015

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