May 9, 2013 2:30 pm
Shell plans to drill more than two miles underwater in the Gulf of Mexico in pursuit of new sources of oil and gas. If successful, the Guardian reports, the project will rank as the world’s deepest offshore facility.
The move is being viewed in the oil industry as a demonstration of Shell’s confidence that its technology can deliver returns on expensive and risky offshore projects, despite a recent downturn in oil prices.
Although BP recently put its Gulf of Mexico project—called “Mad Dog Phase 2″—on hold, Shell is not alone in its endeavors in the Gulf. ExxonMobil is planning a $4 billion project in the region, as well.
Shell’s executive vice president, John Hollowell, told the Guardian that the new project demonstrates the company’s ongoing commitment to meet U.S. energy demands. “We will continue our leadership in safe, innovative deepwater operations,” he said. The Guardian:
The move comes despite ongoing controversy over offshore exploration – especially in the Gulf of Mexico, where in April 2010 a fire and explosion on the BP Deepwater Horizon rig killed 11 workers and started a leak that took three months to cap. Last month BP said it had paid $25bn (£16bn) of the $42bn it has set aside to cover the damage caused by the spill.
Shell expects its new well to produce 50,000 barrels of oil per day once it reaches peak production. It estimates that the well, located in an oil field discovered eight years ago about 200 miles southwest of New Orleans, contains around 250 million barrels of recoverable oil total—just over three percent of the 6.9 billion barrels of oil the U.S. currently burns through each year.
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April 30, 2013 3:26 pm
It took a while for Americans to get comfortable with the idea of shopping for groceries online. The first ventures into online groceries through sites—like Webvan, founded in the 1990s, closed in 2001—flopped. But as consumers bought more books, movies, shoes, clothes, toys and everything else online, companies like New York-centric FreshDirect made web grocery shopping and delivery work.
Services like FreshDirect don’t just cut down on hassle of having to drive to the grocery store. New research shows that they can also be good for the environment. Ordering online cuts carbon emissions on average by half when compared with traveling to the store by car, the researchers found, especially when delivery trucks were filled to capacity.
In their analysis, the researchers randomly sampled Seattle households. To calculate emissions, they included data such as the type of car families owned, the roadway type, the distance to the grocery store and the speed limit.
They found that grocery delivery trucks produced 20 to 75 percent less CO2 emissions than the corresponding number of personal vehicles would have. If households were targeted based upon established routes rather than individual delivery time requests, that figure jumped to 80 to 90 percent fewer emissions. This finding held true in both Seattle’s dense downtown and in the suburbs.
Nothing beats walking or riding a bike, however, for those shoppers living close enough to the grocery store to enjoy that option.
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April 30, 2013 11:21 am
In an early morning flight yesterday, SpaceShipTwo, the passenger-carrying spacecraft of private spaceflight company Virgin Galactic rocketed through the sky above the Mojave Desert at a blistering mach 1.2 (around 913 miles per hour). It was the first rocket-powered test flight of the craft, an event heralded as the dawn of the commercial space age. More than 500 people have bought tickets to ride the ship, says the New York Times, and their wait, says Virgin Galactic owner Richard Branson, might nearly be over.
“We will be going to space at the end of this year,” Mr. Branson said in a telephone interview after the test flight over Mojave, Calif. Or, he added, possibly in the first quarter of next year.
Branson’s confidence, just like his ship, is soaring. He’s so confident, in fact, Virgin Galactic has decided to raise their rates: formerly $200,000, a trip to space with the company will now cost $250,000. But that confidence may be a bit misplaced, if the company’s track record in this regard is considered.
After years of work, the original SpaceShipOne, designed by the company Scaled Composites, took home the $10 million bounty of the Ansari X Prize.
Following that win, Richard Branson partnered with Scaled Composites to form Virgin Galactic, says CNN. At the time, the company announced that they planned to have people riding into space by 2007. Space Daily:
Addressing reporters in central London, Branson said that the new firm — Virgin Galactic — would launch its maiden flight in only three years, and that he would join the very first trip into space.
“Within five years, Virgin Galactic will have created over 3,000 new astronauts from many countries,” Branson said, speaking alongside US aviation pioneer Burt Rutan, who designed and built SpaceShipOne.
Talking to the BBC, Branson walked back his estimate a bit, now gunning for 2008. “Space tourism is less than three years away, Sir Richard Branson has claimed.”
The 2008 schedule came and went, and according to the BBC, the deadline for launch was pushed to 2010.
The first unveiling of SpaceShipTwo, the ship that underwent its first real test flight yesterday.
With construction of SpaceShipTwo complete, Richard Branson tells Agence France Press that “We are 18 months away from taking people into space.”
The year saw another bump, wrote this author in Discover Magazine: “Virgin Galactic refuses to set a date for when it will begin flying its paying customers to the edge of space, but some are hoping to see flights start as early as the end of 2011.” But 2011 came and went with no avail.
Flights should start by 2012, or early 2013 at the latest, says Aviation Explorer.
You see the pattern.
Getting into space is an incredibly difficult and expensive task, and delays are commonplace. Yesterday’s rocket-powered test was an achievement worth celebrating, but a skeptical eye can be cast on Branson’s claims that you’ll be riding the ship within the next year.
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April 22, 2013 1:20 pm
A desert terrain, a southerly latitude and a “colorful mayor” have joined forces to turn Lancaster, California, a city of around 150,000 that lies northeast of Los Angeles, into the solar capital “of the universe” says the New York Times. The city, says Geek.com, “now officially earned the distinction of being the first US city to mandate the inclusion of solar panels on all new homes built within the city limits.”
Technically the solar powered mandate isn’t so hard and fast, and builders have a bit of wiggle room. Starting January 1st, either they can build solar panels into their designs, producing one kilowatt of electricity for each city lot, or the builders can buy a “solar energy credit” to offset their non-energy-producing ways—money which would go to fund larger solar developments.
The city’s push into solar, says the Times, is being spearheaded by its Republican mayor Robert Rex Parris.
His solar push began about three years ago; City Hall, the performing arts center and the stadium together now generate 1.5 megawatts. Solar arrays on churches, a big medical office, a developer’s office and a Toyota dealership provide 4 more.
The biggest power payoff came with the school system. After the Lancaster school board rejected an offer from SolarCity, saying it was unaffordable, the city created a municipal utility. It bought 32,094 panels, had them installed on 25 schools, generated 7.5 megawatts of power and sold the enterprise to the school district for 35 percent less than it was paying for electricity at the time. Another 8 megawatts now come from systems operating at the local high school and Antelope Valley College.
Parris’ goal for Lancaster, says a 2010 story from the Los Angeles Times, is to see the city “produce more energy than we consume before 2020.”
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April 22, 2013 10:34 am
If all goes to plan, a new deal inked by two of the world’s biggest companies could give rise to a sustainability advocate’s paradise: a resort near the South China Sea that gets all of its power from the heat of the water nearby through a new type of renewable energy.
The deal, says a news release issued by Lockheed Martin, will see the defense giant partner with the Reignwood Group—a massive company that does everything from selling Red Bull in China to operate hotels and golf courses, managing properties and operating a private aircraft service—to develop the first commercial plant for a new type of renewable energy generation system known as ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC).
Ocean thermal energy conversion draws on the natural temperature gradient that forms in tropical oceans worldwide. The surface of the ocean, heated by the Sun, is much warmer than the water deeper down. OTEC plants use the warm surface water to boil a liquid with a really low boiling point in a low-pressure container to form steam. This steam then drives a turbine, generating electricity. Colder water from deeper down is pulled up in a pipe, and by having this cold water pass by the pipe containing the steam, the steam is condensed back into a liquid. The liquid flows around, is heated by the warm surface water, and turns into steam once more—on and on, generating electricity from the temperature gradient in the ocean.
The idea for ocean thermal energy conversaion has been around for a really, really long time. “The concept of deriving energy from ocean thermal gradients was a French idea, suggested in 1881 by Jacques d’Arsonval, and French engineers have been active in developing the requisite technology,” says Marine Energy Times.
While Lockheed has been working on this for four decades, one of the first in-depth discussions of the concept came from Nikola Tesla, who at the age of 75 outlined how such a plant might be built in the December 1931 issue of Everyday Science and Mechanics journal. Tesla spent considerable time devising a way to improve the efficiencies of such a power plant, but he determined that it was too great an engineering challenge at the time. “I have studied this plan of power production from all angles and have devised apparatus for bringing down all losses to what I might call the irreducible minimum and still I find the performance too small to enable successful competition with the present methods,” he wrote, though still expressing hope that new methods would eventually make it possible to economically tap the thermal energy in oceans.
So the idea is old, but recent technological developments have driven ocean thermal energy conversion into the realm of possibility. Interestingly, some of the most troubling issues facing OTEC were solved by the oil industry, says the Marine Energy Times:
Ocean thermal is the only remaining vast, untapped source of renewable energy, and is now ripe for commercialization. The near market-readiness of this technology is largely attributable to the remarkable ocean-engineering innovations and successful experience of the offshore oil industry during the past thirty years in developing, investing in, and introducing mammoth floating platforms. That achievement has inadvertently satisfied ocean thermal’s key operational requirement, for a large, stable, reliable ocean platform capable of operating in storms, hurricanes and typhoons.
Consequently, adaptations of those offshore-ocean-platform designs can be spun-off to supply the proven ocean-engineering framework on which to mount the specialized ocean thermal plant and plantship heat exchangers, turbomachinery, cold water pipe (CWP) system, and other components and subsystems.Those offshore engineering achievements have greatly reduced the real and perceived risks of investing in ocean thermal plants.
Lockheed Martin has been working on the technology behind OTEC, too, and the deal with the Reignwood Group will see them build a test plant. If they manage to pull it off, the work could open the door to increased investment in this new form of renewable energy.
According to Green Tech Media, there are some potential environmental issues to look out for: if the cold water brought up from depth is pumped out into the surface waters, you could trigger a huge algae bloom that is really bad for the local ecosystem. But, if you release the cold water further down, around 70 meters depth, you should be able to avoid this dilemma. Having a small-scale test plant will give researchers a way to learn about any other unforeseen issues before moves are made to implement this new type of renewable energy on a larger scale.
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