Energy in the News: Friday, January 19

Friday, January 19, 2018

Electric eels inspire a new type of battery

Smithsonian, feat. Max Shtein

Electric eels, which slither along the muddy bottoms of ponds and streams in the Amazon and Orinoco river basins of South America, can cause a shock powerful enough to knock a horse off its feet. Their power comes from cells called electrocytes that discharge when the eel is hunting or feels threatened.

Now, researchers are taking inspiration from these eels (not technically eels, as a matter of fact, but a type of fish) to develop new power sources that could one day power electrical devices in the human body, such as pacemakers, sensors and prosthetic organs.

Electric eels can synchronize the charging and discharging of thousands of cells in their bodies simultaneously, says Max Shtein, a chemical engineer at the University of Michigan who worked on the research.

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Erb faculty member, Tom Lyon weighs in on Secretary Zinke’s proposals for offshore drilling

Erb Institute, feat. Tom Lyon

Transcript of Tom Lyon guest interview with Dan Loney on Knowledge@Wharton (Business radio Sirius XM111).

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Florida seniors could hold the future of driverless cars

CBS News, feat. Huei Peng

As supporters and critics debate self-driving vehicles, 125,000 senior citizens who live in a central Florida retirement community will take them for a ride in the world's largest self-driving experiment. They'll travel 750 miles of roads in The Villages retirement community near Orlando.

Voyage, an autonomous vehicle (AV) startup specializing in a robo-taxi service, will pick them up at their homes and drive them free of charge to and from grocery stores, theaters, pools, golf and tennis with only a "technician" on board to monitor the system -- and take the wheel if necessary. Later on, the technician will be dropped and a transportation fee added.

If this rollout proves successful, it could pave the way for AVs to assist seniors nationwide with needed services.

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Semiconductor breakthrough may be game-changer for organic solar cells

University of Michigan News, feat. Stephen Forrest

In an advance that could push cheap, ubiquitous solar power closer to reality, University of Michigan researchers have found a way to coax electrons to travel much further than was previously thought possible in the materials often used for organic solar cells and other organic semiconductors.

"For years, people had treated the poor conductivity of organics as an unavoidable fact, and this shows that that's not always the case," said Stephen Forrest, the Peter A. Franken Distinguished University Professor of Engineering and Paul G. Goebel Professor of Engineering at U-M, who led the research.

Unlike the inorganic solar cells widely used today, organics can be made of inexpensive, flexible carbon-based materials like plastic.

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Michigan's sugar maples will struggle in a warmer, drier future despite help from nitrogen pollution

University of Michigan News, feat. Ines Ibanez and Donald Zak

Though Michigan's sugar maples benefit from the growth-promoting effects of nitrogen compounds in the environment, those gains will not fully offset the added stresses of growing under a drier climate in the future, according to a new University of Michigan-led study.

Sugar maples, known for their fiery fall foliage and as the main source of maple syrup, are a dominant tree species in the northern hardwood forests of eastern North America. They are found mainly in moist, well-drained soils and are drought-sensitive.

Some climate forecasts for the Upper Great Lakes region in the coming decades call for warmer temperatures and an increased likelihood of summer drought, conditions that could prove stressful for sugar maples and other trees.

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PPG, Mcity join forces for autonomous vehicle research

Yahoo Finance

PPG Industries PPG and University of Michigan’s (U-M’s) Mcity have entered into a partnership for autonomous vehicle testing and research.

PPG Industries is developing a broad portfolio of coatings technologies that is anticipated to increase functionality and enable broad deployment of autonomous vehicles. These include exterior coatings that enhance vehicle visibility to radar and light detection and ranging systems as well as easy-to-clean coatings that help in preventing obstruction of autonomous vehicle sensors.  

The technologies will play an important role in the development of safe and reliable driverless vehicles and are scheduled to be showcased at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) during the Jan 14-20 at Cobo Center in Detroit.

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Breakingviews - Shareholders leave Autos 2.0 on the hard shoulder


Shareholders are leaving Auto 2.0 on the hard shoulder. As the industry gathers in Detroit for its annual confab, carmakers are revving up their plans for the next generation of vehicles. Ford on Sunday said it’s more than doubling its electric battery investment to more than $11 billion by 2022. A day earlier, General Motors revealed it had asked regulators to approve its driverless car. Toyota, Volkswagen and others are tanking up, too. Investors, though, aren’t buying it.

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Energy company: Weight-stressed pipeline caused gas line rupture

The Detroit News

On Monday, Consumers Energy released a statement detailing the cause of a November gas line rupture that caused a huge explosion in Orion Township.

No one was injured in the blaze on the north side of Brown Road, west of Joslyn Road, at the border of Orion Township and Auburn Hills.

“After a thorough investigation, Consumers Energy officials determined approximately 21 feet of fill material was added over top of the pipeline by a third party," the statement said. "The weight of the fill stressed the pipeline and caused it to sag...which caused a break and rupture in the pipeline on November 20, 2017 in Orion Township, Michigan."

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Could deregulation, tax reform prolong life of Mich. units?

E&E Energywire

President Trump's efforts to aid the coal industry have so far failed to overcome more powerful market and policy forces — cheap natural gas, continued renewable energy penetration and eroding electricity demand.

Those efforts, such as actions to repeal U.S. EPA's Clean Power Plan and Energy Secretary Rick Perry's proposal to give struggling coal and nuclear plants a lifeline, have done little to dissuade utilities from replacing aging coal plants with cleaner alternatives.

But a group of large energy users is making the case that environmental rollbacks and recent tax reforms alter the economics of three coal-fired power plants operated by DTE Electric Co., at least enough to keep them running years longer.

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FERC expected to push for lower utility rates after tax cut

E&E Energywire

Federal regulators are expected to direct electric utilities to lower rates charged to customers as a result of the recently enacted tax bill.

The controversial measure approved along party lines by Congress at the end of last year cut the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent, effective Jan. 1.

Already, reductions in rates are being discussed in numerous states, where either investor-owned utilities (IOUs) or their regulators have announced plans to return the tax bill's benefits to consumers.

A group of state attorneys general are pushing the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to act, and the chief executives of the nation's for-profit utilities discussed their response to the tax bill at a meeting in Scottsdale, Ariz., last week.

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Luring buyers with swift charging, roller-skating

E&E Climatewire

Would-be electric vehicle buyers still suffer from "range anxiety," the fear that engines will sputter as drivers scramble to find charging stations. Another turn-off: Charging those vehicles can take hours.

Automakers and technology companies are trying to kick all that stigma to the curb.

The industry is ramping up efforts to blanket U.S. highways and communities with easy-access outlets, and cars and chargers that can fill up in 20 minutes or less are in the works.

The goal: to make the experience of refueling an EV more reliable and more pleasant — similar to that of a gasoline car. While sales of battery-powered cars continue to grow, they remain a tiny 1 percent of national sales. The charging experience is seen as one of the last barriers to more mainstream adoption.

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Shell braces for change by expanding its foothold in electricity


Royal Dutch Shell Plc is taking small steps toward a future dominated by electric cars, renewable energy and carbon constraints, demonstrating its intent not to remain solely an oil and gas company.

The energy giant agreed last month to purchase First Utility Ltd., the U.K.’s seventh-largest power provider. Its offshore-wind partnership with Eneco may expand further, with newspaper Telegraaf reporting on Friday that Shell is considering buying the Dutch utility outright.

Big Oil entering the heavily regulated European power market isn’t a natural fit today. Yet it makes sense for a future in which consumers want charging points alongside gasoline pumps at fueling stations, and iPhone apps and smart home devices generate vast amounts of energy-use data that itself becomes a valuable commodity.

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Cars and trucks are America’s biggest climate problem for the 2nd year in a row


The transportation sector is the largest source of carbon dioxide emissions in the US for the second year in a row, according to an analysis from the Rhodium Group published Wednesday.

Overall, greenhouse gas emissions from the energy sector in the United States fell by just under 1 percent in 2017. But this represents a slowdown from 2016 and is far short of what the country needs to do in order to meet its commitments under the Paris climate accord.

Shrinking electricity needs and growth in renewable energy helped drive the overall decline in emissions, but increasing travel has led transportation-related emissions to overtake those from power generators, as you can see in this chart.

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