News & Events


Energy in the News: Friday, December 4

Follow along with COP21

Faculty Affiliate Richard Rood is posting about COP21 on his Wunderground blog:

See tweets from U-M’s student delegation:

The latest bad news on carbon capture from coal power plants: higher costs

The Conversation, by Sarang Supekar and Steve Skerlos

Coal powered much of the industrial revolution and continues to fuel economic growth in developing nations, including China and India.

The dark side of coal, however, is that it generates large quantities of the heat-trapping greenhouse gases, mostly carbon dioxide (CO2), that lead to climate change. This CO2 pollution is in addition to other emissions from coal burning that lead to thousands of premature deaths per day around the world.

It was once thought that the CO2 emissions from coal power stations could be controlled by burying CO2 underground economically. However, our recent analysis published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology shows that the concept of carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) will be significantly more expensive than previously thought because previous studies miscalculated the energy required. As such, it’s unlikely to provide an economically viable solution to CO2 pollution from coal-based power generators.

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The Power of the Atom

Finance and Development (IMF), Lucas Davis and Catherine Hausman

Long before the current enthusiasm about solar photovoltaics and other renewables, a seemingly magical technology turned yellow dust into electricity. In 1942, on an abandoned squash court at the University of Chicago, the Italian physicist Enrico Fermi demonstrated that electricity could be generated using a self-sustaining nuclear reaction. In the early decades, it was expected that nuclear power would be “too cheap to meter”—a cleaner, modern alternative to the fossil fuels of the day.

Fast-forward 75 years, and nuclear power has indeed grown to play a central role in global electricity supply. Last year nuclear power provided a whopping 2.4 petawatt hours of electricity, enough to meet 10 percent of total worldwide demand. And unlike fossil fuel plants, nuclear power plants emit no carbon dioxide, the primary driver of climate change.

Worldwide, over 400 reactors are operating on five continents. The regions with the largest nuclear fleets are western Europe (led by France) and North America (led by the United States), but Asia also has a significant number of plants—largely in China, Japan, and Korea. Overall, 31 countries are home to an operating reactor.

At the same time, nuclear power has not been everything it was expected to be. Fermi’s original nuclear experiments were financed on a shoestring budget, but it has proved remarkably difficult to scale up this technology cheaply enough to compete with fossil fuels. And, today, there is great uncertainty about the future prospects for nuclear power. While some countries, notably China, are expanding their fleet, public pressure has led Germany to phase out its reactors.

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Energy Department awards $12.4 million to 4 Michigan projects

Crains Detroit Business, feat. Anna Stefanopoulou and Jeff Sakamoto

A solid-state battery project at the University of Michigan’s College of Engineering has received a grant of $3.5 million from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy.

The project, which is headed by faculty researcher Jeff Sakamoto, is a joint effort of UM’s Center for Entrepreneurship at the College of Engineering and the school’s technology transfer office.

In all, four projects or companies in Michigan were awarded a total of $12.4 million from the DOE.

Monday, Crain’s reported that Ann Arbor-based Accio Energy, whose devices generate electricity from wind without the need for wind turbines and their giant expensive blades, had been awarded $4.5 million to develop utility-scale offshore wind energy generation systems.

Mackinac Technology Co. of Grand Rapids received $2.5 million to develop a single-pane, energy efficient window retrofit.

Anna Stefanopoulou’s lab at UM’s Automotive Research Center received $1.92 million to develop a highly efficient internal combustion engines that use superchargers to recycle exhaust gases.

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EPA rule requires a big jump in biofuel use

New York Times, feat. John DeCicco

The Environmental Protection Agency released its much-delayed biofuel mandate on Monday, raising the amounts of biofuel that refiners are required to blend into conventional vehicle fuel from levels proposed in May.

The agency set levels for 2014 and 2015 at what producers actually used in those years, and it increased the total volume of renewable fuel required by the end of 2016 to 18.11 billion gallons, an 11 percent increase from 2014, the agency said.

“The biofuel industry is an incredible American success story, and the R.F.S. program has been an important driver of that success — cutting carbon pollution, reducing our dependence on foreign oil and sparking rural economic development,” Janet McCabe, acting assistant administrator for E.P.A.’s Office of Air and Radiation, said in a conference call with reporters. “With today’s final rule, and as Congress intended, E.P.A. is establishing volumes that grow the amount of biofuel in the market over time.”

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Report: Michigan clean-energy supply chain thriving, but threatened

Midwest Energy News

In Michigan, more than 300 businesses are active in the clean-energy sector, creating a supply chain of manufacturing, financing, engineering, designing and installing wind, solar and advanced battery systems, according to a new report from the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center.

And much of that economic development can be attributed to the state’s 2008 renewable portfolio standard that mandated 10 percent of the state’s generation portfolio come from renewables by the end of this year. Utilities have easily hit the target.

“We found the economic impact of the industry in Michigan is significant,” said John Paul Jewell, ELPC research coordinator.

ELPC researchers found at least 187 businesses in the solar supply chain and at least 133 in wind. Michigan, with a strong manufacturing legacy, is also home to several companies that have transitioned from traditional sectors to advanced energy systems.

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