Debate over Keystone Pipeline

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There are all sorts of opinions on the Keystone Pipeline. Many environmentalists are very much opposed, while many people concerned with weaning ourselves off of Mid East oil are in favor of it, even with all the new oil American is producing through fracking. The Arkansas oil spill complicates the issue of course.

Here’s T. Boone Pickens discussing natural gas, oil and the pipeline.

  

Air-Powered Cars

Here’s a new kind of hybrid car that might just start another revolution in car design.

If you’re looking for a hybrid with superior mileage per gallon, then compressed air may be your thing. PSA Peugeot Citroen says its new C3 VTi 82 hatchback–which it unveils at a motor show next month–will go 81 miles, in optimum conditions. That’s compared to the Toyota Prius’s roughly 45 mile performance. And there’s no need for expensive, and heavy, lithium batteries. The compressed air system provides power as well as storage: as with other hybrids, it recovers energy from a gasoline engine when you brake or slow down.

From the video, you can see that the Air Hybrid system works in three modes, depending on the neighborhood. Above 43 miles per hour, it uses a conventional engine. Around town, it goes on air alone. And then there’s a combined mode when you need more power at lower speeds. An electronic management unit switches modes automatically.

The idea of powering a car using compressed air isn’t particularly new–several companies have explored the technology. But PSA Peugeot Citroen is the first major one to go big on it, developing a drive-train it hopes to use across several models, including light commercial vans. The company hasn’t released prices yet, saying only that the vehicles will be “competitive both in European and international markets,” but that is likely to be a major draw. Lithium batteries remain uncompetitively expensive.

Hybrids and plug-in hybrids offer incredible potential, and we’re seeing progress with hydrogen fuel cells as well. But with compressed air you have a novel approach that produces ZERO emissions when in that mode. That’s pretty impressive. Expect to hear much more about this, as it’s also much more practical than things like the AIRpod, which relies totally on compressed air but doesn’t have the size and range of this hybrid.

  

Google pushes towards zero-carbon emissions


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As a company, Google has a bunch of issues. They have absurdly terrible customer service and treat their affiliates like crap.

But they treat their employees well, and they are also one of the companies leading the charge in carbon emissions and sustainability.

As the double-decker bus turns onto Charleston Road and starts winding through Google’s Mountain View, Calif., campus, I stretch out in the business-class-size seat, admiring the smoothness of the black leather and the plush gray carpeting at my feet. A spacious table expands to hold a laptop, which can connect to the vehicle’s Wi-Fi system. This $800,000 luxury double-decker is one of 73 buses that Google owns and operates. (It leases 26 others.) Each day the fleet transports about 4,500 employees, or about a third of those working at the Googleplex, as the company’s headquarters is known.

It turns out that Google (GOOG) isn’t offering a free ride simply as an employee perk — the buses actually save the company money. Yes, there’s the added productivity of 4,500 employees working an extra couple of hours each day while riding to and from work. But Google’s bus service is about much more than that. Real estate in Mountain View is expensive. Underground parking spaces cost as much as $85,000 to construct. (Really!) If Google had to build a parking space for each of the bus riders, the price tag would run to almost $400 million. And that’s not counting the lost opportunity cost of not using that land for new office buildings.

Google has made other investments in transportation too. If, during the day, a Google-ite needs to run an errand or pick up a sick kid at school, he or she can hop into one of 52 electric and hybrid cars parked on campus. The company also encourages employees to drive electrics. It has spent an estimated $3 million to $4 million to install 395 chargers — the largest corporate electric-vehicle infrastructure in the country.

Finding creative solutions to energy issues has become a major priority for Google co-founder and CEO Larry Page in recent years.

Read the entire article. Other companies may not have the resources to do everything Google is trying, but they can set a great example when it comes to cost-effective solutions for responsible companies.

  

Large-scale biofuel farm using algae goes online


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Algae looks pretty disgusting in the old swimming pool pictured above, but the power of algae is now being harnessed by those hoping to exploit it as a powerful biofuel. Fortune has an interesting article about a huge new biofuel farm in New Mexico.

On a 2,200-acre expanse of desert scrub in Columbus, N.M. (pop. 1,678), Sapphire Energy has built the world’s first large-scale farm to grow algae and produce crude oil. The five-year-old company has spent about $60 million constructing an array of about 70 ponds, each the size of a football field, and a refinery, which began producing oil this past summer. The first barrels are rolling out now.

Algal oil “has the potential to change the world,” says Cynthia Warner, Sapphire’s chief executive, because the process by which it is grown will allow any nation to produce oil. Warner joined Sapphire after 28 years in the oil business, most recently as head of global refining at BP (BP). She couldn’t resist the allure of algae. Productive and versatile creatures, they grow fast, don’t need to be fed, and build up oil in their cells after being exposed to sunlight and CO2. They like salty or brackish water, so ponds can be built on cheap land where not much else will grow. Into each pond go genetically engineered single-celled algae that grow to maturity in about five days, after which they are skimmed from the water and put through a thermo-chemical “wet extraction” process to separate the oil. The company plans to make about 100 barrels of oil a day in New Mexico. If all goes according to plan, commercial production of perhaps 10,000 barrels a day will begin in 2018.

A ton of money has been plowed into the green space as venture capitalists try to capitalize on the desire for clean energy and renewable fuels. Read the rest of the article to get more information on this project. It will be fascinating to see if this project becomes economically viable. In an era where fracking is lowering the costs of natural gas and increasing oil output in the United States, it will be more difficult for projects like this to make money without subsidies.

  

New soot rules issued by EPA


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With the election now over, the issue of environmental regulation will be a hot topic in Washington.

EPA’s critics say they see ill omens for President Barack Obama’s second term in Friday’s announcement of significantly tightened air pollution limits on soot from exhaust pipes and smokestacks.

The finished rule that emerged from the agency Friday is mostly as stringent as the one that EPA submitted for White House review in the summer. That’s a turnaround from the experience of the last couple of years, in which White House pressure forced the EPA to postpone a new rule on smog and placed regulations on toxic coal ash into a deep freeze.

The latest development heartened environmental groups, which praised the Obama administration for standing up to pressure from industry and the Hill — though some say they’re still waiting for tough action on climate change.

“Our air will be cleaner and thousands of Americans won’t have to face the dangerous health impacts of soot pollution from dirty sources like power plants and diesel trucks,” said Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation voters.

But Friday’s announcement also had some industry groups wondering what to expect in the coming months, when the EPA is expected to finish regulations for greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants, with a host of pending regulations for industrial boilers, power plants and the coal industry waiting in the wings.

“We think it is [a] troublesome sign from the EPA,” said National Association of Manufacturers spokesman Jeff Ostermayer. “Most of these regulations have been on hold since before the election, and now we fear we will see them move forward with one after another, which is not good for an economy still struggling to recover.”

One outspoken industry supporter, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), has been warning for months about what he calls the “regulatory cliff” — a deluge of regulations brought on by a second Obama administration unencumbered by reelection worries. He called the new soot rule “the first in an onslaught of post-election rulemakings that will place considerable burdens on our struggling economy.”

We’re seeing a resurgence of manufacturing jobs in this country, but many argue that EPA regulations will strangle that progress. Well, we haven’t seen that so far in the fracking industry, as both sides are engaged and we’re seeing common sense regulations in states like Ohio.

But with global warming emerging as a huge issue, the political will for common sense regulations may be growing. It looks like the Obama administration is ready to proceed. The key with be whether they can balance the need to clean up and protect the environment with the need for industry and jobs.

  

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