Energy & the Environment News and Discussions

weatheriscool
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Soybean expansion in South America doubled over past 20 years
https://phys.org/news/2021-07-soybean-e ... years.html
by Bob Yirka , Phys.org

A team of researchers affiliated with multiple institutions in the U.S., Brazil and Argentina has found that land dedicated to growing soybeans in South America has doubled over the past 20 years. In their paper published in the journal Nature Sustainability, the group describes their approach to measuring soy growing areas in South America and what they learned about its impact on land use on the continent.

Soybean plants are a species of legume native to East Asia, but they are now grown as crops around the world. The beans are used for a variety of purposes, from animal feed to oil and tofu. In recent years, demand for the beans has grown steadily, as beef cattle production has increased dramatically in Asian markets. The increased demand has led to the need for land on which to grow the crops. South American farmers have taken advantage of that need by dedicating more land to growing the crop. This growth has worried climate scientists because prior research has suggested much of that new land comes from tearing down or burning rainforest. In this new effort, the researchers wondered just how much land has been dedicated to growing soy in South America as demand has grown. To find out, they conducted two kinds of studies.
weatheriscool
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Chemists develop novel electrolyser for hydrogen production

by University of Amsterdam
https://techxplore.com/news/2021-07-che ... ction.html
In a recent Nature Communications paper, a group of researchers led by Dr. Ning Yan of the Van 't Hoff Institute for Molecular Sciences at the University of Amsterdam showcases a practical membrane-free approach to water electrolysis using earth-abundant catalysts. Their new electrolyser concept, developed together with researchers from Wuhan University and Wuhan University of Technology, offers significant advantages over electrolysers that are currently being developed for large-scale hydrogen production.

The transition to a hydrogen economy is a must for advancing sustainable energy practices as well as for tackling climate change. Hydrogen that is produced through water electrolysis using renewable electricity can be used both as a clean energy carrier and as a reagent for making bulk chemicals from CO2. Large-scale water electrolysis is an essential technology for realizing these goals. However, while electrolysers have been known for over 200 years, the technology is still facing major challenges. For instance, the conventional alkaline electrolysis is more suitable to operate at low current density and low pressure, while the emerging proton exchange membrane (PEM) electrolyser requires the use of scarce noble metal catalysts and extensive water purification.
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Greenland Scraps All Future Oil Exploration
by Morten Buttler
July 16, 2021

https://phys.org/news/2021-07-greenland ... ation.html

Introduction:
(Phys.Org) Greenland dropped all plans for future oil exploration on environmental grounds, saying the price of extraction was "too high."

The island's socialist-led government, in office since April, has made climate concerns central to its legislative program. While the decision to scrap planned exploration is a win for environmental groups, it cuts off potential investments that could have aided efforts to gain economic independence from Denmark.

The government "has decided to cease issuing new licenses for oil and gas exploration," it said in a statement. "This step has been taken for the sake of our nature, for the sake of our fisheries, for the sake of our tourism industry, and to focus our business on sustainable potentials."

Ten years ago, Greenland had become a hotspot for drillers as a commodity-price boom attracted not only oil explorers but miners of diamonds, iron, rare earths and other metals. But crude's subsequent crash made extraction uneconomic offshore—where drilling would be hampered by large floating icebergs—and the official ban now puts an end to dreams of energy riches.
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Yuli Ban
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In 2020, U.S. Coal Production Fell To Its Lowest Level Since 1965
U.S. coal production totaled 535 million short tons (MMst) in 2020, a 24% decrease from the 706 MMst mined in 2019 and the lowest level of coal production in the United States in any year since 1965.

The decline of U.S. coal production in 2020 was largely the result of less demand for coal internationally and less U.S. electric power sector demand for coal. Lower natural gas prices made coal less competitive for power generation. U.S. coal-fired generation fell 20% from 2019. Natural gas prices started 2020 relatively low because mild winter weather led to less natural gas demand for space heating, and prices remained low as the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic reduced both natural gas production and consumption.

U.S. coal exports were 26% lower in 2020 than they were in 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic slowed global demand for coal, and some U.S. coal mines were idled for extended periods to slow the spread of the virus among workers. Coal exports decreased significantly in April 2020 as the United States and countries around the world responded to the pandemic.

The Clean Air Act of 1970 restricted sulfur emissions from new coal-fired power plants. One way for coal plants to meet the emissions regulations was to use subbituminous coal, which has a lower sulfur content than other coal types. This change, along with the oil shortages and the resulting high oil prices of the 1970s that made coal more economical, contributed to the expansion of mining and the development of large, open-pit coal mines in the Powder River Basin (located in Northeast Wyoming and Southeast Montana), where the majority of subbituminous coal in the United States is found. One of the largest U.S. coal-producing mines by volume, Black Thunder, opened in Wyoming in 1977. Today, the Powder River Basin accounts for approximately 43% of all coal produced in the United States.
Image

The restriction of sulfur-heavy coal burning ironically probably sped up global warming. Sulfur dioxide is an atmospheric coolant.
And remember my friend, future events such as these will affect you in the future
caltrek
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OPEC and Its Allies Raise Limits for Five Countries to End Oil Dispute
by Jon Gambrel
July 18, 2021

https://www.thenationalnews.com/busines ... in-august/

Introduction:
(The National) Opec+, the group of oil-exporting countries behind recent historic production cuts, will bring 400,000 barrels per day back to the markets in August and will revise baselines used to calculate quotas from May 2022, following requests by countries including the UAE (United Arab Emirates).

Under the latest agreement, the UAE's new production baseline will increase to 3.5 million barrels per day, from 3.168 million bpd previously. Other producers including Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Russia will also see their baselines rise.

The UAE "is committed to this group and will always work within this group to do our best to achieve the market balance and help everyone", Minister of Energy and Infrastructure, Suhail Al Mazrouei, said at a ministerial meeting held online on Sunday. "The UAE will remain a committed member in the Opec alliance."

Opec+, which is headed by Saudi Arabia and Russia, extended its agreement until the end of December 2022. The group reached a consensus over the phasing out of 5.8 million bpd of withheld supply following weeks of deadlock and will review the pact at the end of the year.

"We're dealing with uncertainty. And if you are dealing with uncertainty, the first thing you need to do is to acquiesce to the concept that you cannot predict uncertainty," Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, Saudi Arabia's energy minister told reporters after the meeting.
https://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/nationa ... e/3160585/
(NBC) (The OPEC agreement ends) an earlier dispute sparked by the United Arab Emirates that roiled global energy prices.

The disagreement, sparked by a demand by the UAE to increase its own production, temporarily upended an earlier meeting of the cartel. In a statement Sunday, the cartel announced that Iraq, Kuwait, Russia, Saudi Arabia and the UAE would see their limits rise.

“What bonds us together is way much beyond what you may imagine,” Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said. “We differ here and there but we bond.”

Prince Abdulaziz declined to elaborate on how they came to that consensus, saying it would see the cartel “lose our advantage of being mysterious and clever.” But he clearly bristled at earlier reports on the dispute between Saudi Arabia, long the heavyweight of the Vienna-based cartel, and the UAE.

Prince Abdulaziz deferred at the beginning of a news conference afterward to al-Mazrouei in a sign of respect.
weatheriscool
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Making clean hydrogen is hard, but researchers just solved a major hurdle
https://phys.org/news/2021-07-hydrogen- ... urdle.html
by University of Texas at Austin
For decades, researchers around the world have searched for ways to use solar power to generate the key reaction for producing hydrogen as a clean energy source—splitting water molecules to form hydrogen and oxygen. However, such efforts have mostly failed because doing it well was too costly, and trying to do it at a low cost led to poor performance.

Now, researchers from The University of Texas at Austin have found a low-cost way to solve one half of the equation, using sunlight to efficiently split off oxygen molecules from water. The finding, published recently in Nature Communications, represents a step forward toward greater adoption of hydrogen as a key part of our energy infrastructure.

As early as the 1970s, researchers were investigating the possibility of using solar energy to generate hydrogen. But the inability to find materials with the combination of properties needed for a device that can perform the key chemical reactions efficiently has kept it from becoming a mainstream method.

"You need materials that are good at absorbing sunlight and, at the same time, don't degrade while the water-splitting reactions take place," said Edward Yu, a professor in the Cockrell School's Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. "It turns out materials that are good at absorbing sunlight tend to be unstable under the conditions required for the water-splitting reaction, while the materials that are stable tend to be poor absorbers of sunlight. These conflicting requirements drive you toward a seemingly inevitable tradeoff, but by combining multiple materials—one that efficiently absorbs sunlight, such as silicon, and another that provides good stability, such as silicon dioxide—into a single device, this conflict can be resolved."
weatheriscool
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Half of U.S. tidal marsh areas vulnerable to rising seas
https://phys.org/news/2021-07-tidal-mar ... -seas.html
by Sarah Stanley, American Geophysical Union

Sea level is rising worldwide, thanks in large part to climate change. Rising seas threaten coastal communities and ecosystems, including marshes that lie at the interface between salt water and freshwater. Tidal marsh ecosystems feature distinct plants and play key ecological roles, such as serving as nurseries for fish. It is known that some tidal marshes can avoid destruction by migrating inland or through formation of new soil that raises their elevation, but a better understanding of how they are affected by rising seas could inform efforts to plan for and mitigate the effects.

New research by Holmquist et al. investigates the vulnerability of tidal marshes to sea level rise across the contiguous United States. The findings show, for the first time, that opportunities for resilience differ between more northerly and more southerly marshes across the country.
weatheriscool
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Solar cells: Layer of three crystals produces a thousand times more power
https://techxplore.com/news/2021-07-sol ... usand.html
by Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg
The photovoltaic effect of ferroelectric crystals can be increased by a factor of 1,000 if three different materials are arranged periodically in a lattice. This has been revealed in a study by researchers at Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU). They achieved this by creating crystalline layers of barium titanate, strontium titanate and calcium titanate which they alternately placed on top of one another. Their findings, which could significantly increase the efficiency of solar cells, were published in the journal Science Advances.

Most solar cells are currently silicon based; however, their efficiency is limited. This has prompted researchers to examine new materials, such as ferroelectrics like barium titanate, a mixed oxide made of barium and titanium. "Ferroelectric means that the material has spatially separated positive and negative charges," explains physicist Dr Akash Bhatnagar from MLU's Centre for Innovation Competence SiLi-nano. "The charge separation leads to an asymmetric structure that enables electricity to be generated from light." Unlike silicon, ferroelectric crystals do not require a so-called pn junction to create the photovoltaic effect, in other words, no positively and negatively doped layers. This makes it much easier to produce the solar panels.
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weatheriscool wrote: Wed Jul 21, 2021 6:54 am Solar cells: Layer of three crystals produces a thousand times more power
https://techxplore.com/news/2021-07-sol ... usand.html
by Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg
The photovoltaic effect of ferroelectric crystals can be increased by a factor of 1,000 if three different materials are arranged periodically in a lattice. This has been revealed in a study by researchers at Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU). They achieved this by creating crystalline layers of barium titanate, strontium titanate and calcium titanate which they alternately placed on top of one another. Their findings, which could significantly increase the efficiency of solar cells, were published in the journal Science Advances.

Most solar cells are currently silicon based; however, their efficiency is limited. This has prompted researchers to examine new materials, such as ferroelectrics like barium titanate, a mixed oxide made of barium and titanium. "Ferroelectric means that the material has spatially separated positive and negative charges," explains physicist Dr Akash Bhatnagar from MLU's Centre for Innovation Competence SiLi-nano. "The charge separation leads to an asymmetric structure that enables electricity to be generated from light." Unlike silicon, ferroelectric crystals do not require a so-called pn junction to create the photovoltaic effect, in other words, no positively and negatively doped layers. This makes it much easier to produce the solar panels.
This is one of those stories you occasionally hear that sounds too good to be true – e.g. "Cure for cancer". What does it actually mean in terms of efficiency and power output, I wonder? I mean, we aren't going to see 10-megawatt solar roof installations, are we?
"Take it easy, nothing matters in the end."
– William Shatner
weatheriscool
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China adding finishing touches to world-first thorium nuclear reactor
By Nick Lavars
July 20, 2021
https://newatlas.com/energy/china-world ... r-reactor/

China is moving ahead with development of an experimental reactor that would be the first of its kind in the world, but could prove key to the pursuit of clean and safe nuclear power. According to local news reports, the Chinese government intends to finish building a prototype molten salt nuclear reactor in the desert city of Wuwei in the coming months, with plans to establish a number of larger-scale plants in similar settings thereafter.

With an ability to generate power while producing very minimal carbon emissions, nuclear reactors have a clear upside when it comes to the sustainable generation of energy. But there are very valid reasons the technology hasn't been widely adopted across the world, many of which stem from the reliance on uranium and plutonium for fuel.
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