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Cuomo Nominates Joe Martens for DEC Commissioner

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has nominated Joe Martens to serve as commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation.

Martens, who has served as president of the non-profit group the Open Space Institute since 1998, has played a key role in acquiring land for conservation, sustainable development and sustainable farming in the Adirondacks and elsewhere.

He will replace Peter Iwanowitz, who has held the post since late October after Gov. David Paterson dismissed Alexander B. Grannis.

Grannis was fired over a leaked memo condemning the agency’s layoffs. He has since been hired as first deputy comptroller in the office of Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.

Martens, who will need to wait for Senate approval to begin his work, previously served as deputy state secretary of energy and the environment from 1992-94 under Cuomo’s father, Gov. Mario Cuomo.

Environmental groups like the National Resources Defense Council have praised Cuomo’s choice to appoint Martens. “Joe Martens’ experience, judgment, and temperament make him the right person at the right time to meet the challenges that DEC faces,” said Ashok Gupta of the NRDC, according to the New York Times. “He has the support and key relationships with the business and environmental community that will allow him to hit the ground running.”

Martens will take over as the DEC works to complete an analysis of the environmental impact of the controversial “hydro-fracking” process in New York State’s Marcellus Shale region.

Posted in Laws & Regulations, Natural Gas, Policies, Politics & Politicians, U.S. Federal Government Agencies, U.S. State & Local0 Comments

Agriculture May Adapt to New Climate Conditions

The farming industry has a rough road ahead. With global warming expected to change precipitation rates and raise temperatures 5 to 7 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100, growing conditions will look dramatically different when this century draws to a close.

But the challenges raised by climate change may not be insurmountable. According to a new study, wheat-growers in North America are no strangers to altering their growing practices according to new conditions.

Economists Alan Olmstead of the University of California, Davis and Paul Rhode of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor assessed the ways in which wheat crops in North America spread into new regions with temperature and precipitation differences. Their findings suggest that it will be possible for North American farmers to adapt to the new growing conditions brought on by climate change.

“As global change takes place, adaptation will help solve some of the problems that are created. Scientists and farmers are not going to roll over and not do anything,” Olmstead said, as quoted by Discovery News. “When we look at how great the adaptations were in the past, it gives us a sense of what might be achieved in the future.”

Analyzing data from a county-by-county record of wheat production from 1839 to 2007, Olmstead and Rhode found that conditions are already dramatically different than they were almost two centuries ago: In wheat-growing areas, the median annual temperature in 2007 was 3.7 degrees Celsius (6.6 degrees Fahrenheit) lower than in 1839, and average precipitation was halved.

Farmers adapted according to geographic changes as well.

“Wheat moved much farther west. It moved farther north and it moved into much harsher climates — drier and colder,” Rhode said.

As settlers relocated to new areas, they introduced new strains of the crop depending upon the conditions.

Baenziger believes that experts will have enough time to develop new varieties of crops as North America grows wetter and warmer. But he does fear that the new climate will bring more unpredictable extremes.

He also says other parts of the world may face bigger obstacles.

“I’m optimistic about wheat production in the U.S.,” he said, according to Discovery News. “I’m far less optimistic about what it means when it gets hotter and drier in sub-Saharan Africa.”

Posted in Farming & Ranching, Food Industry, Global Warming0 Comments

Bacteria May Signal Through Nanowires

LOS ANGELES, Oct. 12 (UPI) — Some bacteria can grow electrical “hair” that allows them to link up in big biological circuits and create large cooperating colonies, U.S. researchers say.

The finding by a University of Southern California biophysicist suggests microbial colonies can grow, communicate and share energy through electrically conducting hairs known as nanowires, ScienceDaily.com reported Monday.

“This is the first measurement of electron transport along biological nanowires produced by bacteria,” Mohamed El-Naggar, assistant professor of physics and astronomy at USC, said.

Understanding how such microbial colonies survive could be a step in discovering ways to destroy harmful communities, such as biofilms on teeth, that have proven highly resistant to antibiotics.

Such understanding could also be used to promote beneficent colonies such as those in bacterial fuel cells under development at many institutions.

“The flow of electrons in various directions is intimately tied to the metabolic status of different parts of the biofilm,” El-Naggar said. “Bacterial nanowires can provide the necessary links … for the survival of a microbial circuit.”

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Fuel Cells, Other0 Comments

High Fish Oil Link to Colon Cancer in Mice

EAST LANSING, Mich., Oct. 6 (UPI) — In a study of mice, U.S. researchers found high doses of fish oil induced severe colitis and colon cancer — a finding researchers described as “surprising.”

Study leader Jenifer Fenton, a food science and human nutrition researcher at Michigan State University, said the researchers hypothesized feeding fish oil enriched with docosahexaenoic acid to mice prone to inflammatory-like bowel disease would decrease their cancer risk.

“We actually found the opposite,” Fenton said in a statement. “We found that mice developed deadly, late-stage colon cancer when given high doses of fish oil — more importantly, with the increased inflammation, it only took four weeks for the tumors to develop.”

The study, published in the journal Cancer Research, found an increase in the severity of the cancer and an aggressive progression of the cancer in not only the mice receiving the highest doses of DHA but those receiving lower doses as well.

However, Fenton cautioned people may not need to avoid fish oil — with any nutrient, there is a “bell curve” effect, with those on the left deficient in a nutrient and those on the right in excess.

“Currently, there is a call by academics and the food industry to establish dietary guidelines for omega-3 consumption,” Fenton said. “Most Americans are deficient in omega-3 fatty acids, and there is substantial evidence supporting the beneficial effects of the consumption.”

The findings support a growing body of literature implicating the harmful effects of high doses of fish oil in relation to certain diseases, Fenton added.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Consumption, Fish, Food Industry, Literature, Other0 Comments

'Hot Water' Life Found in Wyoming Lake

BOZEMAN, Mont., Oct. 5 (UPI) — A rare oasis of life has been found among geothermal vents in Wyoming’s Yellowstone Lake, the first such discovery in a freshwater system, scientists say.

Montana State University researchers have found a colony of moss, worms and varieties of shrimp in inky-black, 90-degree F water in a cauldron of nutrients and gases, a university release said Monday.

The geothermal vent is almost 100 feet below the surface of Yellowstone Lake and a third of a mile offshore, where the worms and shrimp live among approximately two feet of moss that encircles the vent.

“This particular vent seemed unique relative to all other active vents thus far observed in the lake in that it is robustly colonized by plants,” the researchers said.

The team explored the lake bottom with a remotely operated vehicle.

“The proliferation of complex higher organisms in close association with a Yellowstone Lake geothermal vent parallels that documented for deep marine vents, although to our knowledge this is the first such documentation for a freshwater habitat,” the researchers wrote in an article published in the journal Geobiology.

The key to survival in this unusual environment is the nutrients contained in the vent water, scientists say, which feed the moss, which then feeds the shrimp and worms.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Geothermal, Other0 Comments

Geothermal Power Gaining Attention

WASHINGTON, Sept. 1 (UPI) — The heat in the upper six miles of Earth’s crust contains many times the energy found in all the world’s oil and gas reserves combined, experts say.

Despite the abundance, researchers say, only 10,700 megawatts of geothermal electricity generating capacity have been harnessed worldwide, Inter Press Service reported.

The oil, gas, and coal industries have been providing cheap fuel by omitting the costs of climate change and air pollution from fuel prices, environmentalists charge, so little investment is being made in geothermal energy, which has been growing at scarcely 3 percent a year, the report said.

About half the world’s existing generating capacity is in the United States and the Philippines, with Indonesia, Mexico, Italy, and Japan accounting for most of the remainder. About two dozen countries convert geothermal energy into electricity.

El Salvador, Iceland, and the Philippines get 26 percent, 25 percent, and 18 percent, respectively, of their electricity from geothermal power plants.

In 2006, a team of scientists and engineers assembled by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology assessed U.S. geothermal electrical generating potential.

Geothermal electricity technology involves drilling down to the hot rock layer, fracturing the rock and pumping water into it, and then extracting the superheated water to drive a steam turbine.

The MIT team said the technology would provide enough geothermal energy to meet U.S. needs 2,000 times over.

About 152 power plants are under development in 13 U.S. states and are expected to nearly triple U.S. geothermal generating capacity, now at about 3,000 megawatts.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Coal, Electricity, Geothermal, Other0 Comments

U.S. Energy 'appetite' Trimmed in 2009

LIVERMORE, Calif., Aug. 24 (UPI) — Americans are using less energy overall and availing themselves of more renewable energy sources, a report says.

Data released by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory showed the United States used significantly less coal and petroleum in 2009 than in 2008 while utilizing considerably more wind power.

And while there was a decline in natural gas consumption, solar, hydro and geothermal power use was up, the laboratory said.

“Energy use tends to follow the level of economic activity, and that level declined last year,” A.J. Simon, an LLNL energy systems analyst, said.

“At the same time, higher efficiency appliances and vehicles reduced energy use even further,” he said. “As a result, people and businesses are using less energy in general.”

Wind power increased dramatically in 2009, and since most of that energy is tied directly to electricity generation it helps decrease the use of coal for electricity production, he said.

“The increase in renewables is a really good story, especially in the wind arena,” Simon said. “It’s a result of very good incentives and technological advancements.”

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Coal, Consumption, Electricity, Geothermal, Natural Gas, Other, Solar, Wind0 Comments

Study: Energy Self-sufficiency is Closer

BOSTON, Aug. 23 (UPI) — U.S. scientists say they’ve made a discovery that could bring the era of energy self-sufficient homes and small businesses one step closer.

Scientists at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society have reported the discovery of a powerful catalyst that would be a key element in inexpensive solar energy systems that could free homes and businesses from dependence on the electric company, a society release said Monday.

“Our goal is to make each home its own power station,” study leader Daniel Nocera said. “We’re working toward development of ‘personalized’ energy units that can be manufactured, distributed and installed inexpensively.

“There certainly are major obstacles to be overcome — existing fuel cells and solar cells must be improved, for instance. Nevertheless, one can envision villages in India and Africa not long from now purchasing an affordable basic system.”

Such systems would use solar panels to generate electricity needed for heating, lighting and cooking during the day. Surplus energy created would be stored in an “electrolyzer” which breaks ordinary water down into hydrogen and oxygen, which would be stored in tanks.

At night, with no energy coming from solar panels, the system would feed the hydrogen and oxygen back into fuel cells that produce electricity.

The newly discovered catalyst can boost the output of the electrolyzer 200-fold, researchers say.

The catalyst has been licensed to a company, Sun Catalytix, which says it is working to develop safe, super-efficient versions of the electrolyzer, suitable for homes and small businesses, within two years.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Electricity, Fuel Cells, Hydrogen, Other, Solar0 Comments

U.K. Begins Geothermal Effort

REDRUTH, England, Aug. 20 (UPI) — Britain could soon have its first operating commercial geothermal plant after exploratory drilling was authorized in Cornwall, officials said.

Engineers will begin drilling a 2.8-mile-deep borehole early next year at a site near Redruth, England, The Guardian reported this week.

It is the first project in an emerging geothermal power sector in the United Kingdom, where the government hopes the technology could provide between 1 and 5 gigawatts of renewable electricity by 2030, the British newspaper said.

Geothermal energy involves pumping water up to 3 miles underground where it is heated by naturally occurring hot rocks before being pumped back up to the surface to either be converted into electricity or used as a source of renewable heat.

Unlike wind power, geothermal can operate steadily 24 hours a day.

Cornwall is expected to prove the best site for geothermal power, as research in the 1970s and ’80s found significant opportunities within the county’s granite bedrock, The Guardian said.

If successful in its exploratory drilling, the Redruth project would produce 10 megawatts of electricity and 55 megawatts of renewable heat for the local community.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Electricity, Geothermal, Other0 Comments

Urine Eyed As Possible Power Source

BRISTOL, England, July 31 (UPI) — British researchers say they are looking at urine as a possible energy source for fuel cells that could power autonomous robots.

Scientists at the University of Bristol say the waste product could serve as the fuel for microbial fuel cells, which use bacterial cultures that digest waste to create power, ScienceDaily.com reported Wednesday.

A team at the university’s Bristol Robotic Lab has spent more than 3 years developing EcoBot-III, a robot that can power itself by converting waste such as rotten fruit and grass clippings into power.

As part of their research to find the best waste materials that create the most energy, they will look at urine as a “food” for the microbial power units, the team leader says.

“Urine is chemically very active, rich in nitrogen and has compounds such as urea, chloride, potassium and bilirubin, which make it very good for the microbial fuel cells,” Dr. Ioannis Ieropoulos says.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Fuel Cells, Other0 Comments

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