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Koalas Show Some Changes from Ancestors

SYDNEY, Dec. 19 (UPI) — Prehistoric Australian koalas were as lazy as their modern counterparts and used the same loud bellowing to attract mates, a new study shows.

But an article published Saturday in The Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology says the koalas from 5 million years ago did not have the same kind of specialized eucalyptus leaf diet as the modern koala.

The shift to eucalyptus diet was probably caused, the article says, by the drift north of the Australian continent, causing a retreat of its rain forests and dominance of eucalyptus trees.

Coping with the new diet caused adaptive changes in the digestive and anatomical structure of the koalas. When scientists measured skulls of ancient and modern animals, they noticed dramatic differences in the facial skeleton, which they noted were probably due to the change to a tougher diet of eucalyptus leaves.

And the low nutrition levels of eucalyptus leaves caused the animals to develop a more sedentary, energy-conserving lifestyle, they said.

“In order to accommodate both the mechanical demands of their new diet, as well as maintaining their auditory sophistication, the koala underwent substantial changes to its cranial anatomy, in particular that of the facial skeleton,”says Dr Julien Louys of University of New South Wales’s School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences..

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

Posted in Animals, Energy, Mammals, Physical Sciences0 Comments

Copenhagen Delegates Recognize Pact

COPENHAGEN, Denmark, Dec. 19 (UPI) — U.N. climate change summit delegates in Copenhagen, Denmark, voted Saturday to recognize a non-mandatory pact aimed at reducing greenhouse gases.

After an up-and-down, all-night bargaining session, the summit adopted a resolution that “took note” of the non-binding document, called the Copenhagen Accord, which sets up a system for monitoring and reporting progress toward national pollution-reduction goals and sets a goal of limiting the global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by 2050, The New York Times reported.

The adoption was followed by adjournment. But, the newspaper said, the summit’s final day was marked by a bitter struggle between nations that favored the compromise — cobbled together Friday by U.S. President Barack Obama and leaders from Brazil, India, South Africa and China — and a group of counties — including Venezuela, Sudan and Cuba — that loudly objected to the process used to reach it.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the document makes progress on the four benchmarks he had set at a special meeting on climate change in September: a limit on global temperature rise, commitments to cut emissions, steps to halt deforestation and aid for poor countries. He called the pact “an essential beginning.”

Obama said a good agreement is not enough in the long term.

“Going forward we’re going to have to build on the momentum that we established in Copenhagen to ensure that international action to significantly reduce emissions is sustained and sufficient over time,” he said.”At home, that means continuing our efforts to build a clean energy economy that has the potential to create millions of new jobs and new industries.”

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

Posted in Energy, Global Warming & Climate Change, International Relations & Treaties0 Comments

World Leaders Try to Save Global Climate Protection Deal at U.N. Conference

COPENHAGEN, Denmark, Dec. 18 (UPI) — U.S. President Barack Obama and more than 100 other world leaders started last-minute attempts to reach a global climate protection deal at a U.N. conference in Denmark.

Obama was to meet with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, in a bilateral session that could save or bury the talks.

China is refusing to have its emissions monitored and the United States is resisting demands to boost its emissions reduction commitment beyond the 17 percent it promised by 2020. Observers have been frustrated by the positions of both countries.

Yet Obama, who landed in snowed-in Copenhagen Friday morning, appeared determined to broker a deal on the final day of a two-week summit.

“I come here today not to talk but to act,” Obama told the conference.

But he indicated no willingness to increase the United States’ emissions reduction commitments, a position criticized by major environment groups. Instead, he vowed that the United States was ready to help raise $10 billion until 2012, and $100 billion a year by 2020 for poor nations under a binding treaty that spells out emission reduction targets for industrialized nations — but only if that accord includes transparency measures ensuring that “we are living up to our mutual commitments.”

China has been unwilling to have its emissions monitored, a stance called a “deal-breaker” by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Obama urged China to move.

“I don’t know how you have an international agreement where we all are not sharing information and ensuring that we are meeting our commitments. That doesn’t make sense,” he said.

“We are ready to get this done today. But there has to be movement on all sides.”

Jiabao didn’t mention any willingness to accept more transparency measures but vowed that China will follow up on its voluntary climate protection commitments “with real action.”

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil delivered a memorable speech ahead of Obama, saying that his country, in a desperate effort to move talks forward, was “willing to make more sacrifices … (and) put forward money to help other countries. We will do it.”

Lula added he was “frustrated … because for a long time we have been discussing climate change,” without a meaningful outcome. Lula took part in all-night talks to save the deal and emerged saying that he was “laughing in order not to cry.”

Meanwhile, negotiators were able to agree to limit warming to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit compared with pre-industrial levels.

Obama vowed that the United States would continue to push clean energy at home and mitigate emissions reductions “no matter what happens here in Copenhagen.”

But he added that “we will all be more secure if we act together” by agreeing to an ambitious global climate protection treaty.

Any agreement reached in Copenhagen will have to be spelled out legally in the coming months. That means Copenhagen is only the beginning of the negotiation process.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

Posted in Causes, Effects Of Air Pollution, Energy, International Relations & Treaties, Other, Policy, Law, & Government0 Comments

'Personalized Solar Energy' Era Nears

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., Dec. 17 (UPI) — A Massachusetts Institute of Technology scientist says new discoveries are moving society toward the era of “personalized solar energy.”

Professor Daniel Nocera says such an era would involve the focus of electricity production shifting from huge central generating stations to individuals in their own homes and communities.

Nocera predicts global energy needs will double by mid-century and triple by 2100 due to rising standards of living and world population growth. He said personalized solar energy — the capture and storage of solar energy at the individual or home level — could meet that demand in a sustainable way, especially in poorer areas of the world.

Nocera envisions an innovative catalyst that splits water molecules into oxygen and hydrogen that become fuel for producing electricity in a fuel cell. He says the new oxygen-evolving catalyst works like photosynthesis, producing clean energy from sunlight and water.

“Because energy use scales with wealth, point-of-use solar energy will put individuals, in the smallest village in the non-legacy world and in the largest city of the legacy world, on a more level playing field,” he said.

Nocera’s report appears in the journal Inorganic Chemistry.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

Posted in Electricity, Energy, Hydrogen, Population Growth, Science, Space, & Technology, Solar0 Comments

DOE Won't Stop Utah Bound Uranium Train

SALT LAKE CITY, Dec. 16 (UPI) — The train has left the station and a shipment of depleted uranium headed for Utah cannot be stopped, the U.S. Department of Energy said Wednesday.

Gov. Gary Herbert has asked the department to stop the train bringing the uranium from the Savannah River in South Carolina, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.

“We are planning a briefing with the governor and his staff tomorrow,” Jen Stutsman, a department spokeswoman, said Wednesday. “But this shipment is continuing as planned.”

EnergySolutions Inc. had agreed to take the depleted uranium for disposal in Utah. The company has already buried 5,000 barrels of waste from the Savannah River in a landfill in Toole County and has disposed of a total of 49,000 tons at the site.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission recently said new rules are needed for disposal of depleted uranium in shallow burial sites. Herbert had asked the Department of Energy to delay any shipments until the Utah Radiation Control Board has had an opportunity to draft interim regulations.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

Posted in Energy, Energy & Fuels, Liability, Law, & Government, Nuclear, Policy, Law, & Government, Radiation, Regional, U.S. Federal Government Agencies, U.S. State & Local0 Comments

India's First Commercial Solar Power Plant

NEW DELHI, Dec. 16 (UPI) — India inaugurated Azure Power’s 2-megawatt photovoltaic plant in the state of Punjab, the first privately owned, utility-scale power plant on the Asian subcontinent.

Built under a 30-year power purchase agreement with the Punjab State Electricity Board, the plant will help power 4,000 rural homes for 20,000 people.

Farooq Abdullah, minister of new and renewable energy, said the plant showcases India’s pledge to generate 20,000 megawatts from solar power by 2022 under the country’s national solar mission.

Azure Power is India’s first independent power producer in solar energy. It built the plant, situated on 13 acres of farmland in the village of Awan, in a record six months,

Inderpreet Wadhwa founded Azure Power two years ago after a 15-year career in the United States that most recently included software giant Oracle Corp. The 37-year-old native of Amritsar city in Punjab said he wanted to return home and do something for rural areas in India, where millions of people don’t have reliable electricity.

Azure Power received initial venture-capital funding from Helion Ventures and Foundation Capital.

Wadhwa encountered a number of bureaucratic hurdles in the project, including obtaining signatures from 152 local officials in Punjab, The Wall Street Journal reports. And he ended up paying more than double the market rate for the land, about $420 per acre a year.

Yet Wadhwa is pressing on. His company has also inked agreements with local Indian governments of Gujarat and Harayana to build facilities that can produce a total of 22 megawatts. It is also coordinating with the state governments of Karnataka, West Bengal, Maharashtra and Rajasthan for another 30 megawatts.

“My aim is to be a leading solar power generator in India by offering viable and socially responsible alternatives to conventional sources of energy,” he told the India Business Standard.

About 8 percent of India’s energy comes from renewable sources such as wind and hydropower. Solar power, experts say, has great potential because it can work almost anywhere in India.

But growth in the sector has been hampered somewhat by the high costs of the technology and inability of power companies to obtain sizeable tracts of land for the solar panels.

To encourage more investment in the solar sector, the Indian government is increasing subsidies for solar projects and mandating that state utilities purchase solar power. But some experts say government support won’t help as long as solar technology remains expensive.

“To achieve scale, you’ll need private participation, and that will only happen if the projects are viable without significant state support,” Jai Mavani, head of infrastructure and government consulting at KPMG India, told The Wall Street Journal.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

Posted in Electricity, Energy, Energy & Fuels, Infrastructure, Science, Space, & Technology, Solar, Wind0 Comments

Bacteria Used to Power Simple Machines

ARGONNE, Ill., Dec. 16 (UPI) — U.S. Department of Energy scientists say they’ve used common bacteria to power simple machines, providing insight for creating bio-inspired energy production.

The researchers at the Argonne National Laboratory and Northwestern University said they discovered bacteria can turn microgears when suspended in a solution.

“The gears are a million times more massive than the bacteria,” said physicist Igor Aronson, who led the study. “The ability to harness and control the power of bacterial motions is an important requirement for further development of hybrid biomechanical systems driven by microorganisms.”

The scientists discovered the aerobic bacteria, Bacillus subtilis, appear to swim around the solution randomly, but occasionally the organisms will collide with the spokes of the gear and begin turning it in a definite direction. The researchers then added a few hundred bacteria which worked together to turn the gear.

When multiple gears are placed in the solution with the spokes connected, the bacteria will begin turning both gears in opposite directions and it will cause the gears to rotate in synchrony for a long time, the scientists said.

“Our discovery demonstrates how microscopic swimming agents, such as bacteria or man-made nanorobots, in combination with hard materials can constitute a ‘smart material’ which can dynamically alter its microstructures, repair damage or power microdevices,” Aronson said.

The research is reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

Posted in Energy, Energy & Fuels, Energy Conservation, Energy Efficiency, Microorganisms0 Comments

Obama Seeks Incentives for Home Energy

WASHINGTON, Dec. 15 (UPI) — President Barack Obama Tuesday called on Congress to provide temporary incentives for U.S. homeowners who invest in energy-efficient retrofitting.

“The simple act of retrofitting these buildings to make them more energy-efficient … is one of the fastest, easiest and cheapest things we can do to put America back to work while saving money and reducing harmful emissions,” Obama said during a visit to a Home Depot in Alexandria, Va., while ticking off retrofitting examples such as installing new windows and doors, insulation, roofing, correcting ceiling leaks and modernizing heating and cooling equipment.

He also noted energy-related investments made under the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act put the nation on a pace “to upgrade the homes of half a million Americans by this time next year … boosting the economy, saving money on energy, creating clean energy jobs that can’t be outsourced.”

And there’s another reason to retrofit, Obama said to some chuckles — insulation is sexy.

“Here’s what sexy about it: saving money,” he said. “You put in the insulation, you — you weatherize your home now, you will make up that money in a year or two years or three years, and then everything after that is just gravy.”

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

Posted in Buildings, Consumer Products, Electricity, Energy, Energy & Fuels, Energy Conservation, Energy Efficiency, Energy Efficiency & Weatherization, Homes & Buildings, House & Home0 Comments

Biden Issues Positive Clean Energy Report

WASHINGTON, Dec. 15 (UPI) — Vice President Joe Biden has issued a report to the president indicating U.S. Recovery Act initiatives are building a more energy-efficient economy.

“I’m pleased to report that the administration is laying the foundation for a clean energy economy that will create a new generation of jobs, reduce dependence on oil and enhance national security,” Biden wrote in the memo Monday. “Through the Recovery Act and more effective use of programs already in existence, the administration is taking the critical steps to transform the United States into a global clean energy leader.”

The memo outlined ways the Recovery Act and other investments are allowing the United States to make clean energy advances, and asserted the nation is scheduled to double geothermal, solar and wind generation manufacturing facilities in three years.

The memo also touted three of the first-ever electric vehicle facilities along with 30 new battery plants expected to be operational during the next six years. U.S. homes will have 26,000,000 Smart meters installed by 2013, triple the number now in service, the memo said.

There are plans to build and operate five commercial scale power plants with carbon capture facilities intended to help control greenhouse gas emissions.

All the projects are to be funded, the memo says, either by Recovery Act monies alone or in combination with private sector investments.

Biden will discuss the measures at a meeting on climate change in Copenhagen next week.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

Posted in Energy, Energy & Fuels, Energy Conservation, Energy Efficiency, Energy Industry, Energy Policy & Advocacy, Geothermal, Other, Solar, Wind0 Comments

President Barack Obama Speaks on Energy Savings at Home Depot in Alexandria Virginia

Obama Visits Virginia Home Depot Store

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at a meeting on the economic impact of energy saving home retrofits with labor, manufacturing, and small business leaders at a Northern Virginia Home Depot store in Alexandria, Virginia on December 15, 2009. UPI/Ron Sachs/Pool

Date Taken: December 15, 2009

Posted in Electricity, Energy, Energy & Fuels, Energy Conservation, Energy Efficiency, House & Home1 Comment

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