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Microbes to the Rescue: “Scrubbing Bubbles” Made by Bacteria May Solve the U.S Energy Crisis
Michael J. McInerney, Legacy, newsletter of the Univ. of Okla. Dept. of Botany and Microbiology
Never say never when it comes to the capabilities of microorganisms. From eating nasty chemicals to removing radioactive isotopes from solution, the world of microorganisms displays an incredible capacity to do the unthinkable. So, can microbes help solve the growing demand for liquid transportation fuel? It looks very promising based on the results of the OU Microbially Enhanced Oil Recovery team lead by Professors Mike McInerney and Roy Knapp (Petroleum and Geological Engineering).

… About 300 billion barrels of crude oil remain in domestic oil reservoirs after current recovery technologies reach their economic limit. The OU team found a number of microorganisms (Bacillus species) that make detergents that act like little scrubbing bubbles to clean the oil off of rock surfaces and bring the oil to the surface.

The big question was whether the microorganisms would be effective when injected into an actual oil reservoir. The OU group conducted a well-controlled, field experiment to answer this question in collaboration with individuals from a local oil company, Arrow Holding, Inc.

… Overall, the test showed that the bacteria stimulated oil production and, with further optimization, detergentmaking bacteria can provide an economic way to reduce our oil nation’s dependence foreign imports and to stimulate Oklahoma’s economy.
(Fall 2007)
Contributor Amy W. writes:
From page 4 of the Fall 2007 issue of The Legacy, newsletter of the Univ. of Okla. Dept. of Botany and Microbiology

Power from the final frontier

James Bloom, Guardian
Giant collectors in space that beam solar energy back to Earth could soon be a reality. And, as James Bloom reports, it could be a bigger moneyspinner than space tourism

At some point before 2050, satellites collecting solar power and beaming it back to Earth will become a primary energy source, streaming terawatts of electricity continuously from space. That’s if you believe a recent report from the Pentagon’s National Security Space Office, which says confidently that we will see “a basic proof-of-concept within 4-6 years and a substantial power demonstration as early as 2017-2020”.

It’s obvious in some ways: above the atmosphere, a solar cell receives about 40 times more energy per year than an equivalent site on the ground, due to the absence of atmospheric scattering and seasonal or nightly reductions in light.

The NSSO suggests that an orbiting spacecraft with solar panel arrays would be comparable to current ground-based installations spanning hectares and, eventually, a few square kilometres. Then that energy can be sent to the ground – using, the Pentagon suggests, a giant laser or microwave beam.

The report, Space Based Solar Power as an Opportunity for Strategic Security, suggests optimistically that one application will be the beaming of “energy aid” via satellite into conflict and disaster zones, minimising the human cost of resource wars and catastrophic events caused by global warming.
(1 November 2007)

The Greening of Google

Sandra Upson, IEEE Spectrum
…Google’s project is the largest corporate installation of solar panels in North America. It has grabbed headlines since Google announced it a year ago. That said, it isn’t even in the worldwide top 10 of roof-mounted solar projects. A handful of factories in Germany and Japan take that honor, as well as a couple of roofs in Spain and the Netherlands. At the very least, the search giant’s solar play adds one more country to the list of star performers in the world of commoditized sunshine. And it seems clear that Google’s array won’t be tops in North America for long.

After languishing through much of the 1990s, the market for photovoltaic installations in the United States and several other countries took off about five years ago, and it’s now increasing by 40 percent annually in the United States alone [see sidebar, “Photovoltaic Hot Spots”]. Spain’s bullish market grew 100 percent in the past year. And percentages never tell the full story, as Noah Kaye, a spokesman for the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), points out. “The German market was relatively flat in the past year, but Germany still installed more [photovoltaics] than the U.S. did,” says Kaye, on behalf of the trade and lobbying group.

California has nonetheless become the second-fastest-growing solar market in the world, and that surge, especially in the United States, is being driven mainly by activity on corporate rooftops. …

Sidebar: Solar panels are just one of the many climate-change ­mitigation projects that Google is spearheading.

Plug-in hybrid cars. Google built carports in its parking lot that have solar panels on their roofs. Five outlets dangle down, all of which charge cars on a daily basis. The company is also accumulating a fleet of hybrids as part of RechargeIT, a Google program aimed at speeding the adoption of plug-in hybrid electric cars.

Climate-Savers Computing Initiative. Google partnered with Intel and 20 other companies to create a large industry coalition that will adopt strict energy-efficiency targets for IT equipment.

Upgrades to buildings. “We’re changing lightbulbs, replacing air-conditioning equipment, and ­upgrading building systems to optimize when and how our ­electricity gets used,” says Robyn Beavers, Google’s corporate environmental programs manager.
(31 October 2007)

California to Rule On Fate of EVs

Peter Fairley, IEEE Spectrum
[Phoenix Motorcars’] is also counting on a more immediate payoff: the company may be eligible to cash in on California’s ambitious and controversial zero-emissions vehicle mandate. The ZEV directive requires car manufacturers to market ultraclean and emissions-free vehicles or buy credits earned by others making such vehicles-credits that could translate into tens of thousands of dollars in extra income per vehicle for Phoenix.

“We’re using the ZEV mandate as a tool to finance and progress our company,” says Bryon Bliss, Phoenix’s vice president of sales and marketing.

Phoenix’s bid for extra credits is just one example of what has become a scramble to exploit California’s ZEV incentives.

…California legislators created the ZEV mandate back in 1990 after General Motors vowed to mass-produce its sporty EV1, a battery-powered two-seater. The mandate consisted of just a few sentences, stating that major manufacturers’ California sales must include at least 2 percent ZEVs in the model years 1998 through 2000, 5 percent ZEVs in 2001 and 2002, and 10 percent ZEVs in 2003 and subsequent years. Increasing volume was supposed to drive improvements in the performance of electric drivetrains and slash their cost.

In practice, however, battery development lagged. So CARB repeatedly trimmed the quotas for ZEVs, allowing manufacturers to build a larger number of ultraclean combustion vehicles, which the board oxymoronically termed partial zero-emissions vehicles. These include cars with advanced emissions controls, natural gas-powered vehicles, and gasoline-electric hybrids. Each category qualifies for a different number of credits toward the manufacturers’ ZEV quotas.

More than half a million cars have been sold under the ZEV program. And the hybrid vehicles sweeping the market today, the Toyota Prius in particular, have their roots in carmakers’ attempts to comply with the mandate. What is missing, however, are the thousands of emissions-free vehicles originally promised.

The regulation’s downfall came in 2003 when the mandate, set to come into full force, was instead derailed by a GM-led lawsuit.

… Accelerate forward from 2003 to today and it’s a brave new world. Hybrids are going mainstream, major automakers are once again engineering battery EVs, and start-ups such as Tesla Motors and Phoenix are actually bringing them to market. Even GM, vilified in the 2006 documentary Who Killed the Electric Car? for crushing its EV1s, says electric drive is the future. “We need to do everything we can to rid ourselves from complete dependence on oil as our single source for automotive transportation,” says Dave Barthmuss, GM’s environmental spokesman in California.

The question, yet again, is whether the ZEV mandate can help.
(November 2007)