Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Avian enthusiasts brave rain for annual bird count

Ed Vine's tan baseball cap reads: "Life is Simple. Eat. Sleep. Bird." But on Sunday, that wasn't the clearest sign of the Berkeley resident's enthusiasm for the unconventional hobby of birding. It was the fact that - despite the wind and rain and cold, and even with flooded, muddy trails that threatened to swallow boots whole - he got out at the crack of dawn to take part in the East Bay's annual Christmas Bird Count. "We tend to say 'wow' a lot," admitted Vine, 60, a researcher at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, after a chorus of appreciation was offered up for a great blue heron that lived up to its name. More>

One of the World's Biggest Telescopes Is Buried Beneath the South Pole

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin are putting the finishing touches on a giant underground telescope buried beneath the South Pole to help understand said phenomena. Accordingly called the IceCube Neutrino Observatory, completion is expected to occur at 8 p.m. CST, once the last of more than 5,000 optical sensors is buried as much as two miles below the permanent ice cap covering Antarctica. The sensors are buried across one cubic kilometer of Antarctica's frozen tundra; weight-wise, that's a gigaton of ice. Just what exactly will this telescope observe? Tiny subatomic particles called neutrinos: They’re like a neutron, in that they hold no charge, but they’re the size of an electron. Neutrinos are important because they’re the byproduct of nuclear reactions, meaning if you retrace them to their origins, you could happen upon some interesting things. Berkeley Lab scientists and engineers including Bob Stokstad and Spencer Klein of the Nuclear Science Division, Dave Nygren and Jerry Przybylski of the Physics Division, and many others played a key role in proposing, designing, and testing the key components that made IceCube possible. More>

Scientists Take Plasmon Lasers Out of Deep Freeze

Researchers at UC Berkeley have developed a new technique that allows plasmon lasers to operate at room temperature, overcoming a major barrier to practical utilization of the technology. The achievement, described Dec. 19 in an advanced online publication of the journal Nature Materials, is a "major step towards applications" for plasmon lasers, said the research team's principal investigator Xiang Zhang, faculty scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. More>

Friday, December 17, 2010

Mutation-prediction software rewarded

A computer program that predicts the effects of gene mutations has earned its author a doctorate, a stack of journal publications — and now a dancing wind-up toy named Molly. Yana Bromberg, a bioinformatician at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, won the toy for her program, SNAP, in an experimental contest that culminated on 10 December in Berkeley, California. The competition, called the Critical Assessment of Genome Interpretation (CAGI), asks researchers to predict the biological effects of different mutations, and compares their results against unpublished experimental data. The contest was conceived by Berkeley Lab physical bioscientist Steven Brenner, and John Moult, a computational biologist at the University of Maryland in Rockville. Their goal is to accelerate the development of software that can quickly interpret large amounts of genetic data — for example, the whole genome sequence of a tumour from a biopsy. More>

Solar industry sees strong growth in 2010

The Solar Energy Industries Assn., a trade group, said Thursday that commercial solar customers in the U.S. reached 103 megawatts of capacity in the third quarter, a 38% jump from the same period in 2009. Overall, more than 27,000 homes and businesses set up solar-power systems. Already in the U.S., the average cost of photovoltaics has fallen 30% to $7.50 a watt in 2009 from $10.80 in 1998, according to a report from the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. More>

When smokers move out, carcinogens remain

Thirdhand smoke hasn’t yet made its way into the Surgeon General’s warnings, but researchers are focusing on the issue, particularly something called tobacco-specific nitrosamines. As nicotine lingers in an indoor environment, it oxidizes into carcinogenic nitrosamines. That chemical reaction was documented in a laboratory setting by researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley and the findings published earlier this year. The paper, titled “Formation of carcinogens indoors by surface-mediated reactions of nicotine with nitrous acid, leading to potential third-hand smoke hazards,” appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. More>

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Home solar costs falling with industry scale

A Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory study finds that the price of installing residential solar photovoltaic systems has fallen due to cheaper solar panels and improved industry efficiency. The study (PDF) published today finds that system installation costs fell 30 percent from 1998 to 2009. The data, representing 70 percent of grid-tied solar electric installations across the U.S., also noted that "dramatic" cost reductions have been seen in 2010. More>

Top 100 Stories of 2010 #85: Robot Skin Can Feel Your Touch

Artificial organs keep us alive, artificial arms build our cars—and soon artificial skin may allow robots or prosthetics to respond to our every touch. This past year, two independent groups made notable advances in that direction. Berkeley Lab's Ali Javey attached a grid of nanowire transistors to a polyimide film placed atop a layer of rubber. The resulting electronic skin recognizes pokes and prods as changes in electric resistance. Meanwhile, at Stanford University, materials scientist Zhenan Bao and collaborators cut pyramid-shaped holes in an elastic polymer to produce variations in capacitance, the ability to hold an electric charge. In tests, the material could “feel” objects as light as a butterfly. More>

'Synthetic biology' holds promise, but vigilance needed

Far more promise than peril lurks in "synthetic biology," the emerging technology of man-made life, a presidential panel reports today. Aimed at providing humanity with cheaper drugs, fuel and food, the technology also carries with it fears of bioengineered super-plagues should one of these new life forms escape from the lab. In May, President Obama called for the panel report after researchers reported in the journal Science that they had inserted a man-made genetic blueprint into a bacteria, which then reproduced with the new genes. "It is vital that we as a society consider, in a thoughtful manner, the significance of this kind of scientific development," Obama wrote, requesting the report. Major players in the field such as human genome pioneer Craig Venter, who headed the team behind the May study, have suggested that man-made microbes might someday produce synthetic gasoline. Others, such as Berkeley Lab's Jay Keasling, have led efforts to create microbes that make malaria drugs. More>

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

DOE Installs Cool Roof, Saves Taxpayers $2,000 in Energy Costs

Secretary of Energy Steven Chu today announced the completion of a new 25,000-square-foot cool roof on the Department of Energy's headquarters west building in Washington, DC. The design added no extra cost to the roof replacement project, and is projected to save taxpayers an annual $2,000 in energy costs. Researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab estimate that if just over three quarters of our nation's commercial buildings were retrofitted with cool roofs, the U.S. would save enough energy on air-conditioning to reduce CO2 emissions by about 6 million metric tons each year. That's like taking more than a million cars off the road. More>

Does China Face a ‘Peak Coal’ Threat?

China’s ravenous appetite for energy puts the country at risk of reaching a point of “peak coal,” when demand for coal will outstrip domestic production capacity, a growing number of experts believe. China now consumes approximately 47 percent of coal produced globally but by most estimates has just 14 percent of global coal reserves. Meanwhile, demand has risen by about 10 percent per year for the last decade, putting the country on an “unsustainable” path, according to a recent report by C.L.S.A. Asia-Pacific Markets, a Hong Kong-based brokerage firm. Coal might be abundant globally, but if China cannot substantially raise its domestic production, increasing imports enough to meet demand may be hard to accomplish in the short-term, putting the country in a potential supply bind. “I think China is the vulnerable player here — they don’t really have a lot of options,” said David Fridley, a staff scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and deputy leader of the laboratory’s China Energy Group. More>

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A future with cheap coal should be reassessed

In a recent article in Nature, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory scientist David Fridley argues that coal prices around the world will likely soar in coming years, due partly to explosive demand from China, and that energy policies relying on the conventional wisdom of plentiful cheap coal need to be reconsidered. Published as a comment titled “The End of Cheap Coal” in an issue of Nature, Fridley and co-author Richard Heinberg say that world coal reserves are far less abundant than has been assumed, referencing a series of recent studies that suggest that the peak of world coal production could be only years away. More>

Tiny channels carry big information

They say it's the little things that count, and that certainly holds true for the channels in transmembrane proteins, which are small enough to allow ions or molecules of a certain size to pass through, while keeping out larger objects. Artificial fluidic nanochannels that mimic the capabilities of transmembrane proteins are highly prized for a number of advanced technologies. However, it has been difficult to make individual artificial channels of this size – until now. Researchers with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)'s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have been able to fabricate nanochannels that are only two nanometers (2-nm) in size, using standard semiconductor manufacturing processes. Already they've used these nanochannels to discover that fluid mechanics for passages this small are significantly different not only from bulk-sized channels, but even from channels that are merely 10 nanometers in size. More>

Friday, December 10, 2010

Dark Matter Rush: Physics Gives Gold Mine New Life

LEAD, South Dakota — The gold rush glow has long faded from South Dakota, but a different kind of precious material is drawing crowds to the Black Hills. An old mine that produced billions of dollars in gold may be North America's best shot at finding dark matter. ... The National Science Foundation selected the Sanford Underground Laboratory at Homestake as the site of the new Deep Underground Science and Engineering Lab (DUSEL) in 2007, and physicists have already started moving in. Wired.com visited the mine-turned-lab to see the first glimmers of the dark matter rush. More>

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A Science Experiment in South Pole Ice Searches For Clues About Dark Matter

Every December since 2004, engineers have flown to the South Pole to drill 8,000-foot-deep holes in the ice. The team lowers cables, each strung with 60 disco-ball-size light sensors, into the holes and let them freeze over. So far they have completed 79 such holes, set in a grid half a mile on each side, and plan to drill the final seven this month. The result will be the IceCube Neutrino Observatory, a cube of ice packed with 5,320 sensors looking for cosmic particles. More>

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Richmond wants to attract Berkeley lab campus

Richmond wants to become home to the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory's second campus, a project that could bring jobs, revenue and economic resurgence. City leaders are lining up local support and plan to answer the lab's call for interested parties to submit their qualifications and prove why they would be an ideal location. Other cities trying to woo the lab include Alameda, which sees its naval air station as an ideal location. More>

Cancers imaged and monitored using firefly glow

US scientists have developed a new glowing probe that can signal the presence of hydrogen peroxide in the body, an indicator of tumours or disease. The advance could allow the progression of tumours to be tracked in living animals. Hydrogen peroxide is widely used in the body for signalling pathways, but is also given off by many cancers. Christopher Chang of Berkeley Lab's Chemical Sciences Division has been working on molecules that indicate the presence of hydrogen peroxide for a few years, and have looked to nature to improve their previous work by taking inspiration from fireflies. More>

Monday, November 29, 2010

Ultrathin Alternative to Silicon for Future Electronics

There’s good news in the search for the next generation of semiconductors. Researchers with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and the University of California (UC) Berkeley, have successfully integrated ultra-thin layers of the semiconductor indium arsenide onto a silicon substrate to create a nanoscale transistor with excellent electronic properties. A member of the III–V family of semiconductors, indium arsenide offers several advantages as an alternative to silicon including superior electron mobility and velocity, which makes it an oustanding candidate for future high-speed, low-power electronic devices. More>

Why China is an energy consumption hog

Over the next 15 years China is expected to build the equivalent of New York City -- 10 times over.That's a lot of concrete and steel, and it goes a long way to explaining why the country is using so much energy. Roads, bridges, rail lines, skyscrapers and factories take tons of concrete, steel, chemicals and glass. "They are building massive amounts of infrastructure," said Lynn Price, a scientist in the China Energy Group at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, a U.S. Department of Energy research lab. "It takes incredible amounts of these energy-intensive commodities." More>

The New Germ Theory

JILLIAN BANFIELD trades in hell holes. In September, she could be found wading through the dark, hot, sulphurous innards of Richmond Mine at Iron Mountain, California, where blue stalactites ooze the most acidic water ever discovered, with a pH of −3.6. A year before that, she was pumping up a toxic soup of uranium, arsenic, molybdenum and other metals from underneath a decommissioned nuclear-processing site in Rifle, Colorado. From both sites she took samples back to her lab at Lawrence Berkeley Lab, where she sequenced and analysed the DNA they contain in an attempt to work out which bacteria, archaea, viruses and fungi have decided to make that particular hell their home — and what it takes to survive there. More>

The Key Ingredient to Effective Cancer Treatments

About 50 percent of cancer patients have tumors that are resistant to radiation because of low levels of oxygen—a state known as hypoxia. A startup in San Francisco is developing proteins that could carry oxygen to tumors more effectively, increasing the odds that radiation therapy will help these patients. Last month, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) gave that startup, Omniox, $3 million in funding. Omniox is collaborating with researchers at the NCI to test whether its oxygen-carrying compounds improve radiation therapy in animals with cancer. The company's technology comes from Michael Marletta of Lawrence Berkeley Lab and UC Berkeley. More>

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Antimatter Atoms Successfully Stored for the First Time

Atoms of antimatter have been trapped and stored for the first time by the ALPHA collaboration, an international team of scientists working at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research near Geneva, Switzerland. Scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California at Berkeley have made key contributions to the ongoing international effort. More>

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Busy Microbial World Discovered in Deepest Ocean Crust Ever Explored

The first study to ever explore biological activity in the deepest layer of ocean crust has found bacteria with a remarkable range of capabilities, including eating hydrocarbons and natural gas, and “fixing” or storing carbon. The research, just published in the journal PLoS One, showed that a significant number and amount of bacterial forms were present, even in temperatures near the boiling point of water. The research was supported by the National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Energy, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program. Collaborators were from OSU, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Tohoku University in Japan, Universitat Bremen in Germany, University of Oklahoma, and National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Japan. More>

Monday, November 22, 2010

Supercomputing's new world order

At a supercomputing convention that just wrapped up in New Orleans, Louisiana, the potent effects of Hurricanes in big plastic cups paled in comparison with the raw power of a tiny silicon chip. "We're geeking out about exascale computing right now," John Shalf, the Advanced Technologies group leader at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, said of the computer architects, software developers and engineers in the high-performance computing community. More>

Industry's reach into academia renews fears of undue influence

Stanford University researcher Thomas Jaramillo is overseeing a million-dollar research project that explores ways to create liquid fuel from sunlight and carbon dioxide. A Stanford colleague, Yi Cui, has nearly $2 million to research solar energy and high-energy batteries. Berkeley Lab researcher Jamie Cate is part of a multimillion-dollar effort to determine how to make an alternative fuel out of crops such as switchgrass. For all three projects, the money is coming from Big Oil, and the research is at the core of a growing debate about whether the work carries the taint of corporate influence. "We're all proposing to do the science exactly how we would want to, without any constraints," Jaramillo said. "I have lost zero freedom," he said, echoing the views of Cui and Cate. Not everyone agrees. More>

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Physicists trap antimatter atoms

Berkeley physicists seeking to pierce a mystery as old as the universe joined an international team of scientists Wednesday to report they have trapped and stored a few dozen atoms of antimatter - the stuff that annihilates ordinary matter in a single explosive flash of energy. It's a real-life version of the immortal "Star Trek" fantasy, where antimatter is crucial to speed the Starship Enterprise through the galaxy at warp drive, faster than the speed of light. And although there's no warp drive in high-energy physics, the announcement marks a major achievement: For the first time, the scientists have stored 38 atoms of the antimatter called antihydrogen for a tiny fraction of a second. But even greater success is near, said Joel Fajans, a physicist at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, because the international group will soon be gathering much larger numbers of the antimatter atoms and storing them much longer - long enough for experiments that will seek to explain many of the most fundamental properties of the Big Bang that began the universe. More>

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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Scientists Create and Capture Antimatter

Scientists working on the big bang machine in Geneva have done the seemingly impossible: create, capture and release antimatter. The development could help researchers devise laboratory experiments to learn more about this strange substance, which mostly disappeared from the universe shortly after the Big Bang around 14 billion years ago.Trapping any form of antimatter is difficult, because as soon as it meets normal matter -- the stuff Earth and everything on it is made out of -- the two annihilate each other in powerful explosions. In a new study, physicists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva were able to create 38 antihydrogen atoms and preserve each for more than one-tenth of a second. The project was part of the ALPHA (Antihydrogen Laser PHysics Apparatus) experiment, an international collaboration that includes physicists from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL). More>

Monday, November 15, 2010

ARPA-E shoots for the moon

Within the massive federal stimulus bill is funding for a small but influential government agency: ARPA-E, or Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy. Modeled after DARPA, the Defense Department program credited with creating the Internet, stealth fighter and M16 assault rifle, ARPA-E was formed to fund transformational clean-energy research and technology. ARPA-E operates with a staff of just 20 people and aims to be nimble and quick. The agency funds "pie in the sky" and "moonshot" clean-energy technologies that venture capitalists typically steer clear of. "We're funding projects that are too risky for the private sector," said Arun Majumdar, who left his job at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to direct ARPA-E. "When it's hard to shop it around Sand Hill Road," he added, ARPA-E will often step in and bet on unproven technologies that venture capitalists won't touch. More>

For energy chief, race is on to find fuel alternatives

It's a stunning fall morning in Washington, and Energy Secretary Steven Chu, clad in bike shorts and a snug Stanford University biking shirt, climbs onto his Colnago bicycle and rolls down his leafy street and onto the Capital Crescent Trail. Then it's a 20-minute sprint to downtown Washington. Chu's nearly two years as energy secretary have been a sprint of sorts. Until last year, the department spent most of its time and its $26 billion budget as caretaker of the nation's nuclear waste and weapons stockpile. But with rising concerns about climate change and the nation's economy hanging on a precipice, Chu was effectively made the green-energy czar. The stimulus bill gave the agency an extra $36 billion for grants and low-interest loans to jump-start new technologies and greater energy efficiency. More>

Supercomputers Fuel Competition

China's installation of the world's fastest supercomputer is galvanizing efforts by U.S. government agencies and companies to restore American leadership in the technology, a key tool in such fields as climate research, product design and weapons development. It's not going to be easy," concedes Horst Simon, deputy laboratory director at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, a major supercomputer user. But he says a case can be made that important scientific problems won't be solved without a new generation of systems. "It is really an economic-competitiveness issue and a national-security issue," he says. More>

Friday, November 12, 2010

'Smart' plugs ready to quash office stand-by power

It may not look like much, but a little white electric outlet with a networking chip in it can save a bunch of money, according to ThinkEco. The New York-based start-up today said its "modlet," or modern outlet, is now available. It also released results from a pilot project which showed that a company reduced its power bill by $65,000 per year using the networked outlets in its office.An office, for example, can place these smart outlets on copier machines and PC workstations and then schedule when to cut stand-by power. Over time, the trickle of electricity from keeping equipment on stand-by (or not turned off) adds up. The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in the U.S. estimates that standby power alone is upward of 10 percent of electricity bills. More>

Infosys Co-Develops Design Software for Energy-Efficient Buildings With Berkeley Lab

Infosys Technologies and Lawrence Berkeley Lab are collaborating on the development of a graphical user interface (GUI) for the EnergyPlus building simulation engine that will assist Architects, Engineers, Designers and Developers to create the most energy efficient commercial buildings possible. Both EnergyPlus and the GUI will be widely available free to users. More>

Friday, November 5, 2010

Heat scavengers come in from the cold

The vast quantities of heat lost each day – whether from car engines, power-plant chimneys or simply sunlight – is a largely untapped source of energy that could be used to make electricity or simply warm our homes. Decades of research show that it's tricky to capture and use such heat cost-effectively, but a spate of new studies suggest some solutions. Thermoelectric materials, which convert a temperature difference across their surface into a current, offer yet another way to generate energy from waste heat. Most existing thermoelectric devices are based on rare, expensive and unstable materials such as bismuth telluride, making them unsuitable for widespread use in energy generation – but Peidong Yang of Berkeley Lab has found a cheap alternative in silicon. More>

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Zebrafish have some nerve, researchers find

Now two UC researchers in San Francisco and Berkeley — including Ehud Isacoff of the Lab's Physical Biosciences and Materials Sciences Divisions — have discovered how the nerves and brains of the boldly striped, inch-long fish can distinguish between the sight of small, quick-moving prey and larger objects looming before their eyes that might be hungry predators. And one nerve scientist leading the group likened the fish's ability to make that distinction in its nervous system to a baseball batter's instant ability to grab a hit at a pitcher's oncoming fastball. More>

Monday, November 1, 2010

Should You Shut Down Your Computer or Put It to Sleep?

Phew! You've made it through another day at the office. You're just about to don your coat and head out into the evening—but your computer's still on. Should you turn it off, or leave it in "sleep" mode? Some say it's better to shut down, since that way it won't be using any power while you're not around. But others say that the process of shutting down and starting up again uses more power than letting your machine sleep. Who's right? First things first: Turning your computer off, then on again does not use more power than leaving it on in "sleep" mode. "That's a myth," says Bruce Nordman, an energy efficiency researcher at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Another myth: Turning your computer on and off is bad for the machine. "In order to do any real damage, you'd have to turn it on and off far more frequently than anyone would ever want to," says Nordman. That said, trying to remember to shut down your machine every night isn't necessarily the most effective energy-savings strategy. More>

Chinese Supercomputer Likely to Prompt Unease in U.S.

A newly built supercomputer in China appears poised to take the world performance lead, another sign of the country's growing technological prowess that is likely to set off alarms about U.S. competitiveness and national security. Nearly all components of the high-profile Japanese system, called the Earth Simulator, were created in Japan. By contrast, most of the Tianjin system relies on chips from Intel and Nvidia, which are both based in Santa Clara, Calif. So U.S. customers could presumably construct a system with similar performance, noted Horst Simon, deputy lab director at Lawrence Berkeley Lab. More>

Scientists closer to a more stable superheavy element

Berkeley researchers, led by Berkeley Lab scientist Heino Nitsche, have produced a brand-new version of the man-made element 114 that decayed into five more novel atoms, a feat that brings them closer to their ultimate goal of making a superheavy element that can last for more than fractions of a second. Researchers have so far made elements with atomic numbers as high as 118 in their search for the so-called Island of Stability, whose residents might have unusual and useful properties. But so far, all of these elements have been short-lived. It now appears that a stable superheavy element will need to have an atomic number in the 120s — meaning that it must contain at least 120 protons. Creating such a huge atom is beyond the scope of today's technology. More>

Thursday, October 28, 2010

6 new isotopes of the superheavy elements discovered

A team of scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has detected six isotopes, never seen before, of the superheavy elements 104 through 114. Starting with the creation of a new isotope of the yet-to-be-named element 114, the researchers observed successive emissions of alpha particles that yielded new isotopes of copernicium (element 112), darmstadtium (element 110), hassium (element 108), seaborgium (element 106), and rutherfordium (element 104). Rutherfordium ended the chain when it decayed by spontaneous fission. More>

OpenADR Alliance: Taking the Standard to the Next Level

Automated demand response has been maturing lately, with a variety of companies flocking to the standard that has grown out of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, known as Open Automated Demand Response or OpenADR. The standard is now coming into its own with the recent announcement of the OpenADR Alliance, a nonprofit corporation that will push for the adoption and compliance of the standard across the country. More>

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Campaign Ads Slam Stimulus Bill Program for Renewable Energy

Republican and Democratic campaign leaders clashed today over the accuracy of GOP political ads attacking a stimulus bill program that gives money to renewable power companies. The wind industry's biggest trade group in a letter had asked national campaign committees to cease running ads that the industry argues make false statements about the program. A study by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that as many as 40 percent of the wind farms built in the first year of the program installed turbines and other equipment manufactured overseas (Greenwire, Oct. 14, 2010). More>

Monday, October 25, 2010

Chemists Inch Closer to Stable Superheavy Atoms

Chemists searching for the island of stability now have a better map. Thanks to the discovery of six new variations of the superheavy elements on the bottom rung of the periodic table, scientists are closer to creating elements that are expected to last long enough for in-depth study. Researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California saw the isotopes of rutherfordium, seaborgium, hassium, darmstadtium, and copernicium by watching the decay of the yet-to-be-named element 114, a synthetic element first produced about a decade ago. Each isotope of an element differs in the number of neutrons in its nucleus, a variable that can affect radioactivity and other properties. More>

Clean energy industry looks ahead

The billions in federal stimulus dollars spent on expanding "green energy" industries and creating "green jobs" have provided a lifeline for U.S. wind and solar companies, but renewable-energy executives are worried that the future will not be as promising. The White House, however, has already declared the program an unqualified success. The Council of Economic Advisers issued a report in July that found the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act's more than $90 billion in total spending and future tax breaks produced 190,000 "clean energy" jobs in the first quarter of 2010. A recent Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory study found that the act's $5.4 billion in investment tax credits have created or saved 50,000 jobs in the renewable sector. More>

Friday, October 22, 2010

Alternative yardstick to measure the universe

Astronomers have long relied on stellar explosions called Type Ia supernovae to measure the scale of the cosmos. A second class of supernovae may now be put to the same use, providing an independent check on measurements that were first used more than a decade ago to discover the accelerating expansion of the Universe. A growing number of researchers are working on the idea that some Type II supernovae — which are caused by the gravitational collapse of giant stars with iron cores — may have a role as gauges of cosmic distance. "We're at the stage where it would be stupid to ignore alternative methods to Type Ia," says Dovi Poznanski of Berkeley Lab's Computational Research Division, who has re-analysed results that he says show the promise of the new cosmic measuring sticks. His most recent findings were published on 1 October in the Astrophysical Journal. More>

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Hot air? White House takes credit for Bush-era wind farm jobs

Although the administration has described 50,000 new jobs, Rogers, when pressed, speaks of 40,000 to 50,000 jobs being created, saved or supported. He said these figures were provided by the American Wind Energy Association, an industry lobbying group. In February, for example, that group said, "Were it not for the Recovery Act, we estimated a loss of as much as 40,000 jobs." The association, in turn, cites a study by the Energy Department's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which estimated that the grant program supported more than 51,600 short-term jobs during the construction phase, the equivalent of that many people working full time for one year, and an additional 3,860 long-term full-time jobs. The study assumed that all the projects finished in the first half of 2009 were not caused by the stimulus. More>

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Bringing Clean Light to Poor Nations and Moving Beyond Charity

The poorest people on the planet together spent almost $40 billion last year on kerosene and other rudimentary and dangerous fuel-based lighting. Scientists say fuel-burning lanterns release 190 million tons of carbon dioxide each year: about the equivalent of 30 million cars. Now leaders in the field of solar portable lighting believe they can push kerosene lamps out of markets in much of the developing world and make a profit while they're at it. Avato manages a 3-year-old program called Lighting Africa, based in Kenya, that tries to help the private sector provide clean and affordable lighting on the electricity-starved continent. The organization -- like the Lumina Project, which is based out of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory -- is part of a small but growing field of market-based initiatives targeting what economists call the "bottom of the pyramid" consumers. More>

Critics of Clean Energy Stimulus Program Miss the Point

While the hastily-constructed stimulus programs for clean energy could have been better optimized, those arguing that the Section 1603 clean energy grant program somehow created a boondoggle are completely off base. Any projects already under construction would have received an equivalent benefit in a better economy, and the stimulus-funded clean energy grant program has been a successful job creator in an industry that was once near collapse. At the scale of the clean energy sector as a whole the effects of the cash grant program have been substantial and positive. A study by the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab estimates that the grant supported more than 50,000 short-term job-years and 4,000 long-term job-years. More>

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Flower Power: Genetic Modification Could Amply Boost Plants' Carbon-Capture and Bioenergy Capacity

A new analysis published in the October issue of Bioscience suggests that by 2050 humans could offset between five and eight gigatons of the carbon emitted annually by growing plants and trees optimized via genetic engineering both for fuel production and carbon sequestration. Bioenergy crops represent an opportunity to mitigate atmospheric carbon dioxide in two separate ways, says lead author Christer Jansson, a senior staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's Earth Sciences Division. First, they are a carbon-neutral energy source that could offset the burning of fossil fuels. Second, "if they are the right kind of plants, they have a chance to transfer a lot of carbon underground for long-term sequestration," he says. More>

In Kansas, Climate Skeptics Embrace Cleaner Energy

Residents of this deeply conservative city do not put much stock in scientific predictions of climate change. Saving energy, though, is another matter. Town managers attribute the new resolve mostly to a yearlong competition sponsored by the Climate and Energy Project, which set out to extricate energy issues from the charged arena of climate politics. The towns were featured as a case study on changing behavior by the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. And the Climate and Energy Project just received a grant from the Kansas Energy Office to coordinate a competition among 16 Kansas cities to cut energy use in 2011. More>

The promise of ion beam cancer therapy

The world’s foremost experts in this unique medical therapy are meeting at a workshop for Ion Beams in Biology and Medicine on October 26-29 at the Claremont Hotel in Oakland, Calif., sponsored by Berkeley Lab’s Accelerator and Fusion Research Division. It’s the 13th gathering of this international workshop, but the first to be held in the United States. More>

Monday, October 18, 2010

'Red China' Energy Jobs Play in House Races

A central renewable energy program in the stimulus package, or the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, provides grants covering 30 percent of the cost of a power project. It replaced a similar program that provided that amount in tax credits, and is meant to spark construction by providing a payoff when the project begins generating electricity. By last April, the program had created about 51,600 construction and other short-term jobs and about 3,860 permanent jobs, all in the United States, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory estimated in a study earlier this year. It's not surprising to experts, however, that the stimulus program also strengthened foreign manufacturers of wind turbines and other equipment. That's because the United States doesn't make enough turbines -- affordably, at least -- to supply the growing industry. More>