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With increasing Demand of Cleaner Energy and Tighter Restrictions on Carbon Emissions, Coal is Giving Way to Greener Energy in US

U.S. energy firms are responding to growing demand for cleaner energy and tighter restrictions on carbon emissions

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In 2011, Duke Energy shuttered its coal-fired power plant, at rear, and opened a new plant that runs on natural gas. Its water-treatment facility appears, in foreground, in Rowan County, North Carolina. (N. Yaqub/VOA)

Ravens fly over a sprawling, abandoned brick building with tall chimneys that once billowed plumes of smoke day and night.

In its heyday, the coal-fired plant continuously produced 370 megawatts of electricity, with each megawatt able to power a thousand households. But its last coal-fired units were shut down a few years ago. Piles of coal are long gone.

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Duke Energy plans to phase out most of its U.S. coal plants in next few decades. Click To Tweet

Across the compound here in the center of this mid-Atlantic state, three noisy turbines churn at a new natural gas-fired plant that produces 620 megawatts. The Buck Combined Cycle power station stands at the edge of the Yadkin River—and amid a wave of change in the energy industry.

Both plants are owned by Duke Energy, a company with holdings in the United States and Latin America.

Growing demand

Like other U.S. energy firms, it is responding to growing demand for cleaner energy and tighter restrictions on carbon emissions. American firms are being compelled to reduce their dependence on coal in favor of much cleaner fuel sources.

Bill Wilson, senior engineer at the Buck Combined Station, said Duke has retired about half of its coal-fired facilities in recent years and replaced them with natural gas facilities like this.

“Due to the current price of natural gas, it is much cheaper,” he explained. “So on a megawatt basis, it is cheaper to run natural gas than coal.”

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It costs between $15.30 and $17.30 per megawatt hour (MWh) for natural gas, while coal costs about $28 per MWh, Duke Energy spokeswoman Tammie McGee said. “So, in today’s markets, our natural gas generation does provide lower costs and savings to our customers,” she added.

Duke Energy plans to phase out most of its U.S. coal plants in next few decades.

American Electric Power converted its Clinch River Plant in Virginia from coal to natural gas, idling the conveyor belt that once carried coal up into the plant. (N. Yaqub/VOA)
American Electric Power converted its Clinch River Plant in Virginia from coal to natural gas, idling the conveyor belt that once carried coal up into the plant. (N. Yaqub/VOA)

Switching over

The shift also is evident in other energy companies across the country.

For decades, coal was the main fuel source for generating power in the United States. Last year, natural gas matched it, with each producing a third of the nation’s electricity, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration figures. The other third came from hydropower, nuclear and renewable energy sources.

The administration had predicted that natural gas would overtake coal as the country’s biggest source of electricity this year, though this week it posted a storyheadlined, “Coal may surpass natural gas as most common electricity generation fuel this winter.”

Generating changes

About 200 miles northwest of Salisbury, in mountainous Russell County, Virginia, a couple of trucks and a bulldozer in July removed the last few tons of black coal from a field outside the Clinch River Coal Plant.

The plant’s three coal-fired units once produced up to 705 megawatts of electricity. But early this year, plant owner American Electric Power converted two of the units to gas and retired the third.

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The new units are not only cleaner, they are more efficient, plant manager Ricky Chaffin said. Now, the plant can produce 484 megawatts of electricity—averaging 242 megawatts per unit, up from the previous 235 each. And running it requires less labor.

“You don’t have to handle the coal,” Chaffin said. “You don’t have to move the coal from the pile to the plant.”

Also, natural gas is delivered via pipeline. “We have got a lot less equipment,” Chaffin added. “So it’s a whole lot less manpower required to run a gas plant.”

Workers are installing solar panels at a Duke Energy solar farm in Union County, North Carolina. The mid-Atlantic state ranks second, nationally, in solar capacity. (N. Yaqub/VOA)
Workers are installing solar panels at a Duke Energy solar farm in Union County, North Carolina. The mid-Atlantic state ranks second, nationally, in solar capacity. (N. Yaqub/VOA)

Workforce impact

The shift in energy production has also brought change to the workforce. For instance, when American Electric Power switched from coal to gas, the number of people needed to run the plant dropped from 182 to 46.

But there’s been employment growth in renewable energy. The National Solar Jobs Census reported the solar energy workforce grew by more than 20 percent in 2015.

In North Carolina’s Union County, Duke Energy has hired roughly 500 people to construct a solar field spreading over 156 hectares of farmland that used to grow corn and soybeans. Workers are installing 663,800 solar panels on the solar farm, expected to produce 60 megawatts of electricity when it becomes operational next year.

North Carolina, with more than 1.9 gigawatts worth of installed solar capacity, ranks second among U.S. states, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

“We have customers who are demanding renewable energy, and we do have energy policies that we are working toward complying with,” said McGee. She said the company has more than 50 solar projects in operation nationwide, and 19 wind-powered projects generating electricity. One more wind site is expected to come online in December.

Renewable energy

Renewable energy sources supplied roughly 13 percent of U.S. energy produced last year, according to the Energy Information Administration. Of that, 6 percent was from hydropower, 5 percent wind, 2 percent biomass and 1 percent solar.

While big energy companies are phasing out coal, their environmental challenges are far from over.

Last month, Duke Energy reached an agreement to clean up coal ash from its Buck Steam Station. (VOA)

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Chinese Scientists create ‘Intellectual Suit’ for Wireless Detection and Monitoring of Health Indicators

The suit, via wireless transmission, can send signals to a cellphone, a computer, or even to a doctor's computer a thousand miles away, so a person's health can be monitored anytime and anywhere

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A new wireless body suit designed by Chinese scientists may be able to monitor temperature, ph level and other health indicators and send the details to mobile devices. Will that mean an end to physical visits to the doctor? Pixabay

Beijing, October 24, 2017 : A group of Chinese scientists have developed an intellectual suit which are fitted with large-area textile sensors that can detect temperature, ph levels, pressure and other indicators showing the health status of a person.

At the third International Conference on Nanoenergy and Nanosystems in Beijing, Wang Zhonglin, an academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, introduced the invention, reports Xinhua news agency.

The intellectual suit, via wireless transmission, can send signals to a cellphone, a computer, or even to a doctor’s computer a thousand miles away, so a person’s health can be monitored anytime and anywhere, said Wang.

The conference, organised by the Beijing Institute of Nanoenergy and Nanosystems, is one of the most influential in the field of nanoscience and energy.

This year it focused on topics such as nanogenerators, self-powered sensors and systems, piezotronics, piezophototronics, energy storage and self-charging power systems. Over 700 scientists from more than 30 countries attended the conference that ended on Monday.

Wang also mentioned “nano tattoos”. These stickers on the arm, which can be shaped as a pattern much like a tattoo, will be able to administer drugs into a patient’s veins, providing a private and painless way of injection for diabetics.

“Scientists have made prototypes of all these gadgets at the institute’s technopark. They are expected to hit the market in two to three years,” said Wang. (IANS)

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A Machine Built By a Group of Egyptian Students can Produce Fuel from Worn-Out Vehicle Tires

Egypt raised fuel prices by up to 50 percent in June as a condition of a $12 billion International Monetary Fund program the country signed last year

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Engineering student Mohamed Amr carries car tires to be used in extracting fuel in Cairo, Egypt, Aug. 23, 2017.
  • A group of 12 students worked on this machine as a graduation project
  • The machine first heats the tires until they reach evaporation point after which the vapor enters a condenser
  • The product created has similar properties to pure diesel

A group of Egyptian students has built a machine they say can produce fuel from worn-out vehicle tires.

The device heats the tires until they reach evaporation point. The vapor then enters a condenser. The result is a product “very similar in properties to pure diesel, and the carbon or black coal is just left inside the container,” said Mohamed Saeed Ali, one of 12 students who worked on the machine as a graduation project.

ALSO READIIT – Kharagpur Researchers develop Technology to make Biofuel manufacturing cheaper, quicker and free of Pollution

The students are searching for investors for their project.

“Instead of polluting the environment, we recycle them [the tires] properly in an eco-friendly manner,” Saeed said.

Egypt raised fuel prices by up to 50 percent in June as a condition of a $12 billion International Monetary Fund program the country signed last year. (VOA)

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Swiss Researchers’ Envirobot Slithers through Waterways to Detect Pollution and Toxins

Envirobot appears as a water snake but is actually a collection of little segments, all doing different jobs

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Envirobot
Envirobot helps in detecting water pollution. Pixabay
  • Envirobot, the latest biomimetic fabrication by Swiss researchers, appears as a water snake
  • Its job when fully developed will be to guard water bodies looking for pollution and toxins
  • Envirobot is better than conventional propeller-driven underwater robots as it is less likely to get in branches and algae when they move around

Switzerland, August 6, 2017: As per the Pacific Institute, more than 2 million tons of a wide range of waste is pumped into the world’s waters each day. Researchers have become great at recognizing it, however not very great at finding the source of pollution. However, Envirobot, the latest biomimetic fabrication by Swiss researchers, provides a solution.

It appears as a water snake but is actually a collection of little segments, all doing different jobs. They are taking it on a test drive around bodies of water in search of toxins and other substances which can harm aquatic animals in order to take control of water pollution.

ALSO READ: Human hair holds the key to solving water pollution

 The segments of Envirobot are identical so that the joint can oscillate in water. The head coordinates the motion of different segments in order to create a serpentine pattern which propels the whole robot. Its job when fully developed will be to guard water bodies on its own looking for pollution and toxins.
It can also send data to computers in real time as it swims. Its tiny chambers get filled with water as the robot swims through water. Envirobot is more efficient and accurate as it can collect water from multiple spots in a lake or river. It will be used as a measure to detect metals as they can harm people and aquatic life.

Instead of having a measurement station somewhere or going out to take a sample and bringing it back to the lab, the robot will actually slither in water bodies and measure a number of water quality parameters in real time. Envirobot is better than conventional propeller-driven underwater robots as it is less likely to get in branches and algae when they move around.

Each segment of the Envirobot is unique so as to enable it to perform all kinds of water tests at the same time. For instance one segment measures very general quality parameters like temperature, conductivity, pH, oxygen level, so as to say whether water quality is good or not. Other segments carry bacteria, fish cells and even tiny water fleas that can react to toxins and insecticides in the water body.

The researchers’ ultimate goal is to create a full-time autonomous pollution sniffing robot and prevention of water pollution. What they are yet to achieve is to enable the Envirobot to by itself locate the source of the pollution. This will help to measure and decide where to go next which is a very challenging project. Given the amount of waste that is being dumped or pumped into the world’s waterways, it is a very worthy goal.

– prepared by Harsimran Kaur of NewsGram. Twitter @Hkaur1025