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September 08, 2008

Energy news roundup : Nuclear uprates, cheaper ethanol and biofuel

1. The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has approved uprates to seven nuclear reactors over the last year, adding a further 249 MWe (2 billion kwh) to overall US nuclear capacity.

2. Researchers have genetically engineered a thermophilic bacterium, meaning it's able to grow at high temperatures, and this new microorganism makes ethanol as the only product of its fermentation. The technology to convert cellulosic biomass to ethanol is steadily improving, and it also has the potential to be cost-competitive with gasoline production.

3. Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory have discovered a fundamental shift in an enzyme's function that could help expand the toolbox for engineering biofuels and other plant-based oil products.

"Right now, the materials we use -- the plastics, foams, nylons -- have been limited by the structures of petroleum-based chemical feedstocks. But if we understand how to engineer designer desaturase-like plant enzymes, we can tailor-make feedstocks with optimal properties, instead of relying on the properties of preexisting raw materials," said Shanklin. "We'd no longer have to say, 'this is what we have, so this is what we can make.' Instead, we could make the best feedstock for a particular application by designing the raw materials that will yield it."


4. The creators of the omnivorous engine, engineers at the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory, seek to fashion an engine that can run on just about any type of spark-ignited fuel.

5. Researchers in Norway report that injecting a special type of seawater called "smart water" into certain low-yield oil wells may help boost oil extraction by as much as 60 percent in limestone (50% of oil wells)

Scientists now inject seawater into chalk-based oil wells to boost oil extraction, but researchers do not know if the method will work for oil wells composed of limestone, a tough material known for its low oil-recovery rates — usually less than 30 percent, but in some cases less than 5 percent.

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