A new paper from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Game Changers for Nuclear Energy, considers different scenarios for nuclear power that take into account a wide range of factors such as new technologies, accidents, nuclear terrorism, and climate change policy.  The Academy previously published papers on The Global Nuclear Future in two-volumes of its quarterly journal, Dædalus, in 2009-10.  The newest paper on "game changers" takes into account developments since then and changing perceptions of nuclear power, including the recent Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident.

As the paper's authors point out, "The public perception of nuclear power has changed and continues to change. Once viewed as a miracle of modern technology, nuclear power came to be perceived by many as a potential catastrophe; now it is viewed as a potential, albeit potentially still dangerous, source of green power."  This evolving interaction between public perception and energy policies is just one of the potential game changers discussed in the new paper.

The paper was authored by Kate Marvel and Michael May.  Marvel is the William J. Perry Fellow in Science and International Security at CISAC.  May is Professor Emeritus (Research) in the School of Engineering at Stanford University, where he is also a Senior Fellow with the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies.  They predict that over the next 50 years, growth of nuclear power "will be very strong in China and India, significant in Japan, South Korea, and Russia, and sluggish in the United States and Western Europe."

Founded in 1780, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences is an independent policy research center that conducts multidisciplinary studies of complex and emerging problems.  Its 4,600 elected members are leaders in the academic disciplines, the arts, business, and public affairs from around the world.
The American Journal of Epidemiology has published a report finding a dramatic correlation between spikes in air pollution and hospital admissions for heart attacks, suggesting that high-pollution days may trigger heart attacks in some people.

The study examined data on more than 10,000 heart attacks between 2002 and 2005.  When the heart attack data were correlated with changes in air pollution levels, researchers in Italy found that an increase of 10 micrograms per cubic meter of fine particulate matter in the air correlated with a 0.01 percent increase in hospitalizations for heart attacks over the next two days.  The researchers found a similar correlation between heart attacks and increases in carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide.

Fine particulate matter impacts human health because the particles are small enough to be inhaled deeply into the lungs, causing inflammation of blood vessels and irritation of nerves in the lungs.  The primary source of fine particles are petroleum, coal, and other fossil fuels that are burned in cars, trucks, power plants, industrial plants, and furnaces used to heat homes and offices.

While the correlations in the latest study do not prove a specific causal link, they do add to a growing body of evidence suggesting that increases in fine particulate matter contribute to an increased risk of heart attacks, strokes, and lung disease.  According to the American Heart Association web site:
  • A 2007 study published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association suggested that long-term exposure to air pollution from a nearby freeway or heavily trafficked streets is associated with a hardening of the arteries that could raise the risk of heart disease and stroke.
  • A 2007 study presented at the American Heart Association's Annual Scientific Sessions indicated that increased roadway pollution produced by diesel fuel in vehicles is leading to a cascade of conditions that could result in heart attack or stroke.
  • A 2007 study published in Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association found that breathing fine particle pollution during warm weather months can increase stroke risk.
  • A 2005 study published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association suggested that inhaling diesel exhaust at levels typically found in large cities may disrupt normal blood vessel and clotting activity.
The American Heart Association recommends that the elderly and people with diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease or lung ailments should avoid congested roads and should stay indoors on days when the air quality is poor.  Almost half a million Americans die from heart attacks every year.

John Howley
Orlando, Florida
The International Energy Agency (IEA) announced plans to release 60 million barrels of oil from emergency stocks over the next 30 days.  Half will come from the US strategic petroleum reserve, while the other half will come primarily from emergency reserves controlled by Japan, Germany, France and Spain.  There are rumors that China also may participate.

Those who argue that this is a political move by a US President seeking re-election are missing the point completely.  Japan, Germany, France and Spain are not conspiring to help an incumbent US President.  They are very afraid of a global economy that seems incapable of recovering from the Great Recession.

The 60 million barrels that will be released onto the market over the next 30 days constitutes the largest release of oil from emergency reserves since 1991, when the Persian Gulf War disrupted supplies.  The only other release was after Hurricane Katrina disrupted supplies in 2005.

The alleged "major disruption in oil supplies" this time around is the loss of oil exports from Libya.  But that tells only part of the story.  Equally important was OPEC'S failure to reach agreement on increased production targets earlier this month, despite efforts by Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to push more oil onto global markets.

The IEA did little to hide the fact that weakness in the global economy was a significant factor in the decision to release oil onto the market now.  IEA Executive Director Nobuo Tanaka said, "I expect this action will contribute to well-supplied markets and to ensuring a soft landing for the world economy."    US Energy Secretary Steve Chu also noted the "impact on the global economic recovery” as a reason for releasing more oil onto the market.

John Howley
Orlando, Florida
Biofuels may be powering airplanes sooner than you think.  ASTM International, formerly known as the American Society for Testing and Materials, has given preliminary approval for airlines to use a renewable jet fuel blend that includes algae and other plants. 

The new ASTM annex to the alternative jet fuel specification D7566 (Standard Specification for Aviation Turbine Fuel Containing Synthesized Hydrocarbons) details the fuel properties and criteria necessary to control the manufacture and quality of a renewable fuel to ensure safe aviation use.

The preliminary approval effectively concludes the technical review process for a “hydroprocessed renewable jet” (HRJ) fuel that will will allow hydroprocessing of plant oils as another pathway for production of alternative jet fuels.  Once formally issued by ASTM, the revised specification will enable use of HRJ fuels from biomass feedstocks such as camelina, jatropha or algae, in up to a 50/50 blend with conventional jet fuel.  Formal issuance fo the new standard is expected by August of this year.

Formed in 1898 by chemists and engineers from the Pennsylvania Railroad, ASTM is one of the largest standards-development organizations in the world.  Today, ASTM provides standards setting expertise to diverse industries ranging from metals to construction, petroleum to consumer products, and nanotechnology to additive manufacturing.

The Air Transport Association of America, Inc. (ATA) issued a statement congratulating the ASTM International Committee on Petroleum Products and Lubricants for approving the new jet fuel specification that will further enable the use of sustainable alternative fuels in aviation.  ATA was one of the co-founders of the Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative® (CAAFI),  a collaborative effort among airlines, engine and airframe manufacturers, airports, universities, the Federal Aviation Administration, the military and others to develop and promote pathways for processes that convert sugars and lignocellulosic feedstocks to jet fuel.
The Export-Import Bank of the United States (Ex-Im Bank) is facilitating the sale of solar panels from California to a private sector project in Belgium under the bank's "Renewable Express" project financing program.  The solar panels for the project will be supplied by Solyndra LLC, a manufacturer of photovoltaic systems headquartered in Fremont, California.

The Ex-Im Bank’s “Renewable Express” project financing program provides streamlined post-completion project financing to small renewable-power producers that meet the bank's credit standards.  The bank will consider project financing for small renewable power producers seeking loans of $3 million to $10 million. Renewable Express is available for both corporate balance sheet and limited-recourse transactions that fit within the program’s parameters and where the repayment is generated from the project’s cash flows.

Under most other programs, project financing is often unavailable for small transactions due to the high levels of
due diligence and advisory fees.  Under the "Renewable Express" program, the Ex-Im Bank employs a streamlined procedure to evaluate and underwrite the borrower’s credit.  Applications can be processed in as little as 60 days.

In the Solyndra project, the Ex-Im Bank is guaranteeing an 18-year euro 7.7 million loan (U.S. $10.3 million) provided by KBC Bank NV in Belgium to finance the sale of Solyndra's solar panels for a three-megawatt rooftop photovoltaic project. This is the company's first transaction with Ex-Im Bank and its largest rooftop solar project globally to date.

The solar panels are being used to provide energy for a distribution center of Delhaize, an international supermarket chain. The distribution center is in Zellik, a suburb of Brussels.

The Ex-Im Bank's guarantee is facilitating a longer loan term at a cost-effective interest rate that improved the project's commercial viability.  The Bank processed this "Renewable Express" transaction in just 41 days from the receipt of the completed application to approval.

Key qualifications and features of the "Renewable Express" program are:
  • Both direct loans and guarantees are available. For expedited treatment, the Ex-Im Bank tranche will be
  • the only debt financing.
  • Local cost financing of up to 30 percent of the net U.S. export contract is available.
  • Single take-out disbursement after completion of the project. Ex-Im Bank could consider pre-completion funding for widely used technologies with an experienced operator.
  • Financing of up to 18 years is available, depending upon the project’s economics.
  • The transaction must comply with Ex-Im Bank policies and procedures as required.
John Howley
Woodbridge, New Jersey
Royal Dutch Shell, the largest oil company in Europe, and Cosan Limited, the largest sugar and ethanol processor in Brazil, have formally launched a multi-billion dollar joint venture that will become the largest producer of ethanol made from sugar cane.  The joint venture, called Raizen, will operate in Brazil.

Cosan has invested $3.3 billion and Shell has invested $1.62 billion in the venture.  The investments include a 15.7 percent stake in enzyme producer Codexis Inc., a developer of "super-enzymes" for the faster conversion of plant waste into transport fuels, and part of Shell’s interest in Iogen Energy, which uses enzymes to break down plant waste into ethanol.

Raizen combines Shell's advanced technological and retail expertise with Cosan's experience in the commercial production of biofuels.  Raizen intends to distribute more than 2 billion liters of sugar cane-based ethanol and more than 20 billion liters of other transport and industrial fuels per year through 4,500 Shell-branded service stations.  Raizen also plans to export more ethanol to other key markets in the future.

Brazil is the clear leader in biofuels and projects that they will constitute more than 40% of its transport fuel mix by 2030.  Brazilians already have a choice of pure ethanol or a blend of gasoline and ethanol. Almost 90% of new cars in Brazil can run on either fuel type.

John Howley 
Woodbridge, New Jersey