There’s no doubt about it, nuclear energy seems to be shaking off the Fukushima accident and pushing ahead around the world – everywhere, that is, except the United States. China is just powering up the Nindge plant, its newest reactor. Argentina is testing the Atucha 2 (above), scheduled to open in June. Poland has contracted with WorleyParsons Nuclear Services to begin work on its first reactor. EDF, the French electrical company, has signed a deal to provide nuclear energy to run the British rail network. And EDF is also in talks with China – who else? – to join as a partner in developing the next generation of reactors in the UK.
The debate over natural gas exports is heating up with all the major players starting to take sides. It’s beginning to look like the Democrats will be the part of autarchy while Republicans will be assigned their usual job of trying to explain the advantages of world trade. Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, chairman of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, is asking for an investigation of the Department of Energy report saying that gas exports would help the economy. Rep. Ed Markey, who may be Massachusetts’ next Senator, is already sounding off about consumer protection. And the chemical and plastics industries, pursuing their usual narrow interests, want to keep the gas at home to cut their prices. So far it’s just free trade advocates and the gas industry that wants to expand markets. And what about all those shut in wells and the gas that isn’t being developed because the price is too low? That’s not on anybody’s radar.
Biofuels manufacturers, looking around for something to burn, are widening their net. LSU is building a plant to burn sweet sorghum. Novozymes is studying corn stalks. The University of Southern Mississippi is studying the culture of microalgae (that wouldn’t be burned) and researches in India are exploring seeds from the Indian mahua and sal trees.
Finally, there are always more novel ideas coming out of the laboratory. MIT researches have invented a polymer that generates electric when exposed to water vapor. Scientists in India and Italy have discovered that cobalt boride can efficiently extract hydrogen gas from ammonia borane by hydrolysis at room temperature. A team at Brookhaven National Laboratory has developed an iron-based superconducting wire and British researchers at Cambridge are exploring graphene lattices one molecule thick that are one of the world’s lightest, strongest and most conducting materials. The Age of Invention may only be gathering steam.