President Obama’s energy-related cabinet picks seem to be taking shape – current EPA air emissions regular Gina McCarthy (above) for head of the EPA and MIT physics Professor Ernst Moniz for Secretary of Energy. McCarthy was once an aide to Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Moniz has headed a long-term study that recommended reviving nuclear energy but is more likely to get in trouble with environmentalists for his support of fracking for natural gas. The nominations will probably be made next week.
Bulgaria has become the first country to lose its government because of energy prices. Sometimes violent protests over high electrical prices have brought down the government of Prime Minister Boiko Borisov. One big problem is that most of the country’s electricity is provided by CEZ and Energo-Pro, two Czech utilities from across the border. The Bulgarian Parliament says it will revoke the utilities’ licenses, although there isn’t any clear sense of what will replace them. Last month the Bulgarians passed a referendum urging the construction of a nuclear reactor but that may now be far beyond their reach – unless China or Russia decides to give them a present.
Fuel cells have become a dark horse in the race to find an alternative to the gasoline-powered auto engine. Suzuki has started a small production line and Mercedes, Ford and Nissan have agreed to collaborate on research. Bloomberg says Hyundai’s hydrogen car drives more smoothly than most hybrids. The big problem is still cost, mainly because fuel cells require a platinum catalyst. But researchers at the Molecular Electrocatalysis at the US Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland have developed an iron-based catalyst that may do the trick. Neil Winton of the Detroit News asks if fuel cells may be about to overtake batteries in the running for the green car?
Finally, biofuels are taking their lumps. A new study from the University of South Dakota says that western grasslands are being gobbled up by energy-producing crops and wildlife is being threatened. Even Greenpeace now says the whole biofuels effort should be abandoned. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, still slogging along with the old paradigm, is out in the Midwest telling Nebraska farmers that Senators from the oil states are trying to undermine their efforts to provide the nation with ethanol. Is there any way out of this mess? Researches are still hoping that termites can provide the enzymes to digesting cellulose and open up wood wastes and crop residues as a source of ethanol.