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Energy & Resources
Energy bill passes
Graphite storage of hydrogen
Mineral of the Month: Aggregates


Energy bill passes

In the last week of July, Congress passed an energy bill, the first in four years. Legislators were quick to trumpet the bill’s passage as a testament to bipartisan cooperation, filled with notions that will help the nation’s long-term energy concerns. At the same time, they reminded the public that the provisions in the bill may help stabilize the energy sector in the long-term, but will not likely change their electricity bills, nor save them any money at the gas pump in the short-term.

“I believe that five years from now, we will look back on an energy bill that will have stabilized energy prices, created hundreds of thousands of jobs, boosted our economy and protected our environment,” said Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee, in a statement. The ranking Democrat on the committee, Jeff Bingaman (N.M.), said that the “bill isn’t perfect,” but that it would help the nation better conserve and produce energy.

Earlier this year, the House and Senate passed individual energy bills that then went to conference in July (see Geotimes, July 2005). The conference committee members spent most of the month comparing the two documents. The final $12.3 billion legislation compromises on many of the numbers in the two bills, including that 70 percent of the authorized $1.8 billion for the Clean Coal Power Initiative will go toward advanced combustion technologies, such as coal gasification. (The House bill had called for 60 percent and the Senate bill had called for 80 percent.) The bill also requires that 7.5 billion gallons of ethanol be included in the nation’s gasoline supply by 2012; includes a $14.6 billion energy tax package with incentives and subsidies for further oil and gas exploration; and provides incentives for nuclear power development.

Some more controversial provisions in the individual bills, however, such as some renewable energy provisions and liability protection for industries that produce MTBE, a gasoline additive and groundwater contaminant, were not included in the bill that was sent to President Bush. The conference bill also is lighter on climate change provisions than the Senate bill, and includes no provisions for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, a concept the House had pushed (although the fiscal year 2006 budget includes royalties from oil exploration there). Congress also tackled some seemingly random issues in the bill, including setting daylight savings time to begin three weeks earlier in the spring and conclude a week later in the fall.

Congress sent the 1,725-page bill to the president Aug. 1, the date he requested. Bush signed the bill Aug. 8.

Megan Sever

Link:

"The Energy Bill: Is It Big and Broad Enough?," Geotimes, July 2005

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Graphite storage of hydrogen

Developing a way to safely and efficiently store hydrogen for a fuel cell is a key technology needed to make hydrogen-powered cars a reality. In the continual search for such storage containers, some theoreticians have taken a new look at an old mineral: graphite.

Toyota has developed and is testing the Toyota Fuel Cell Hybrid Vehicle, a prototype that runs on hydrogen and electricity. Before such cars can become mainstream, however, scientists will have to come up with a better way of storing hydrogen; a group of researchers has recently modeled a new storage system that uses graphite. Photos courtesy of Toyota.

Scientists have long considered graphite and other carbon-based minerals and gases as options for hydrogen fuel cells. Hydrogen is difficult to contain because the small molecule has a low density and is highly energetic, so it can leak through most materials. At the same time, hydrogen can easily bond with many materials, preventing the molecule’s use as a fuel, and some storage material candidates would be too large to both hold the hydrogen and fit within a vehicle. “Many materials that have been seriously considered for hydrogen storage, including the leading candidate, carbon nanotubes, are either too heavy or too expensive,” says Serguei Patchkovskii, a researcher at the National Research Council Canada in Ottawa, who has suggested using graphite instead. “Graphite is dirt cheap and abundant.”

In the July 26 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Patchkovskii and colleagues report that they have determined the theoretical conditions in which hydrogen molecules would stick to the graphite without bonding. The new calculations, they say, show that hydrogen could be packed into layers of graphite, called graphene, about 7 angstroms (about 1 hundred-millionth of a centimeter) apart at room temperatures and slightly elevated pressures, to store the most hydrogen yet.

“It’s sort of like building a high-rise building,” Patchkovskii says, “in that you have to separate the floors — the graphene layers — with supporting beams or pillars.” Although the researchers determined the theoretical distance and pressure that should work, they do not know what material would work best for the pillars to separate the graphene, he says.

In previous models using graphite as hydrogen storage, the sheets of graphite were not at the right distance from the hydrogen and from one another to provide a good storage facility, says James Dye, a chemist at Michigan State University, who is the National Academy member who edited the article but is not affiliated with the research. Patchkovskii and colleagues “have seemingly found the right conditions,” but what is needed next, Dye says, is to prove if this can actually work, and that’s no easy task.

Indeed, Patchkovskii says, scientists need to set up an experiment with the various conditions that the model suggests would succeed. The problems associated with hydrogen storage are not trivial, he says, so experimental researchers have a lot of work ahead of them.

Megan Sever

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Mineral of the Month: Aggregates

Valentin V. Tepordei, the U.S. Geological Survey natural aggregates commodity specialist, has prepared the following information on aggregates, a major resource used in the construction of buildings and roads.

Natural aggregates, consisting of crushed stone, and sand and gravel, are a major contributor to economic health, and have an amazing variety of uses. Aggregates are among the most abundant mineral resources and are major basic raw materials used by construction, agriculture and other industries that employ complex chemical and metallurgical processes.

Most natural aggregates are used by the construction industry. More than 90 percent of asphalt pavements and 80 percent of concrete used in buildings and roads are composed of aggregates. Paint, paper, plastics and glass also use crushed stone as a constituent. When ground into powder, limestone is used as a mineral supplement in household products, agriculture and medicine. Aggregates also are being used in soil erosion control, water purification, processes to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions generated by electric power plants, and other applications that protect the environment.

Natural aggregates are widely distributed throughout the United States and occur in a variety of geologic environments. According to 2003 data, the major aggregate-producing states were Texas, Pennsylvania, Florida, Illinois and Georgia, and the United States per-capita consumption was 9.3 metric tons.

One way to understand and appreciate the importance of the aggregates industries is to look at their production in the context of all mining. On the basis of either weight or volume, aggregates accounted for more than two-thirds of about 2.7 billion metric tons of non-fuel minerals produced in the United States in 2003. When coal mining is included, the amount of crushed stone, sand and gravel produced still accounts for more than one-half of the quantity of all mining and more than twice the quantity of coal produced. The U.S. production of aggregates increased from a modest 58 million tons in 1900, when the collection of production statistics was begun by the U.S. Geological Survey, to 2.7 billion tons in 2003. The annual production of crushed stone and construction sand and gravel that year was one of the highest ever recorded in the United States.

The production of recycled aggregates, mostly from concrete and asphalt pavements, has been increasing in recent years. Replaced and reconstructed old roads and buildings have become major sources of recyclable materials. In some applications, recycled aggregate can compete with natural aggregates on price and quality. The increasing limitations and high costs imposed on the use of landfills are making the recycling of aggregates economically viable.

Despite these trends, many areas face challenges in developing their aggregates resource. Economic factors, for example, require that pits or quarries be located near the population centers, but residential communities usually require that mining be conducted far from their boundaries. Thus, competing land-use plans, zoning requirements and various regulations frequently prohibit extraction of aggregates near populated areas. Because the demand for aggregates will continue and, most probably, consumption will grow in the future, provisions to assure adequate supplies are essential.

Visit minerals.usgs.gov/minerals for more information on aggregates.

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