Archive for October 26th, 2006|Daily archive page

U.S. Pledges $34.5 Million for Renewable Energy Technologies

In Uncategorized on October 26, 2006 at 9:30 pm

13 October 2006
U.S. Pledges $34.5 Million for Renewable Energy Technologies

Biofuels, solar energy and biomass genomics research to benefit from investment

By Cheryl Pellerin
Washington File Staff Writer

Close Window
Energy Northwest’s White Bluffs Solar Station near Richland, Washington, is located near the abandoned Washington Nuclear Project One, in the background. The demonstration project, composed of more than 200 photovoltaic panels, is one of the public power agency’s explorations into renewable energy production. (© AP Images)
Enlarge Photo
Energy Northwest’s White Bluffs Solar Station near Richland, Washington. (© AP Images)

Washington — U.S. energy and agriculture officials announced $34.5 million is available to fund new research in biofuels, solar energy and biomass genomics research to accelerate development of alternative fuels.

U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Samuel Bodman and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Mike Johanns announced the funding October 11 at “Advancing Renewable Energy: An American Rural Renaissance,” a conference hosted by both agencies in St. Louis to further President Bush’s Advanced Energy Initiative.

The initiative seeks to accelerate the commercialization of clean, affordable alternative and renewable sources of energy by changing the way Americans power cars, homes and businesses.

Bodman and Johanns announced nearly $17.5 million for 17 biomass research, development and demonstration projects, and more than $13 million to fund new research in solar technologies.

Raymond Orbach, DOE under secretary for science, announced $4 million for bio-based fuels research, and both departments solicited research proposals for new plant genomics research projects, which would involve the genetic modification of plants for the improved production of fuels such as ethanol or renewable chemical feedstocks.


Biomass is an energy resource that includes organic matter, such as wood, agricultural waste, algae, sewage and other living-cell material that can be burned or chemically processed to produce heat energy (See related article.)

Biomass, which supplies about 3 percent of total U.S. energy consumption in the form of electricity, process heat and transportation fuels, helps diversify the energy supply and support rural economies.

“Americans are discovering the road to energy independence is paved with natural resources grown right here at home,” Johanns said. “This is a new era for America’s farmers, ranchers and rural communities as they seize this moment where opportunity meets need, and where American ingenuity breaks a century long addiction to oil.”

The grants are intended to develop technologies needed to help make biobased fuels cost-competitive with fossil fuels in the commercial market. The chosen projects will include research, development and demonstrations of biobased products, bioenergy, biofuels and biopower.

Of the nearly $17.5 million announced October 11, $12.8 million is funded by USDA and $4.7 million by DOE. DOE funds will go to three projects developing cellulosic (from cellulose, the main part of the cell wall in most plants) biomass. USDA will provide funding to address such topics as feedstock production and product diversification.

Under the Biomass Research and Development Initiative, a joint USDA-DOE effort established in 2000 and reauthorized in the comprehensive Energy Policy Act of 2005, projects receiving awards must demonstrate collaboration among biomass experts. (See related article.)

The initiative aims to enhance creative approaches to developing next-generation advanced technologies and promote research partnerships among colleges, universities, national laboratories, federal and state research agencies and the private sector.


Biotechnology offers the promise of dramatically increasing ethanol production using cellulose, the most abundant biological material on earth, and similar organic materials. Materials such as post-harvest corn plants (stover) and timber residues could be used, along with specialized high-biomass “energy” crops like domesticated poplar trees and switchgrass, a hardy, fast-growing grass native to North America that is considered a good candidate for biofuel production.

“We are seeking to accelerate research breakthroughs that contribute towards making biofuels a cost-effective alternative to fossil fuels, with a goal of replacing 30 percent of transportation fuels with biofuels by 2030,” Orbach said.

“This joint research initiative shows a commitment to acquiring new alternative energy resources and improving the efficiency with which biomass and plant feedstocks are used to produce renewable fuels such as ethanol,” Under Secretary of Agriculture Tom Dorr said.

The new funding continues a 2006 commitment to conduct a fundamental research program in biomass genomics that will build the scientific foundation to facilitate the use of woody plant tissue for bioenergy and biofuels. Developing such crops for energy fuels could use less-intensive production techniques and poorer-quality land, avoiding competition with food production on the most fertile land.

The program will take advantage of advances in breeding, molecular genetics and genomic technologies and build on the existing knowledge of plant biology to help researchers confidently predict and manipulate plants’ biological function for bioenergy resources.


Photovoltaic devices use solar cells or arrays to turn sunlight into electricity and they have little impact on the environment. Photovoltaics can be used in a wide range of products, from small consumer items to large commercial solar electric systems. (See related article.)

The $13 million announced for solar technologies at the St. Louis conference is part of President Bush’s $148 million Solar America Initiative. The funding will support the development of more efficient photovoltaic devices.

“This investment is a major step in our mission to bring clean, renewable solar power to the nation,” Bodman said. “If we are able to harness more of the sun’s power and use it to provide energy to homes and businesses, we can increase our energy diversity and strengthen our nation’s energy security.”

The Solar America Initiative aims to make solar power cost competitive with conventional electricity sources by 2015, by developing materials that convert sunlight directly to electricity.

The $13 million in funding, including about $4.5 million to be awarded for fiscal year 2007, will support several projects, including:

• Solar codes and standards working group leadership, a five-year, $4.2-million project designed to create and operate a national working group to manage solar regulatory codes and standards. Sample work includes recommending or developing model codes and standards and helping in their implementation, developing codes and standards studies, and monitoring emerging codes and standards issues;

• State strategic partnerships, a three-year, $1.35-million project in which DOE will enlist the help of state membership organizations as strategic partners on solar issues, and allow recipients to foster strong relationships with targeted state partners to promote solar energy technology adoption; and

• Utility strategic partnerships, a three-year, $1.35 million cost-shared project to enlist the help of utility membership organizations as strategic partners to deliver key assistance to utilities to enable the success of the Solar America Initiative.

For additional information, see Clean Energy Solutions.

More information on the solicitation and facts about the Solar America Initiative can be found on the DOE Web site, along with information about biomass and the biomass genomics joint research program.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
Link to Source

‘Tower of Babel’ translator made

In Uncategorized on October 26, 2006 at 8:52 pm

A “Tower of Babel” device that gives the illusion of being bilingual is being developed by US scientists.

Users simply have to silently mouth a word in their own language for it to be translated and read out in another.

The researchers said the effect was like watching a television programme that had been dubbed.

The system, detailed in New Scientist, is not yet fully accurate, but experts said it showed the technology was “within reach”.

The idea is that you can mouth words in English and they will come out in Chinese or another language
Tanja Schultz

The translation systems that are currently in use work by using voice recognition software.

But this requires people to speak out loud and then wait for the translation to be read out, making conversations difficult.

But the new device, being created by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, is different.

Electrodes are attached to the neck and face to detect the movements that occur as the person silently mouths words and phrases.

Using this data, a computer can work out the sounds being formed and then build these sounds up into words.

The system is then able to translate the words into another language which is read out by a synthetic voice.

Within reach

The team currently has two prototypes: one that can translate Chinese into English and another that can translate English into Spanish or German.

If the prototypes used a small vocabulary of about 100-200 words they worked with about 80% accuracy, researcher Tanja Schultz said.

But, she added, a full vocabulary had a much lower level of accuracy.

Professor Schultz said: “The idea is that you can mouth words in English and they will come out in Chinese or another language.”

The ultimate goal, the researchers said, was to be in a position where you can just have a conversation.

Chuck Jorgensen, a researcher at Nasa’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, told New Scientist: “This is showing the technology is really within reach.”

Phil Woodland, professor of information engineering at the University of Cambridge, said: “This work sounds interesting. Most groups are working on translating audio data into different languages, but this is different to work I have come across before because they are not working from a real acoustic signal.”

Link to Source