AmeriScan: June 5, 2007

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New Orleans Levees 1,000 Times Riskier Than Large Dams

AUSTIN, Texas, June 5, 2007 (ENS) - New Orleans residents' pre-Katrina risk from the levees that were supposed to protect them was 1,000-fold higher than considered minimally acceptable for a major U.S. dam, according to an expert engineering panel of the American Society of Civil Engineers, ASCE.

Dr. Robert Gilbert, the risk expert on the ASCE panel and a civil engineering professor at the University of Texas at Austin, says the panel's analysis confirms the vulnerable nature of the city's hurricane protection system.

"A thousand people died in New Orleans, and the system failed once in 40 years," said Gilbert. "That's way off the chart of acceptable risk if you compare the system to major U.S. dams, which have governmental oversight and must meet federal safety guidelines."

"The New Orleans Hurricane Protection System: What Went Wrong and Why," released on Friday, is intended to inform the public and policymakers. It complements and synthesizes the thousands of pages released to date by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers during their post-Katrina investigation.

"Given the high risk, some very significant decisions need to be made about how New Orleans is going to be redeveloped and function in the future," Gilbert said.

"The risk of flooding should influence everything from how people are evacuated to where and how houses are re-built and land is re-developed," he said. "Building houses on ground that is five to 10 feet below sea level and assuming they will never get wet is nonsensical."

Later this month, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is expected to release its own assessment of the inherent risk of the 350-mile, New Orleans' hurricane protection system.

The panel considered how inconsistencies in the features of the levees and floodwalls including their varying heights and construction from erodible materials resulted from their piecemeal development and disjointed oversight, and how this fed into the failure at 50 locations along the system during Hurricane Katrina.

The panel said the hurricane protection system was under-designed to handle a major storm surge. No one had ever estimated the height of the surge likely to reach different points of the levee system using the standard benchmark a major hurricane that would hit an average of every 100 years.

"It isn't just about improving the reliability of the levees and making them taller," Gilbert said. "Spending federal money towards developing a way to evacuate people effectively is crucial, and very little emphasis has been put on this or on determining how to rebuild the city in a way that will keep people and property safe."

The external review was conducted at the request of Lt. General Carl A. Strock, the chief of engineers for the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers. A copy of the ASCE panel's report, "What Went Wrong and Why" is online at:

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Utility-Scale Solar Plant Goes Online in Nevada

BOULDER CITY, Nevada, June 4, 2007 (ENS) - Nevada Solar One, the first concentrating solar power plant in Nevada went on line on Saturday.

Covering 250 acres of desert in the El Dorado Valley near Boulder City, this 64 megawatt concentrating solar plant is the first modern utility-scale solar electric power plant in the United States.

It is the largest solar electric power plant to be built globally in the past 14 years and the third largest solar power plant in the world.

The solar plant is 98 percent concentrated solar and two percent natural gas.

The project developer is SolarGenix Energy, formerly Duke Solar, based in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Nevada Solar One uses trough-shaped mirrors to focus the sun's energy onto receiver tubes that carry oil. The hot oil will be used to boil water into steam, which will drive a turbine and generator to produce power.

According to Schott, which is providing 19,300 receiver tubes for the plant, its new efficient receiver tube design will heat the oil to more than 750 degrees Fahrenheit.

Acciona Energia, a Spanish renewable energy company, is investing US$262 million in the plant.

More solar thermal plants could be coming to Nevada. In February 2006, International Automated Systems, Inc. signed a $150 million contract on to install a 100 megawatt power plant for Solar Renewable Energy-1 LLC of Nevada.

The company has developed an innovative technology based on thin acrylic Fresnel lenses that focus sunlight onto receiver tubes, and it intends to combine that technology with a bladeless turbine driven by steam passing through rocket nozzles.

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Chicago Climate Exchange Forms New Exchange for California

CHICAGO, Illinois, June 5, 2007 (ENS) - The Chicago Climate Exchange, Inc., CCX, is forming the California Climate Exchange to develop and trade financial instruments relevant to the California Global Warming Solutions Act, signed last summer by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The law calls for a mandatory reduction in California's greenhouse gas emissions as of 2012, with mandatory reporting of emissions to begin in 2008.

"We congratulate the pioneering initiative of the great State of California, the legislature and the people of California and know that implementing any emissions trading that may ensue will require price transparency and efficient, exchange-based systems for maximum success," said Chairman and CEO of Chicago Climate Exchange Dr. Richard Sandor, announcing the new California Exchange on May 29.

The Chicago Climate Exchange operates a voluntary but legally binding cap and trade system, including an exchange for carbon dioxide emissions responsible for fueling global warming.

Sandor says the CCX voluntary cap-and-trade system is effective in providing the incentive to remove harmful emissions from the environment.

"CCX has uniquely already accomplished a demonstration linkage between CCX, the only operational cap-and-trade greenhouse gas system in the United States, and the only other operational trading system, the European Union's Emissions Trading Scheme, through our member, Baxter Pharmaceuticals.

"To the extent a market emerges in California," Sandor said, "CCX and the California Climate Exchange can easily and cost-efficiently accomplish linkage with other national, regional and global markets."

Sandor says financial products will be ready for operation in accordance with the evolution and needs of California as it implements the California Global Warming Solutions Act.

CCX already has a number of members with headquarters and operations in California, including Sacramento County, the cities of Oakland and Berkeley, Safeway, Cloverland, Environmental Credit Corporation, Intel, and Sony Electronics.

CCX, a United States corporation, launched its trading platform in 2003. In 2005, CCX opened the European Climate Exchange, ECX, now the leading exchange operating in the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme.

CCX also launched the world's first environmental derivatives exchange - the Chicago Climate Futures Exchange, CCFE, an exchange for U.S. sulfur oxide allowances and U.S. Ozone Season allowances for nitrogen oxides that is regulated by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

Since 2006, CCX, ECX and CCFE have been owned by Climate Exchange Plc, a publicly traded company listed on the AIM of the London Stock Exchange.

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$55 Million Propels St. Louis Renewables Research Center

ST. LOUIS, Missouri, June 5, 2007 (ENS) - Washington University in St. Louis is creating a new International Center for Advanced Renewable Energy and Sustainability, I-CARES, to encourage and coordinate research in renewable energy and sustainability.

The university will invest more than $55 million in the initiative, says Chancellor Mark Wrighton.

I-CARES aims to foster research on the development and production of biofuels from plant and microbial systems and the exploration of sustainable alternative energy and environmental systems and practices.

Research at the center will also focus on the region's coal resources and efforts to mitigate carbon dioxide accumulation, improve combustion processes and reduce emissions.

I-CARES will operate under the direction of Himadri Pakrasi, PhD, who is simultaneously a professor of biology in the College of Arts & Sciences, and professor of energy in the School of Engineering.

Dr. Pakrasi is already involved in collagorative energy research. With a team of biologists, chemists, engineers and mathematicians at Washington University in St. Louis and six other institutions, he is examining the potential of photosynthetic bacteria as one of the next sources of biofuel that can run vehicles and heat houses.

I-CARES will foster such collaborative and cooperative research, both within the university and externally between Washington University and other regional research institutions, such as the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center and the University of Missouri-Columbia.

Brady Deaton, chancellor of the University of Missouri-Columbia, said, "This is an outstanding example of research that will result in applications to improve the lives of all people around the world."

Roger Beachy, Danforth Center president, said, the I-CARES initiative "adds an important component to the regional initiative to establish St. Louis as a leader in the development of renewable energy.

The $55 million will be used to develop a building on the Danforth Campus for the Washington University Department of Energy, Environmental and Chemical Engineering at a cost of $40 million. When completed, it will house I-CARES and related research projects. In the meantime, I-CARES will be located in Wilson Hall on the Danforth Campus.

At least $12.5 million will support five new endowed professorships to attract research leaders in energy, environment and sustainability.

At least $2.5 million over five years will seed and develop collaborative research within the university and with its regional partners. An additional $500,000 will support projects with international partner universities.

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Aluminum Foil Lamps Outshine Incandescents

CHAMPAIGN, Illinois, June 5, 2007 (ENS) - Thin, lightweight panels of aluminum foil each containing 250,000 lamps the size of a human hair are under development for efficient residential and commercial lighting, and for biomedical applications.

"Built of aluminum foil, sapphire and small amounts of gas, the panels are less than one millimeter thick, and can hang on a wall like picture frames," said developer Gary Eden, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Illinois.

Eden authored paper describing the lamp panels, called microcavity plasma lamps, in the June issue of the "Journal of Physics D: Applied Physics."

Like conventional fluorescent lights, microcavity plasma lamps are glow-discharges in which atoms of a gas are excited by electrons and radiate light. Unlike fluorescent lights, however, microcavity plasma lamps produce the plasma in microscopic pockets and require no ballast, reflector or heavy metal housing, Eden explains.

The panels are lighter, brighter and more efficient than incandescent lights and are expected, with further engineering, to approach or surpass the efficiency of fluorescent lighting.

The plasma panels are also six times thinner than panels composed of light-emitting diodes, said Eden.

A plasma panel consists of a sandwich of two sheets of aluminum foil separated by a thin dielectric layer of clear aluminum oxide (sapphire). At the heart of each lamp is a small cavity, which penetrates the upper sheet of aluminum foil and the sapphire.

Completing the panel assembly is a glass window 500 microns thick. The window's inner surface is coated with a phosphor film 10 microns thick, bringing the overall thickness of the lamp structure to 800 microns.

"Each lamp is approximately the diameter of a human hair," said visiting research scientist Sung-Jin Park, lead author of the paper. "We can pack an array of more than 250,000 lamps into a single panel."

Depending upon the type of gas and phosphor used, uniform emissions of any color can be produced.

In the researchers' preliminary plasma lamp experiments, values of the efficiency known as luminous efficacy of 15 lumens per watt were recorded. Values exceeding 30 lumens per watt are expected when the array design and microcavity phosphor geometry are optimized, Eden said. A typical incandescent light has an efficacy of 10 to 17 lumens per watt.

The researchers also demonstrated flexible plasma arrays sealed in polymeric packaging that can be mounted onto curved surfaces such as the insides of windshields.

Eden says the flexible arrays also could be used as photo-therapeutic bandages to treat diseases such as psoriasis that can be driven into remission by narrow-spectrum ultraviolet light.

Research funding was provided by the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the Office of Naval Research.

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Furry-Clawed Asian Crabs Appear in East Coast Bays

EDGEWATER, Maryland, June 5, 2007 (ENS) - Chinese mitten crabs, first reported in the Chesapeake Bay in 2005, are more widespread on the east coast than initially believed. Four crabs were caught in Delaware Bay last week and scientists say they may now have spread to other east coast waters.

Named for the unusual thick fur-like coating on its claws, the Chinese mitten crab looks very different than native crabs and is easily recognized. It is listed as injurious wildlife under the Federal Lacey Act, due to its potential to cause ecological and economic damage.

The furry claws distinguish the Chinese mitten crab from native crabs. This Chinese mitten crab was caught in the upper Chesapeake Bay on May 18. (Photo courtesy SERC)
In total, seven adult male mitten crabs have been documented from the two bays since 2005. Before they were found, the potentially invasive species had never been recorded in coastal waters of the eastern United States.

The mitten crab is native to eastern Asia and has already invaded Europe and the western United States, where it has established reproductive populations.

"We don't know the present status of this crab along the eastern U.S. coast," said Gregory Ruiz, senior scientist at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center.

"At the moment, it is not clear whether these crabs are reproducing or established in the Mid-Atlantic region, or whether the captured crabs are just a few individuals that originated elsewhere."

These crabs may have arrived in the ballast water of ships or through live trade.

Chinese mitten crabs occur in both freshwater and saltwater. Young crabs spend their lives in freshwater and migrate to saltwater estuaries for reproduction.

A Mitten Crab Network has been established to examine the abundance, distribution, and reproductive status of the invasive crabs in Chesapeake Bay, Delaware Bay and other estuaries along the eastern United States.

The initial partnership among the Smithsonian lab, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Maryland Department of Natural Resources, and Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife is now being expanded to include resource managers, commercial fishermen, research organizations and citizens along the east coast.

Anyone seeing a mitten crab is asked to take a close-up photograph if possible, and report the finding to a state resource manager or to the Mitten Crab Network at 443-482-2222;

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Compounds in Apple Peels Act Against Cancer

ITHACA, New York, June 5, 2007 (ENS) - An apple peel a day might help keep cancer away, researchers at Cornell University have discovered.

"We found that several compounds have potent anti-proliferative activities against human liver, colon and breast cancer cells and may be partially responsible for the anti-cancer activities of whole apples," says Rui Hai Liu, Cornell associate professor of food science.

Liu and his team have identified a dozen compounds called triterpenoids in apple peel that either inhibit or kill cancer cells in laboratory cultures. Three of the compounds have not previously been described in the literature.

Liu is affiliated with Cornell's Institute of Comparative and Environmental Toxicology and is senior author of the study, which is online and published this month in the "Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry."

In previous Cornell studies, apples had been found not only to fight cancer cells in the laboratory but also to reduce the number and size of mammary tumors in rats. The Cornell researchers now think that the triterpenoids may be doing much of the anti-cancer work.

"Some compounds were more potent and acted differently against the various cancer cell lines, but they all show very potent anti-cancer activities and should be studied further," said Liu.

With co-author Xiangjiu He, a Cornell postdoctoral researcher, Liu analyzed the peel from 230 pounds of red delicious apples from the Cornell Orchard and isolated their individual compounds.

After identifying the structures of the promising compounds in the peel, the researchers tested the pure compounds against cancer cell growth in the laboratory.

In the past, Liu has also identified compounds called phytochemicals - mainly flavonoids and phenolic acids - in apples and other foods that appear to be have anti-cancer properties as well, including inhibiting tumor growth in human breast cancer cells.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.