Science and Technology Council
Science and Technology Council
News Article | December 1, 2015
This story has been updated. On Tuesday, as a key part of his moves to forge a consensus around a Paris climate change agreement, President Obama met with the leaders of countries that did the least to cause the problem and yet have the most to lose — many coastal and small island nations like the Maldives, Fiji, the Seychelles and others. “I’m an island boy,” the president said, noting that he himself had grown up in Hawaii and Indonesia. But while Obama has expressed sympathy for island nations ravaged by climate change, it’s less clear how far he can go to help them. These islands, organized as the 39-member Alliance of Small Island States and severely jeopardized by sea level rise, have long tried to strike a difficult bargain in climate change meetings — they want the global temperature goal to be holding warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, rather than 2 degrees. Given that current climate pledges are widely agreed to overshoot 2 degrees by a considerable margin — and with a finite carbon budget that gets smaller every day — it is not even clear whether this is still possible. And what’s more, these nations have also coalesced around the position that a final agreement should include a separate “loss and damage” provision. Definitions of what this means vary, but in essence, as a recent report notes, it’s the controversial idea that countries that didn’t do much of anything to cause climate change — but will be severely damaged by it — should receive financial support, including financial assistance, from the countries, like the United States, that are responsible. [Obama urges world action on climate change: No nation ‘immune’ to global warming] “For these countries, their view is that if warming goes much above one and a half degrees, they will have to move. And that has established in this process a moral framework that is clear, and is black and white, and it’s not an analytical exercise the way the rest of this is,” says John Coequyt, director of international programs at the Sierra Club. Coequyt calls the small island nations the “moral center” of the climate process. Indeed, in recent years more and more countries, going beyond the group of small island nations, have also embraced the 1.5 degree concept and notions of “loss and damage.” Over a hundred now support the 1.5 degree goal, says Tonya Rawe, a senior adviser on food and nutrition security at CARE USA. Speaking Monday in Paris, Obama had already reached out to the small island nations in advance of their meeting, saying that “climate change is a threat to their very existence.” He said that he would back “risk insurance initiatives that help vulnerable populations rebuild stronger after climate-related disasters.” The president on Tuesday announced $30 million in funding for such initiatives for countries located in the Pacific, Central America and Africa. Several positions are “sacred” to small island developing states in the climate negotiations, said Senator James Fletcher of St. Lucia, who is the Caribbean island’s minister for public service, sustainable development, energy, science and technology. These include “1.5 degrees Celsius as a long-term temperature goal” and “recognition of Loss and Damage as a critical issue for [small island developing states], which is more than adaptation, and commits to establishing a mechanism in the agreement to address Loss and Damage in a permanent manner,” Fletcher said by e-mail. [Paris summit is already a win for Obama, but planet remains in danger] “I think we are open to discussing the details and the terminology, but I think the principles remain, and the responsibility of the rest of the world, particularly, towards the small island countries,” added Dunya Maumoon, minister of foreign affairs for the Maldives, the nation that is chairing the Alliance of Small Island States this year and thus playing a lead role in the talks. There’s little doubt that substantively, the small island states are correct in their claims — 1.5 degrees is definitely safer, not just for them but for everyone. However, when it comes to sea level rise in particular, it could make a dramatic long-term difference for low-lying nations. A recent report by the International Cryosphere Climate Initiative, for instance, recently estimated the “threshold for Greenland melt to become irreversible” to be at 1.6 degrees — after that, they say, the ice sheet would be vulnerable to steadily melting away, with the potential to raise seas by 20 feet if it melted entirely. That would be absolutely devastating to many islands. Take, for instance, the city of Male, the capital of the Maldives. According to a 2001 report from the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, with a 90 centimeter rise in seas, 85 percent of it could be “inundated,” barring costly adaptation measures. (The island has built considerable seawalls, however.) Indeed, the highest elevation in the small island chain, which is home to some 400,000 people but in total area not much bigger than D.C., is just 2.4 meters above present sea level. And the Maldives aren’t even the most vulnerable of island nations. Also in 2001, the IPCC noted that just 80 centimeters of sea level rise would flood two-thirds of Kiribati and the Marshall Islands. More recently, the IPCC found in 2013 that expected sea level changes by the year 2100, “superimposed on extreme sea level events (e.g., swell waves, storm surges, El Niño-Southern Oscillation) present severe sea flood and erosion risks for low-lying coastal areas and atoll islands.” No wonder, then, that small island states are holding out for the sharpest cuts in greenhouse gas emissions — and for remedies for the damages they incur because of climate change that is almost entirely not caused by them. “I understand why they want all these things, because they really are necessary to their ultimate survival,” said Philip Duffy, president of the Woods Hole Research Center and formerly part of the White House’s National Science and Technology Council. “But I really don’t see that they’re going to get them.” Asked what would happen if the nations aren’t able to secure these objectives, Fletcher said it was “too early for us to speak of what we will do if the Paris agreement does not address issues that are critical to the long-term survival of [small island states].” A particular point of contention is likely to turn on loss and damage. The small island nations feel that this is something quite separate from merely adapting to climate change. They generally argue that it should be its own part of any Paris agreement — and for it to mean financial compensation for losses. As the Micronesian island of Nauru, representing all of the AOSIS members, argued in 2014, “Financial flows from developed countries for addressing loss and damage in vulnerable developing countries should be new and additional to financing for mitigation and adaptation.” But the United States doesn’t see it the same way. “We don’t think there should be separate requirements beyond the $100 billion [a year] committed to” helping developing countries, said Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser, on the sidelines of the Paris climate conference. He said the Green Climate Fund could be an additional mechanism for raising private capital for innovation. But White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the United States opposes the idea of damages or reparations for past greenhouse gas emissions. Paul Bledsoe, an energy consultant and former White House aide dealing with climate issues, said by e-mail that “the U.S. and other developed countries (+ China) have emphatically resisted efforts by developing countries to gain provisions on so-called loss and damage — or what amount to climate reparations.” He said that developing nations attempted to insert language about the issue at both Warsaw in 2013 and Lima last year but were rebuffed. As a partial alternative to loss and damage, insurance approaches like the one backed by Obama on Tuesday can help deal with climate related damages up to a point, says Pete Ogden, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress who just wrote a report on the subject. They’re particularly good for dealing with acute disasters like hurricanes. But the approach may be less suited, Ogden explains, for other situations that small island states may face. “Some are slow onset things. You have slow coral bleaching that wipes out a tourist attraction,” he says. “It could be the center of an economy, and if you don’t have businesses and hotels and everybody coming to spend money, that has long-term economic implications. You don’t really pay for that with a compensation fund.” Precisely how far rich nations will go to help small islands in Paris — particularly when it comes to the clear danger of rising seas — thus remains to be seen. Clarification: A previous version of this article stated that “loss and damage” involved “compensation,” citing a report by the World Wildlife Fund to support this definition. Actually, that report defines loss and damage to include “support” to countries that are suffer losses or damage that may include financial assistance, but not as compensation. The article has been clarified accordingly. Bill Gates on climate change: ‘We need to move faster than the energy sector ever has’ Why are so many Americans skeptical about climate change? A study offers a surprising answer For more, you can sign up for our weekly newsletter here, and follow us on Twitter here.
News Article | December 23, 2016
Fast breeder reactors have already been successfully developed in Russia and they will become successful outside of Russia too if policymakers and investors decide to make them a priority, writes Ian Hore-Lacy, Senior Research Analyst at the World Nuclear Association. Anti-nuclear campaigner Jim Green declared in Energy Post recently that fast reactors are dying a slow death. He used a lot of information from the World Nuclear Association to support his argument. It is good to see that he does not take issue with anything we have published in our information papers. However, he is selective. For example, he makes too much of countries backpedalling on the technology due to the effect of abundant low-cost uranium likely to last to mid century, even with substantially increased demand from conventional reactors. He also points to the sort of technical and other failures that can be expected with any innovative technology. So, let me set out the main elements of the fast neutron reactor (FNR) picture as I see it, which is much more positive than Green’s vision. When the first fast reactors were built and operated in the 1960s-70s, a shortage of uranium was feared, and this drove policy to utilize that uranium much more fully. We now know that uranium is abundant, and can be recovered economically from low-grade ores. Today the development of FNRs is justified rather by the desire to burn long-lived actinides from used light water (conventional) reactor fuel. Then there was a big setback. When President Carter put the brakes on FNR development in the USA in 1977 by banning reprocessing, that pulled the carpet from under what was arguably the world’s leading FNR program. Some FNR research has continued there, but with little government funding. India, however, with an abundance of thorium but little uranium, and cut off from world nuclear trade, embarked upon a unique program to utilize that thorium, with FNRs as a middle step. In fact its small experimental fast reactor (FBTR) has been operating since 1985. Admittedly its 500 MWe prototype fast breeder reactor (PFBR) at Kalpakkam under construction by BHAVINI since 2004 has proceeded slowly. Maybe we will see it start up next year. Though several countries have stated vague objectives about a likely high number of fast reactors by mid-century, Russia is really the only country that has forged ahead with them. Its BN-600 at Beloyarsk has operated well, supplying electricity to the grid since 1980, and is said to have the best operating and production record of all Russia’s nuclear power units. Its successor is the BN-800, also at Beloyarsk. This is a new more powerful FNR, which is actually the same overall size and configuration as BN-600. There are some significant improvements from BN-600 however. The first BN-800 (and probably only Russian one) is Beloyarsk-4, which started up in mid 2014 and recently went into commercial operation. Whereas several BN-800s were once envisaged, this BN-800 at Beloyarsk has become essentially a test rig for fuel, and its main purpose has become providing operating experience and technological solutions, especially regarding fuel, that will be applied to the BN-1200. The BN-1200 fast reactor is being developed as a next step towards Generation IV types (see box), and the design was expected to be complete this year. Rosatom’s Science and Technology Council has approved the BN-1200 reactor for construction at Beloyarsk, with plant operation from about 2025. A second one is to be built at South Urals by 2030. Others are envisaged following. It is significantly different from preceding BN models, and Rosatom plans to submit the BN-1200 to the Generation IV International Forum (GIF) as a Generation IV design. This is the only firm program of large commercial fast reactors at this stage. However, Russia is also active with smaller and more innovative FNR designs. It has experimented with several lead-cooled reactor designs, and used lead-bismuth cooling for 40 years in reactors for its seven Alfa class submarines – not very successfully but accumulating 70 reactor-years of experience. A significant new Russian design getting away from sodium cooling is the BREST fast neutron reactor, of 300 MWe or more with lead as the primary coolant, at 540°C, and supercritical steam generators. A pilot unit is planned at Seversk, and 1200 MWe units are proposed. Interestingly, it is a lead-cooled fast reactor design that Westinghouse has flagged a real interest in. Getting into the small modular reactor scene is Russia’s lead-bismuth fast reactor (SVBR) of about 100 MWe. This is an integral design, which can use a wide variety of fuels. The unit would be factory-made and shipped as a 4.5m diameter, 7.5m high module, then installed in a tank of water which gives passive heat removal and shielding. A power station with 16 such modules is expected to supply electricity at low cost as well as achieving inherent safety and high proliferation resistance. A new cooperation agreement with China may advance plans for this, since in contrast with other nuclear R&D there, China’s own FNR program seems stalled. And in the research reactor scene, Russia plans to replace the veteran BOR-60 fast reactor after the end of 2020 with a 100-150 MWt multi-purpose fast neutron research reactor (MBIR), with four times the irradiation capacity and a number of interesting features. In addition to the Russian programme, there are many other fast reactor designs around the world being investigated by governments and private enterprise, and time will tell which will succeed. Most are relatively small. One worth mentioning is Astrid, a French project with Japanese input. Astrid is envisaged as a 600 MWe prototype of a commercial series of 1500 MWe sodium-cooled fast reactors which are likely to be deployed from about 2050 to utilise the half million tonnes of depleted uranium that France will have by then. Astrid will have high fuel burn-up, including minor actinides in the fuel elements, and its mixed oxide (MOX) fuel will be broadly similar to that in Europe’s current reactors. Another is GE-Hitachi’s PRISM, based on a smaller US fast reactor which ran for 30 years to 1994. It is 311 MWe, a convenient size for replacing fossil fuel units, and its metallic fuel is derived from used fuel from conventional reactors. In October 2016 GEH signed an agreement with a subsidiary of Southern Nuclear Operating Company, to collaborate on licensing fast reactors including PRISM in the USA. Fast reactors are certainly at an earlier stage of development than the 430 commercial power reactors of conventional design. But despite the failures and setbacks inevitable in any technology step up, there are enough highly positive developments to be confident of success if they become a major priority outside of Russia. Certainly those involved with them do not share Jim Green’s dismissive views!
News Article | November 17, 2016
WASHINGTON, Nov. 17, 2016 - The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) today announced four grants totaling $1.2 million to support the development of environmentally and economically sustainable aquaculture in the United States. These awards were made through the Aquaculture Research Program authorized by the Competitive, Special and Facilities Research Grants Act, administered by NIFA. "In 2015, Americans spent $96 billion on seafood, but only a small portion of that was produced by U.S. aquaculture," said NIFA Director Sonny Ramaswamy. "To meet the growing demand for this healthy source of protein, NIFA investments are helping enhance U.S. aquaculture production to promote both economic opportunities and a safe, reliable domestic seafood source." Global demand for seafood is projected to increase substantially while harvests from capture fisheries are stable or declining. In cooperation with land-grant university partners and diverse stakeholders, NIFA provides leadership and administers federal funding for aquaculture research, technology development and extension programs. NIFA Aquaculture Research Program grants support the development of a globally competitive and profitable U.S. aquaculture industry through investments that help improve domestic aquaculture production efficiency, sustainability, safety, marketing, information sharing, and access to global science-based information and advanced technologies. NIFA provides leadership in coordinating federal activities related to aquaculture through the Interagency Working Group on Aquaculture, under the National Science and Technology Council's Committee on Science. Projects funded in 2016 include research conducted by scientists at Michigan State University, who will identify strains of a common bacteria that threaten farmed rainbow trout as a step toward improved disease prevention and control. Virginia Tech researchers will work with commercial farmers to compare profitability of both pond and recirculating-water commercial business models. An Auburn University project will evaluate and optimize the economics, fish and plant biology and food safety aspects of a high-yield aquaponics system that utilizes fish waste to generate additional revenue. The Research Foundation of the State University of New York, Stony Brook will use molecular genetics techniques to identify disease-resistant clam germlines, to help improve commercial shellfish stocks. More information on these projects is available on the NIFA website. Previous aquaculture projects from other NIFA programs include a Virginia State University Cooperative Extension project that converted a large vacant downtown warehouse in Petersburg, Va., into an aquaponics production center. Researchers at Washington State University and the University of Idaho discovered how to use certain probiotics to combat a common bacterial disease of trout and salmon. These discoveries also help reduce the threat of antimicrobial resistance that can occur through the overuse of antibiotics. Since 2009, USDA has invested $19 billion in research both intramural and extramural. During that time, research conducted by USDA scientists has resulted in 883 patent applications filed, 405 patents issued and 1,151 new inventions disclosures covering a wide range of topics and discoveries. To learn more about how USDA supports cutting edge science and innovation, visit the USDA Medium chapter Food and Ag Science Will Shape Our Future. NIFA invests in and advances innovative and transformative research, education, and extension to solve societal challenges and ensure the long-term viability of agriculture. NIFA support for the best and brightest scientists and extension personnel have resulted in user-inspired, groundbreaking discoveries that are combating childhood obesity, improving and sustaining rural economic growth, addressing water availability issues, increasing food production, finding new sources of energy, mitigating climate variability and ensuring food safety. To learn more about NIFA's impact on agricultural science, visit http://www. , sign up for email updates or follow us on Twitter @usda_NIFA, #NIFAimpacts. USDA is an equal opportunity lender, provider and employer.
Feeney R.,Science and Technology Council |
Feeney R.,RFX Inc. |
Taylor B.,Science and Technology Council |
Anderson P.,Technology History Subcommittee |
And 4 more authors.
SMPTE Motion Imaging Journal | Year: 2010
A report from the Science and Technology Council of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is presented. The report reveals that the council continued to make substantial progress in its four major focus areas, such as advanced technology programs, public programs and education, research, and technology history. The council's two major collaborative technology problem-solving efforts achieved significant objectives in 2010 under the leadership of Ray Feeney, Council co-chair and Advanced Technology Programs Subcommittee chair. The Digital Motion Picture Archive Framework project was undertaken by the council jointly with the US Library of Congress through its National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program (NDIIPP). One of the key elements of the project involved the development of a digital preservation case study system, based on an actual and historic digital motion picture collection, to discover operational realities of various digital motion picture archival strategies.
News Article | September 7, 2016
« Gen 2 Audi A5 Sportback available as bivalent g-tron; Audi e-gas, natural gas or gasoline | Main | Volkswagen Group & Anhui Jianghuai Automobile (JAC) jointly to develop EVs in China; new JV focused on NEVs » The US Department of Agriculture has provided $16,893 to Advanced Biofuels USA, a Maryland-based 501(c)(3) non-profit educational organization, for a feasibility study of producing bio-jetfuel from energy beets grown on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. The study will look at the technical and economic aspects of a project being developed by the University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES), Purdue University, and Maryland small businesses. Also of importance to the economic feasibility of this project are co-products that can provide economic opportunities to rural communities on the Eastern Shore when jetfuel prices are low due to fluctuating petroleum markets. In addition, UMES will explore the uptake of Eastern Shore legacy phosphates by the energy beets. If this can be demonstrated, the beets-to-bio-jetfuel project could be a cost-effective approach to reducing Chesapeake Bay nutrient runoff from the long-term use of poultry litter as fertilizer. Also, UMES will be looking at using the proteins from the biomass as potential high value poultry feed or other animal feed. Unique Maryland-based innovations of the bio-jetfuel project include non-food, low nutrient input energy beets developed by Plant Sensory Systems, LLC of Baltimore and a proprietary enzyme conversion system that utilizes the entire biomass of the energy beet root, including biomass ignored during conventional sugar production. This process has been developed by Atlantic Biomass, LLC and Hood College, both located in Frederick, Maryland. The objective of the Advanced Biofuels USA study is to determine if the first-stage data produced from the UMES energy beet pilot crop and commercial simulation processing shows that the crop and supply-chain have enough yield and production advantages that investments should be made to overcome hurdles identified in the feasibility analysis in order to take the project to commercialization. In addition, the energy beet feasibility study will look at priorities identified in the White House’s National Science and Technology Council’s report Federal Alternative Jet Fuels Research and Development Strategy. The funding of this feasibility study by the Maryland/Delaware USDA Office of Rural Development is part of the action plan USDA, the Departments of Energy, Transportation, and the US Navy are following to develop sustainable bio-based jetfuel to replace fossil fuel without the need to modify aircraft engines and fuel distribution infrastructures. Priorities included for analysis by this study will include:
News Article | August 22, 2016
A new report by the White House’s National Science and Technology Council called the Federal Alternative Jet Fuels Research and Development Strategy outlines the federal government’s plans to lower the cost of alternative jet fuels through coordinated, targeted research and development by agencies including the Energy Department, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of Transportation, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
News Article | December 20, 2015
If you had found yourself in Cuba on September 1, 1859, odds are you would have noticed something pretty unusual about the night sky. You’d have found it to be awash with the brilliant colors of the aurora borealis, a phenomenon rarely ever seen so far south. In your excitement, you’d probably try to telegraph your friends in the US about what you’d just seen—the only problem is many of the telegraph lines wouldn’t be working. This is probably for the better however, as your US amigos would likely be unimpressed—the auroras were so strong in the Northeastern states that they could read their newspapers by the aurora’s light. Luckily, the largest solar flare occurred at a time in history when humanity was just on the cusp of electrifying everything, thereby limiting the resulting damage of the 1859 event. Yet if such a massive solar event were to occur today, the results would likely be catastrophic. As such, a number of the most vulnerable industries, such as aviation and telecommunications, are making sure they’re ready to handle extreme space weather events. Recently the European railways sector jumped on board this trend by hosting a conference to assess railways’ space weather preparedness, which they found to be less than adequate. The conference attendees convened in London over three days in September to discuss the intersection of space weather and rail transport at the behest of the Joint Research Council, which just released a report on the conference findings on Friday. The report examines how space weather, in particular geomagnetic storms caused by coronal mass ejections or solar flares (eruptions of high energy radiation), could have disruptive effects on railway systems, as well as what can be done to avoid such disruptions. According to the report, space weather is liable to impact rail systems both directly (via track circuits and associated electronics) and indirectly (via power grid, communications or GPS failures) and as such constitutes an important variable in evaluating the safety of railway infrastructure. Studying extreme space weather events is a tricky business, largely due to their relatively rare occurrence and the difficulty in predicting just when the next occurrence will be. Nevertheless, the increasing recognition that another 1859-scale event could prove to have devastating consequences for our increasingly automated societies has prompted a number of governments to begin taking the threat seriously. The United States, for instance, has tasked the National Science and Technology Council with developing a Space Weather Strategy to define high-level goals for preparing the nation for such an event. As the report details, this awareness about the potential risks of extreme space weather has not been seen in the railway sector, despite the inherent vulnerability of this particular mode of transportation. Although railways’ space weather preparedness varies by country, the report notes the need for international cooperation in establishing response protocols and risk-management solutions. Some countries where the rail networks extend far into northern latitudes (such as Sweden, Canada, Russia, etc.) have already experienced rail problems with space weather and have begun devising means of confronting these challenges within their particular national context. Despite these pre-existing projects and studies, the report noted a troubling global rail industry trend characterized by its increasing reliance on automated systems, many of which do not include the built-in redundancies of their non-automated predecessors. Of particular concern was the growing dependence on the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS), which has previously been shown to be very vulnerable to space weather events, yet is becoming a critical aspect of rail systems for rail condition monitoring, train positioning, and communications. Without an alternative to GNSS built into railway systems, the failure of the GNSS during a solar storm could lead to loss of these critical functions as well as command and control systems. According to the report, “the latter is of particular importance because even a short loss of command and control could have impacts that are bigger than anticipated, and regaining command and control can be a lengthy process.” Unfortunately the report notes that railways’ dependency on GNSS is poorly understood, which means that the magnitude of the effects of a GNSS breakdown on the railway are difficult to determine without further research. Overall, the report concludes that railway operators need to begin to start taking space weather as a serious concern for their operations, despite its reputation as a “black swan” event. The conference report recommends targeted research efforts to understand the extent of the impacts a major space weather event would have on railways, efforts to raise the general awareness of these events within the rail industries, as well as international cooperation to facilitate relevant space weather information exchanges and post-event protocols to alleviate national burdens imposed by rail system failures.