Corporate Video Production

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

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Fallout from Solyndra Hurts Nuclear Startups

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Politicians are drawing parallels between the $535 million federal loan guarantee issued to bankrupt solar manufacturer Solyndra and loan guarantees that the U.S. Department of Energy is offering to utilities building new nuclear power plants. But while those nuclear startups could also go bust, experts say U.S. taxpayers are unlikely to take a loss on them. That's because the only reactor projects moving forward are those in a handful of southern states, where laws allow utilities to offload the risk onto state ratepayers.

A case study is the two-reactor expansion by Southern Company at the Vogtle nuclear power station in Georgia—the only project in construction to be offered a federal loan guarantee. Southern Company is unlikely to default on its $8 billion loan guarantee because, under Georgia law, it is prebilling its customers for much of the cost.

This all but assures Southern Company of recouping the total expenditure, according to Peter Bradford, a former U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission member and a nuclear policy expert at Vermont Law School's Institute for Energy and the Environment. "The risks in Georgia are fairly low because state utility commissioners have said customers will cover the full cost no matter what, whether the plant is canceled or experiences substantial cost overruns," says Bradford.

Utility-friendly laws in states such as Georgia and South Carolina are, however, an exception. The risk of default on nuclear loan guarantees would be higher in most U.S. states, because most states have competitive, rather than regulated, power markets. New nuclear plants are expected to generate power at 12 to 20 cents per kilowatt-hour, which is two to three times more than average U.S. power prices. "The economic setback of 2008 and the decline of natural gas prices—a decline that's now projected ... to last out into the 2030s—have pushed any semblance of economic justification for these plants way off over the horizon," says Bradford.

A Wish List for the Next GM Volt

Monday, November 28, 2011

After a week of driving the new 2012 version of the Chevrolet Volt in the Boston area, I've reached three conclusions. It's an amazing car that's fun to drive. But it's not an ideal vehicle for city dwellers, and there are simple changes that would allow it to make a much more compelling case for electric vehicles.

The Volt is a type of plug-in hybrid vehicle that can go about 35 miles on a battery charge, followed by hundreds of miles powered by a tank of gasoline. Unlike other plug-in hybrids, it's designed primarily to be an electric vehicle, and this is where it shines. It's engineered for speeds up to 100 miles per hour on battery power (I didn't try that), with impressive acceleration and nimble handling that makes negotiating city traffic a breeze. But once the battery is depleted, it slips into hybrid mode, in which it gets a mediocre 35 miles to the gallon, about the same as the comparably sized gas-powered Cruze, and the ride is accompanied by the near-constant grumble of the engine.

The car is being marketed primarily as a fuel-efficient, green vehicle. GM representatives regularly remark how much driving it is like driving an ordinary gas-powered car. No doubt market surveys say this is a good approach. But the fact is that electric cars, by virtue of the instantaneous power the electric motors deliver, can be more thrilling to drive than conventional cars. At the same time, their quietness makes driving them relaxing. The power and quietness alone could be worth the extra price of the vehicle (it's about $33,000 after a federal tax rebate, compared to $17,000 for the Cruze). This is a performance car, and could easily be a luxury car with a few improvements to the interior.

In the Volt, some of the power is stifled by the default energy-efficient driving mode, which dials back the rate of acceleration. Another setting, sport mode, is better—the pickup is noticeably better. But drivers need to select this every time they get into the car, or it defaults to efficiency mode. Yes, plug-in cars can be very efficient and reduce gasoline consumption. But to make much of an impact, people have to buy them first. These cars are great to drive, and that should be emphasized. One way could be allowing drivers greater freedom to tune the responsiveness of the acceleration, rather than just selecting between sport and normal modes, and to leave it set the way they like it.

Light-Based Therapy Destroys Cancer Cells

Saturday, November 26, 2011

For more than two decades, researchers have tried to develop a light-activated cancer therapy that could replace standard chemotherapy, which is effective but causes serious negative side effects. Despite those efforts, they've struggled to come up with a light-activated approach that would target only cancer cells.

Now scientists at the National Cancer Institute have developed a possible solution that involves pairing cancer-specific antibodies with a heat-sensitive fluorescent dye. The dye is nontoxic on its own, but when it comes into contact with near-infrared light, it heats up and essentially burns a small hole in the cell membrane it has attached to, killing the cell.

To target the tumor cells, the researchers used antibodies that bind to proteins that are overexpressed in cancer cells. "Normal cells may have a hundred copies of these antibodies, but cancer cells have millions of copies. That's a big difference," says Hisataka Kobayashi, a molecular imaging researcher at the National Cancer Institute and the lead author of the new study, published this week in Nature Medicine. The result is that only cancer cells are vulnerable to the light-activated cascade.

The researchers tested the new treatment in mice and found that it reduced tumor growth and prolonged survival.