ASEE First Bell – Breaking news in the engineering and technology field

Leading the News

Obama Pushes Transition From “Dirty Energy.”

In a 1,525-word story, E&E Publishing  (1/14) reports that President Obama used his last State of the Union address to “make an economic case for action against climate change” and call for accelerating the US’ shift away from what he called “dirty energy.” Obama “broadly touted job growth in renewable energy industries” and identified climate change as among the top four questions facing the country. E&E reports that Obama’s remarks against the fossil fuel industry “are likely to draw the most debate in the coming days” as the Department of the Interior is considering changes to coal, oil and gas lease rules.

NYTimes Analysis: Energy Progress Had Little To Do With Stimulus. The New York Times  (1/14, Davenport, Cardwell, Subscription Publication) writes that while the facts on energy policy that the President offered in State of the Union were accurate, “experts say many of the changes had little to do with the stimulus law, occurring instead through government policies, market forces and private sector activities.” David Victor of the University of California, San Diego said, “That paragraph as it relates to energy and climate issues – I thought it was the most troubling paragraph of the whole speech. It’s very hard to attribute the bulk of what’s happening now in terms of bending the emissions curve and increasing renewables specifically to the stimulus.”

Higher Education

Former CFPB Student Loan Ombudsman Chopra Joining ED.

The Chronicle of Higher Education  (1/14, Blumenstyk) reports in its “Ticker” blog that ED has announced that it has hired Rohit Chopra “to help it beef up services for student-loan borrowers, including those in the military.” During Chopra’s time as student loan ombudsman at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the bureau “it sued two big for-profit-college companies — ITT Educational Services Inc. and Corinthian Colleges Inc. — over allegations of abusive lending practices. It also issued numerous critiques of student-loan-servicing companies and of deals between credit-card companies and colleges.”

Chicago Sun-Times Scolds State For Failing To Fund Student Aid Program.

An editorial in the Chicago Sun-Times  (1/10) criticizes the Illinois state legislature for finding ways to “free up money” for the state’s strapped lottery program and for municipal snow removal efforts, but not increasing funding for the Monetary Award Program, “which annually helps needy students in Illinois attend schools in this state.” Colleges in the state covered the difference for the fall semester, but some 40 have said that they won’t continue to do so for the spring semester, meaning students will have to “scramble for loans or drop out of school.”

Companies Offering Loan Assistance To Attract Workers.

The AP  (1/13, Pisani) reports on the gradually increasing practice, including among major firms such as PricewaterhouseCoopers and Microsoft Corp., of offering loan repayment assistance as a tool to attract and retain a happy and skilled workforce. Michael Fenlon, the global talent leader at PwC, and Bruce Elliott, a manager of compensation and benefits at the Society for Human Resource Management, both noted that loan assistance is especially critical in attracting millennial talent, who have become the largest group in the workforce and are especially burdened by debt.

International Association of Continuing Engineering Education
Call for papers for May 17-20 conference in Porto, Portugal. January 31 deadline.

Surmounting the Barriers
The joint NAE-ASEE report makes recommendations for breaking down long-identified barriers to diversity in higher education.

Research and Development

Schneider Electric Promises Battery At Lower Cost Than Tesla.

Forbes  (1/13, Kelly-Detwiler) reports that Schneider Electric last year “introduced its own promising scalable lithium-ion based storage system” called EcoBlade, that differs from other offerings in that it is “nearly identical to an IT server computer.” According to Forbes, the “system contains ‘blades’ much like those stacked in a server rack” that can stand alone or “be stacked in racks to yield the capacity and energy required for heavy-duty use.” The product’s “$500/kWh installed price also compares very favorably with the most recent estimates from Lux Research” and Tesla’s PowerWall.

Researchers Working To Develop Artificial Salivary Gland.

The Hartford (CT) Business Journal  (1/13) highlights the work of Dr. Robert Kelly and others at the University of Connecticut School of Dental Medicine to develop an artificial salivary gland to treat dry mouth, a common side effect of many prescription drugs and some diseases that affects an estimated 20 million Americans. Accelerate UConn, one of the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Sites, selected Kelly’s teams as one of nine to receive funding under the new program. Kelly and his colleagues are using chemical and mechanical engineering to create the device.

Northeastern University Researchers Develop New Glue For Metals.

Fortune  (1/13, Brueck) reports researchers at Northeastern University, including Hanchen Huang, have developed a glue that can make two metals stick to each other at room temperature. The new material could be used to create “glue-able electronics” and allow people to join metals without soldering, which requires hot metal joints to fuse different metal objects together. The new glue is able to put metals together by using “nanorods.” Huang and his two graduate students have formed a startup called “MesoGlue” that is partially funded by the National Science Foundation.

Global Developments

Alberta Regulators Halt Fracking Operations After Earthquake.

The Daily Caller  (1/14, Follett) reports that a fracking operation in Alberta has been shut down by the Alberta Energy Regulator after a 4.8-magnitude earthquake hit the area on Tuesday. The article claims that “media outlets and environmental groups have repeatedly attempted to tie fracking to earthquakes, but this directly contradicts the best available science and government research.” Moreover, “fracking-earthquake myths are so widespread” that the United States Geological Survey features a “Myths and Misconceptions” section on its website “to debunk” the myths.

Industry News

IT Security Firm Finds 84 Percent Of Health Apps Vulnerable To Common Hacking Methods.

Healthcare IT News  (1/14, Siwicki) reports that IT security vendor Arxan Technologies found that 84 percent of the FDA-approved 126 health apps tested by the company “did not adequately address” the issues of code tampering and reverse-engineering, two common hacking techniques included in the Open Web Application Security Project’s top 10 risks. Additionally, 95 percent “of the FDA-approved apps lack binary protection and have insufficient transport layer protection, leaving them open to hacks that could result in privacy violations, theft of personal health information, as well as device tampering and patient safety issues.”

Renewables Rake In Record $329.3 Billion In Investment As Oil Prices Tumble.

Bloomberg News  (1/14, Shankleman) reports that the rout in oil prices “spared renewables…which raked in a record $329.3 billion of investment last year.” Research released by Bloomberg New Energy Finance on Thursday shows that the 4% increase over 2014 green energy technology spending is due in part to falling prices for photovoltaics and wind turbines in addition to large financings for offshore wind farms. Bloomberg added that “while oil companies such as Exxon Mobil Corp. and Royal Dutch Shell Plc eliminate jobs and curb capital spending to cope with prices less than a third of their 2014 peak, renewables are enjoying a renaissance underpinned by rules designed to curb fossil-fuel emissions damaging the atmosphere.”

Aerospace, Defense Industry To Benefit From Instability, Increased Defense Budget In 2016.

Zacks Investment Research  (1/14) reports that political instability and increase in the US defense budget may benefit the aerospace and defense sector in 2016. However, the article adds that the “cut to modernization and research and development funding could act as a major impediment for the defense industry,” including a possible slow down in the production of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 jets. The article also mentions that despite macroeconomic challenges in 2015, top defense contractors, including Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics, Textron, and Raytheon, “held up well.”

VW CEO, EPA Administrator Meet To Discuss Diesel Vehicles.

Reuters  (1/14, Schwartz, Prodhan, Shepardson) reports on a Wednesday meeting between VW Chief Executive Officer Matthias Mueller and EPA Administrator McCarthy held at the EPA in order to discuss possible settlements regarding the VW diesel vehicles in violation of federal emissions limits. An EPA spokeswoman said that talks would continue. No details of the meeting were given. The Wall Street Journal  (1/14, Boston, Spector, Subscription Publication) reports that given the lack of a breakthrough in Wednesday’s meeting, it is not expected that a quick resolution will be achieved.

DOE Report: Colorado A Rising Player In Fuel Cells.

The Denver Post  (1/13, Chuang) reports that according to a new Department of Energy report, Colorado is “fast becoming a hot bed of energy and clean technology industries, including fuel cells and hydrogen.” The adoption of fuel cells by companies such as Walmart, AT&T, and Google, “boosted industry sales to near $2.2 billion in 2014, nearly double from the prior year, according to the report.”

Engineering and Public Policy

Amtrak Installs Positive Train Control In Northeast Corridor.

NBC Nightly News (1/13, story 6, 2:15, Holt) reported that Amtrak has outfitted its Northeast Corridor trains with Positive Train Control. All tracks have transponders that help computers “monitor every train and slam on the brakes if necessary. But PTC is only in place in the northeast and areas around Los Angeles.” Congress has now given railroads until 2018 to install PTC, but National Transportation Safety Board member Robert Sumwalt said, “Every day that PTC is not in place, we run the risk of another Amtrak crash in Philadelphia, or another Bronx crash.” Amtrak CEO Joseph Boardman said, “We’re going to keep moving as quickly as we can to install positive train control and make a safe railroad – a damn safe railroad safer.”

Drones Bring Debate About Property Rights Of Air Above Homes, Yards.

In a front-page article, the Washington Post  (1/14, A1, Peterson, Mcfarland) reports that with the increasing number of private-owned drones, along with tech companies hoping to use them to deliver goods, a debate is growing over who owns the air above homes and lawns. The FAA says it owns every inch above the ground, but common law has long given landowners rights that went “all the way to Heaven.” The Post says there will need to be clarity on the issue by the time tech companies begin delivering goods to customers’ yards. Drone owner John Boggs filed a federal lawsuit this month to have a court decide on the issue, but until that case is resolved, homeowners “mostly have to depend on local laws to fend of drones.”

TransCanada’s Counsel Explains Keystone XL Lawsuits.

Kristine Delkus, an executive vice president and general counsel at TransCanada, writes in the Wall Street Journal  (1/14, Subscription Publication) explaining TransCanada’s lawsuit filed in federal court arguing that President Obama violated the Constitution in stopping construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, and its complaint under NAFTA seeking damages from the decision. She points out that Keystone XL is the first cross-border pipeline ever rejected by the US, and that the US approved TransCanada’s Keystone pipeline in 2008, and another built by Enbridge in 2009. She argues that President Obama has no power under the law or Constitution to reject the pipeline, as he did, for political reasons. She also argues that the decision violated NAFTA by being arbitrary.

Solar Industry Growing, But Uncertainty Remains.

USA Today  (1/13, Hughes) reports that while American workers are “flocking into the solar-energy industry,” there are signs of a slowdown. Nationally, solar companies are adding workers nearly 12 times faster than the overall economy, according to a report by the Solar Foundation. USA Today highlights SolarCity’s and Sunrun’s announced exit from Nevada, costing an estimated 750 jobs, and points out that solar power generates a small fraction of US electrical supply. Frank Marshall, the director of policy for solar developer FLS Energy, says the historic boom-and-bust cycle of tax incentives has led to long-term inconsistency in the industry. “We often call it the solar coaster,” Marshall said.

Wind, Solar Set New Investment, Capacity Records Despite Weak Oil.

Bloomberg News  (1/14, Randall) reports that renewables “just finished another record-breaking year,” with $329 billion invested and 121 gigawatts of capacity added, according to new data released Thursday by Bloomberg New Energy Finance. This despite low fossil fuel prices and declining investment in Europe. Bloomberg adds that “investment dollars rose 4 percent last year, while the new capacity added for wind and solar jumped 30 percent.”

Murkowski, Faison Urge Obama To Give Hydropower Consideration During Final Year.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski and ClearPath Foundation Founder Jay Faison write in an op-ed in the New York Times  (1/14, Subscription Publication) that “we could be doing much more to harness the huge potential of hydropower,” highlighting that “only 3 percent of the nation’s 80,000 dams now produce electricity.” Electrifying just the 100 top impoundments, they argue, “would generate enough electricity for nearly three million more homes and create thousands of jobs.” The problem is “a broken federal permitting process that has created an unnavigable gauntlet for hydropower projects,” they argue, pointing to dam relicensing costs as high as $50 million for PG&E in California. Legislation in both chambers, “would direct agencies to expedite the permitting of new projects and the relicensing of existing ones,” but President Obama “has threatened to veto the House bill, claiming it would undermine environmental safeguards.” They urge Obama to “give hydropower the attention it deserves in his final year.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

College In Southern Utah Hosts Lego Robotics Tournament For Children.

On its website, KCSG-TV  St. George, UT (1/8, Walton and Heaton) reports around 400 children on 47 teams planned to compete at the Dixie State University FIRST Lego League Qualifying Tournament on January 9 in St. George, Utah. The competition requires students to build robots using Legos to solve problems and learn more about related STEM careers in robotics and engineering.

Texas School Launches Teacher Internship Program.

The Waco (TX) Tribune-Herald  (1/14, Butts) reports Rapoport Academy in Waco, Texas is launching a new internship program aimed at recruiting high school seniors to become STEM teachers. The program recruits students from the school’s STEM program to train to become teachers so that the school can expand their STEM program into its lower grades.

Maryland District Women In STEM Club Hears From Female National Science Leader.

The AP  (1/14) reports the National Institute of Standards and Technology Acting Deputy Director Joannie Chin visited with high school girls in Frederick, Maryland to talk about STEM careers. The event was organized by Women in Science and Engineering, an extracurricular program in Frederick County Public Schools.

Wednesday’s Lead Stories

In SOTU, Obama Praises “Economic Success Story” Of Renewable Energy.
“In The Red” Campaign Aims To Raise Awareness, Take Action On College Affordability.
Michigan Tech Develops UAV-Catcher.
Corning’s “Lighter But Stronger” Windshield Highlighted.
House Panel Advances Nuclear Power Research Measure.
BAE Systems Assists School With STEM Program.

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