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

Leading the News

New York PSC Approves Zero-Emissions Credit Subsidies For Upstate Nuclear Plants.

The Syracuse (NY) Post-Standard Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/1, Knauss) reports that in a unanimous vote the New York state Public Service Commission “today decided to guarantee three Upstate nuclear power plants hundreds of millions in additional revenue, over 12 years, to keep the plants from shutting down.” The historic decision “reflects a judgment by state officials that nuclear power, like wind and solar, now represents a vital environmental asset that can help cut greenhouse gas emissions.” The decision will “spark huge celebrations in Oswego County, home to two nuclear plants with three reactors and more than 1,500 workers,” where local business leaders had feared an “economic meltdown if reactors there closed.”

Reuters Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/1, DiSavino) reports that the regulators approved the plan to “pay several upstate nuclear power plants up to $965 million over two years” to keep them operating and help meet the state’s carbon reduction goals. The PSC also approved the “proposed Clean Energy Standard, which requires that 50 percent of the state’s power will come from clean and renewable sources of energy by 2030, including nuclear power.” Reuters suggests that New York’s plan “could provide a model for the rest of the country to save the struggling nuclear industry while reducing carbon emissions.” Said PSC Chair Audrey Zibelman, “We could not possibly replace those nuclear units if they were to shut,” adding that the energy lost would almost certainly be replaced by fossil-fired, carbon producing power plants.

Greenwire Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/1, Northey, Subscription Publication) adds that Audrey Zibelman, “whom Cuomo tapped to lead the agency through 2018, told a packed conference room in Albany…that the governor’s clean energy standard is not ‘anti-gas’ but instead ‘pro-diversity’ and warned that New York’s carbon-free reactors would be replaced with fossil fuels if allowed to close.” Democratic PSC Commissioner Gregg Sayre, “said today’s decision showed that the cost of climate change needs to be incorporated into economic decisions and that closed reactors would likely be replaced with more gas facilities and higher emissions.” Said Sayre, “I don’t think that’s the result we want.” Republican Commissioner Diane Burman pointed out that “anti-nuclear sentiment that surfaced in the record was expressed by individuals who don’t live near New York’s upstate reactors.” E&E Publishing Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/1, Behr, Subscription Publication) also covered the PSC vote but mostly addressed the debate between the Cuomo administration and the New York ISO over support for renewables.

Power Engineering Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/1, Dotson) reports that NYPSC commissioners “stated their majority vote centered around three main points: grid reliability, keeping carbon emissions low and maintaining jobs.” Commissioner Gregg Sayre “said he lives within 15 miles of Ginna nuclear plant and that the plant has been a ‘good neighbor.’” Sayre asserted that there are “no plans to keep the standard around forever, but that the thousands of lost megawatts of nuclear generation cannot be replaced by renewables.”

Bloomberg News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/1, Polson) adds that the nuclear subsidy would amount to $17.48 a megawatt-hour, or about $965 million, in the first two years with adjustments every subsequent two years through 2029.

Business Group Weighs In Against Subsidy Plan. The Albany (NY) Business Review Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/1, French, Subscription Publication) reports that large manufacturers and other big energy users in the state “oppose a plan to subsidize nuclear power plants that could cost as much as $7 billion.” The plan would provide funding “based on the social costs of carbon emissions avoided by the plant.” But the “price tag” for the plan “is much higher than initial estimates for subsidies…and would be paid for solely by customers, a group representing big utility customers wrote in comments on the proposal.” The group, “Multiple Intervenors, includes Alcoa, Corning, Praxair, Wegmans Food Markets and State University of New York, according to its website.” The group wrote that “New York customers are being exposed to potentially 12 years of artificially inflated and excessive subsidy obligations.”

Higher Education

Leaders Worry ED Student Debt Relief Proposal Could Hurt HBCUs.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/1) reports that Clark Atlanta University President Ronald Johnson and other HBCU leaders are concerned that “an updated ‘defense to repayment’ or ‘borrower defense’ regulation proposed by” ED could have a negative impact on HBCUs. Johnson says the proposed rules “are too broad, and HBCUs, with smaller endowments and fewer resources, could be left vulnerable to frivolous lawsuits.” Johnson and other HBCU leaders want Education Secretary John King “to have the comment period extended 60 days beyond Monday’s deadline to allow more discussion of the proposal’s potential impact on their schools and other traditional colleges and universities.”

Proposed Rules Draw Thousands Of Comments. The Politico Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/1, Nussbaum) “Morning Education” blog reports that Monday marked the end of public feedback for the plan “to make it easier for federal student loan borrowers to have their debt canceled when they are defrauded by their college,” and ED had as of last week already processed over 5,000 comments. The proposed rules have drawn criticism from the for-profit college sector, conservative groups, and Republicans in Congress.

Bair: Student Loan Policies Discourage Savings.

In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/1, Subscription Publication), former FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair sharply criticizes the US student aid system, including the FAFSA, saying the system discourages families from saving for college because the greater their savings, the lower the amount of aid they qualify for.

Administration, Student Loan Borrowers Seeking Ways To Ease Burden.

The Wall Street Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/1, Mitchell, Subscription Publication) reports on rising student debt in the US which now totals $1.3 trillion. The piece explains that the increase in borrowers in default is harming the economy the way underwater homeowners did after the housing crash. Pointing out that the Obama Administration is seeking ways to help borrowers, the piece says Deputy Treasury Secretary Sarah Bloom Raskin has also met with borrowers to determine what policies would help them avoid default. “As we intervened to help homeowners, I think we also have a responsibility to help students who might feel the aftershocks of economic developments they had no part in creating,” Raskin said.

Survey: Most Americans Support Debt-Free Tuition.

Bloomberg News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/1, Mosendz) reports that according to a recent survey, 62% of Americans “say they support debt-free university tuition.” However, “48 percent they would not be willing to pay more in federal taxes to fund free college.”

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Research and Development

Oak Ridge Scientists Discover Low-Cost Carbon Fiber Production Method.

The Knoxville (TN) News Sentinel Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/1) reports that researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory have discovered how to create carbon fiber “using a low-cost input material — the same acrylic fiber found in carpets, socks and shirts — instead of carefully processed, more expensive specialty fiber.” The technique “allows the carbon fiber, a strong material used for reinforcement in advanced composites, to be affordable for use in the automobile industry.”

GSK, Alphabet Unite To Develop Bioelectronic Medicines.

Bloomberg News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/1, Gokhale) reports that GlaxoSmithKline PLC, the largest pharmaceutical firm in the UK, is forming a joint venture with the life sciences unit of Alphabet Inc., the parent of Google, to research and develop bioelectronic medicines. The joint venture will be called Galvani Bioelectronics, with GSK owning 55 percent and Alphabet’s Verily Life Sciences LLC holding the remaining 45 percent. Depending on the completion of specified milestones, the joint venturers will together invest up to 540 million pounds ($715 million) over the next seven years. Bioelectronic medicine seeks to treat chronic diseases with miniature implanted devices which modify electrical signals passed along nerves, and GSK researchers believe it can be used on conditions like arthritis, diabetes, and asthma. Fast Company Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/1, Farr) notes that GSK did not begin researching bioelectronics until this decade, but the field is more than two centuries old, with the underlying theory first proposed in 1780 by the joint venture’s namesake, Italian scientist Luigi Aloiso Galvani. The joint venture will be based at GSK’s global R&D center at Kent, in the UK, and it will have a second research facility at Verily’s San Francisco headquarters. At the outset, it will employ 30 engineers and scientists.

Business Insider Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/1, Williams-Grut) quotes Brian Otis, Verily’s Chief Technology Officer, who says, “Bioelectronic medicine is a new area of therapeutic exploration, and we know that success will require the confluence of deep disease biology expertise and new highly miniaturised technologies.” Moncef Slaoui, GSK’s Chairman of Global Vaccines, adds, “Together, we can rapidly accelerate the pace of progress in this exciting field, to develop innovative medicines that truly speak the electrical language of the body.”

IBM Develops Silicon-Based Technology To Sort Nanoscale Biological Targets.

IEEE Spectrum Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/1) reports scientists at IBM Research “has been able to retool silicon-based technologies to create a diagnostic device that can separate viruses, DNA, and other nanoscale-sized biological targets from saliva or urine,” with the aim of detecting the presence of disease symptoms present. The process is based on deterministic lateral displacement (DLD) separation technology, which uses laminar flow of fluids through an array of pillars to separate particles based on size.

Industry News

Study: Auto Suppliers Spent $48.4 Billion Building Or Expanding Factories Over Past Decade.

Automotive News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/1, Sedgwick) reports auto suppliers “spent $48.4 billion building or expanding factories” in the United States, Canada, and Mexico over the past decade, 2006 through 2015, according to a new study by the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich. The study “shows that one of the biggest concerns of the post-recession industry – insufficient supplier capacity amid surging new-vehicle production – has been resolved.”

Global Tablet Shipments Down For Seventh Consecutive Quarter.

CNET News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/1) reports that on Monday, market researcher IDC released data revealing that global tablet shipments declined for the seventh consecutive quarter. The report revealed that 38.7 million units were shipped in the second quarter of this year, a 12 percent decline from the 44.1 million units shipped in the second quarter of last year.

AppleInsider Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/1) says market leaders Apple and Samsung experienced a decline in worldwide tablet shipments, with Apple shipping just under 10 million and Samsung shipping about 6 million. IDC revealed that even though Apple shipped fewer units, the iPad increased its market share from 24.9 to 25.8 percent. MarketWatch Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/1, Booton) adds that Samsung’s market share decreased from 18.2 to 15.6, with its second quarter shipments down by about 25 percent.

GeekWire Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/1) says Lenovo, Huawei, and Amazon followed Apple and Samsung in tablet shipment numbers, with Amazon potentially proving itself to be “a major player in the tablet market” because of its low-cost Fire device. In IDC’s report, analysts wrote that Amazon Fire’s “low price combined with the company’s online presence has once again afforded Amazon a spot in the top 5 vendor list” and predicted that it will perform “similarly in the next quarter.”

Venture Beat Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/1) notes that IDC senior research analyst Jitesh Ubrani wrote in a statement that “consumers and enterprises seek more productive form factors and operating systems–it’s the reason we’re seeing continued growth in detachables.” Sixty-five percent of the tablets shipped in the second quarter ran on Android operating systems, 26 percent ran on Apple iOS, and nine percent ran on Windows, but IDC said Android systems may be in decline because its vendors are starting to offer Windows-based products.

ComputerWorld Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/1, Hamblen) says market researcher Canalys also issued similar second quarter tablet shipment figures. Canalys analysts said that instead of buying new tablets, many consumers are either holding their tablets longer or opting for larger smartphones instead of tablets.

Tesla Autopilot Fatality Shakes Auto Industry.

The Detroit Free Press Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/1, Snavely) reports that “the May death of a driver in a Tesla Model S with the Autopilot function engaged” has sparked concerns about the speed at which the auto industry should transition to self-driving technology. This theme “popped up throughout the day Monday” at the Center for Automotive Research industry conference, the Management Briefing Seminars. The NHTSA, which has outlined “four levels of self-driving vehicles” – with four being the only one at which drivers can completely yield control to the car, launched an investigation of the fatal accident. Motor Equipment Manufacturers Association chief technology officer Brian Daugherty remarked, “I think NHTSA’s Level 4 is a long way away,” citing consumer surveys indicating that “An overwhelming majority, 91%, felt that the lane keeping feature could not center the vehicle in the lane. Only 9% trusted that feature,” Williams said.

Tesla, SolarCity Reach $2.8B Deal To Merge.

The New York Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/1, Picker, Subscription Publication) reports that on Monday the board of Tesla Motors and SolarCity approved a merger valued at $2.6 billion in stock. The deal still requires approval by a majority of shareholders not including Tesla CEO Elon Musk. Bloomberg News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/1, Martin) reports the acquisition is “the solar industry’s biggest deal to date.” The Wall Street Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/1, Ramsey, Steele, Subscription Publication) reports that, if approved, the deal would double Tesla’s workforce to nearly 30,000 employees, but combines two money-losing companies dependent on borrowing. Similarly, the Los Angeles Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter(8/1, Mitchell, Masunaga) reports that while “the marriage has great potential,” critics have highlighted the “money troubles” facing both companies. “Neither company is profitable” and “cash flow is being sustained more through drumming up investment capital and less through product sales.” Reuters Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/1, Lienert, Baker) reports that the deal “is expected to win regulatory and shareholder approvals in the fourth quarter, the companies said.”

For the Washington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/1), Brian Fung opines on why Tesla is buying SolarCity, writing that Elon Musk is “trying to create a massive, clean-tech behemoth” around the synergies of renewable energy, batteries, and electric vehicles. Fung highlights analysts’ criticisms that Tesla did not need to buy SolarCity to gain these advantages. “Other companies clearly have similar ideas as Musk; on Tuesday, BMW announced that it would start selling a home battery pack of its own.”

Spencer Jakab writes in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/1, Subscription Publication) warning that both companies face a problem of cash flow. Jakab writes the Elon Musk’s powers of persuasion prevails over industry logic.

USA Today Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/1, Bomey), the Washington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/1, Mooney), The Guardian (UK) Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/1, Hern), the Financial Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/1, Waters, Murgia, Subscription Publication), Christian Science Monitor Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/1, Dussault), The Hill Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/1, Zanona),the Sacramento (CA) Bee Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/1, Kasler), and Fuel Fix (TX) Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/1) provide additional coverage of the tie up.

Automakers Not Seen Working Toward Standard Fast-charging Plug.

E&E News PM Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/1, Subscription Publication) reports that while automakers have agreed on uniform plug standards for slower home and workplace charging stations, “they have not done so for what’s known as DC fast charging, which can fill a battery in less than 30 minutes.” German and American automakers use different connection standards from Asian manufacturers, while Tesla Motors uses its own system entirely. “Critics say the disparities hinder widespread adoption of electric vehicles.”

Engineering and Public Policy

New Efficiency Standards May Be Rolled Out Soon.

Politico Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/1) reports that this month the Obama Administration could “roll out” a number of new “regulatory release” before Congress returns. For example, the Energy Department “continues to churn through new efficiency standards.” The Office of Management & Budget “is reviewing proposed or final versions of rules tightening requirements for walk-in coolers and freezers, conventional cooking products, refrigeration products, non-weatherized gas furnaces and Rep. Marsha Blackburn’s favorite, ceiling fans.” It isn’t “clear which, if any, will actually cross the finish line this month, though many have been awaiting OMB approval since spring.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Boston Summer School Students Learn In STEM-Based Program.

Christian Science Monitor Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/1, Kenworthy) reports that during a five-week summer program for Boston students, “a more holistic approach to education” is taken, where students are not only learning science and math, they are also learning “how to reason and analyze.” According to the Christian Science Monitor, “the STEM-based (science, technology, engineering, math) summer learning program” gives “low-income students the kind of immersive learning experience normally only available to kids whose parents can scrape together a spare $2,000.”

Penn State Educates Middle, High School Teachers On Climate Change.

The State College (PA) Centre Daily Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/1, Milazzo) reports that “a workshop was held last week at Penn State that gave 15 middle and high school teachers the chance to participate and collaborate with polar research scientists, educators and more.” According to the State College Centre Daily Times, the aim “was to teach climate change information to educators with the hope that they could use the information in class curriculum and inspire students to take an active interest in climate change research.”

Also in the News

New York Firm Charged In Hurricane Sandy Insurance Scheme.

The New York Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/1, Chen, Subscription Publication) reports that a New York engineering firm and one of its former executives were charged on Monday “in a scheme to minimize insurance payments to homeowners whose residences were damaged by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.” In a 50-count indictment, New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman accused GEB Hi-Rise Engineering, of Uniondale, NY and former director Matthew Pappalardo “of forging documents and engaging in illegal business practices.” Prosecutors said the firm and Pappalardo “had altered engineering reports that had been used to assess the structural damage to homes caused by the storm,” and that those reports were then submitted, “without the consent of the engineers who did the work” to “adjusters and federal officials who were evaluating the homeowners’ flood claims,” and that as a result, “dozens of flood claims may have been undervalued or even denied under the National Flood Insurance Program.”

Monday’s Lead Stories

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