Leading the News
Southern Nuclear, X-Energy To Collaborate On Advanced Reactor Design.
SNL Financial (8/22, Smith, Subscription Publication) reports Southern Nuclear and X-energy have “entered into a memorandum of understanding” to cooperatively “commercialize and deploy” X-energy’s gas-cooled, pebble-bed nuclear reactor design, the Xe-100. The article recalls the Department of Energy earlier this year awarded $80 million to support advanced reactors being developed by X-energy and a separate partnership led by Southern Company and TerraPower, which are working on a molten salt design. Southern Nuclear CEO Stephen Kuczynski explained, “Our relationship with X-energy builds upon the DOE awards we each received and puts the industry on a strong path to providing clean and safe nuclear energy for generations to come. … We understand fully the time and manpower it will take to bring the first advanced reactor to market and feel confident that pursuing this goal together will best leverage our combined research and commercial operation experience to do so.”
Coverage of the announcement from Power Engineering (8/22) said “the collaboration on the Xe-100 reactor aims to make available an additional nuclear solution in the global clean energy movement.” The article adds that “the reactor is designed to produce zero-emission energy around the clock.” The article is also posted at PennEnergy (8/22). The Nuclear Street (8/22) blog speculated that the reactor “could help revitalize the nuclear power industry due to the reactor’s size and relative affordability.” According to the post, the Xe-100 “has also been noted for its readiness for licensing, relative to other small reactor[s], and its meltdown-proof design, which allows it to be deployed in closer proximity to markets than other reactors.”
Wells Fargo To Pay $4.1 Million To Settle CFPB’s Claims Of Illegal Student Loan Servicing.
Reuters (8/22, Barlyn) reports that on Monday the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau said a unit of Wells Fargo will pay $4.1 million “to settle charges that it engaged in illegal private student loan servicing practices that unfairly penalized certain borrowers.” According to The Hill (8/22, Wheeler), the CFPB “said Wells Fargo processed payments in a way that maximized fees, made misrepresentations on billing statements and charged illegal late fees,” and also “failed to update and correct inaccurate, negative information that was reported to credit-reporting companies about borrowers who made partial payments or overpayments.”
Bloomberg News (8/22, Mott) explains that Wells will pay $3.6 million to the CFPB and $410,000 in restitution to settle claims over its student loan servicing. In a statement, CFPB Director Richard Cordray said that “consumers should be able to rely on their servicer to process and credit payments correctly and to provide accurate and timely information and we will continue our work to improve the student loan servicing market.”
The Washington Post (8/22, Douglas-Gabriel) reports that thousands of borrowers will get reimbursements, after CFPB penalized the bank “for charging illegal fees, misrepresenting payments and failing to update inaccurate credit report information.” Wells Fargo “charged late fees to consumers who made payments on the last day of their grace periods, as well as those who elected to pay through partial payments.” Noting that the bank did not admit to wrongdoing, the Los Angeles Times (8/22, Koren) reports that a company spokesperson said the practices cited by CFPB were “changed several years ago and that affected only a small number of borrowers.”
USA Today (8/22, Jones) reports that CFPB says Wells Fargo “left borrowers in the dark about how it divided single payments between their multiple loans, and did not make borrowers aware that they could decide how payments were to be allocated, which led to the possibility of unnecessary late fees.” In addition to the financial penalties, Wells Fargo “must also correct credit report errors, do a better job of explaining how consumers can allocate their payments, and use partial payments to pay what is due on as many loans as possible.”
Several other major media outlets also cover this story, including the New York Daily News (8/22), the Wall Street Journal (8/22, Hayashi, Subscription Publication), CBS News (8/22, Gibson), MarketWatch (8/22, Sushma U N), theMinneapolis-St. Paul (MN) Business Journal (8/22, Subscription Publication), the Philadelphia Business Journal (8/22, Blumenthal, Subscription Publication), the Boston Globe (8/22, Fernandes), and American Banker (8/22, Berry, Subscription Publication).
Aqua America Partners With Villanova University.
The Philadelphia Business Journal (8/22, Caffrey, Subscription Publication) reports that water utility company Aqua America has entered into a partnership with Villanova University to link “Aqua’s experts with students as they join in the College of Engineering’s long-running efforts to improve access to and the quality of water in developing countries.”
Women Account For 25 Percent Of Freshman Class At UI College Of Engineering.
The Urbana/Champaign (IL) News-Gazette (8/22, Wurth) reports that of an estimated 1,500 freshman students entering this years University of Illinois College of Engineering, 25 percent are women. Associate dean of undergraduate programs Kevin Pitts said, “That’s up significantly from where we’ve been in the past. It’s a record freshman class.”
King Discusses College Affordability At Ohio Community College.
Ideastream (OH) (8/22) reports that Education Secretary John King visited Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland, Ohio on Friday to tout the school’s successes King “says our priorities are wrong when states’ spending is going up faster for prisons than for schools.” The piece quotes him saying, “Where we see dollars being invested in punishment rather than in prevention. If we invest in education, we will put students on a path to quality employment and a quality of life that we would want for them.”
For-Profit College Demands ED Reconsider Denied Application To Convert To Non-Profit.
The Washington Post (8/22, Douglas-Gabriel) reports the Center for Excellence in Higher Education, a chain of career colleges, has demanded that ED “reconsider its request to become a nonprofit under the federal financial aid program” and accused the “agency of disregarding legal precedent to advance a political agenda.” ED denied the company’s application to “change its status out of concern” that the company “was trying to skirt regulations aimed at for-profit colleges” – including the “90/10 rule, which bars for-profit colleges from getting more than 90 percent of their operating revenue from federal student aid funding.” In addition, most non-profits can avoid “rules that limit how much debt students amass in career-training programs” and “gainful employment” requirements.
Many Are Lowering Student Loan Payments, But Lots Are Still Behind.
The Washington Post (8/22, Douglas-Gabriel) reports data released Monday by the Education Department shows people are continuing to enroll “in the government’s generous student loan repayment plan” even as people continue to struggle to pay their debt. According to the data, almost 5.3 million people had enrolled in the plans by the end of June – a 36% increase from the year earlier period and a 110% jump from two years ago – while enrollment in the newest plan (Revised Pay as You Earn, or REPAYE) “tripled in the last quarter to 570,000 borrowers.” ED reported that 8.1 million people “had not made a payment on $128 billion in student loans for at least nine months as of June” – up 8% from the same period the year before – and “well over half of the people in default have loans from the old bank-based federal lending program.”
Research and Development
InfoSight CEO: Surveillance Cameras Too Unsecured.
WTVJ-TV Miami (8/18) reports that with surveillance cameras everywhere, InfoSight, Inc. President and CEO Tom Garcia said, “The vast majority of the people have no idea that the inside of their homes or businesses are being broadcast all over the Internet.” According to Garcia, this happens because video streams remain unsecured and the software to hack into them is “readily available.”
Nvidia Announces Partnership With Parker Processors For Self-Driving Vehicle Platform.
Venture Beat (8/22, Takahashi) reports Andi Skende, an engineer at graphics chip manufacturer Nvidia, announced on Tuesday at the Hot Chips conference that Nvidia has partnered with Parker for its Drive PX 2 platform, described as a “supercomputer for cars” and digital cockpits. Skende said Parker will provide the platform’s two processors and two Pascal-based graphics processing units, enabling Drive PX 2 to recognize visual obstacles in self-driving cars.
Forbes (8/22)says Nvidia claimed that the Drive PX 2 will deliver about 24 trillion deep learning operations every second, allowing “the car to figure out the world around it.” Nvidia also claimed that over 80 car manufacturers, suppliers, and university research centers have expressed interest in the platform, and maintained that the Parker processor outperforms its competitors by 50 to 100 percent.
Mercedes-Benz Rethinks Bus Design With Semiautonomous Future Bus.
Business Insider (8/22) reports Mercedes-Benz launched its semiautonomous-driving Future Bus in July, but according to engineering electronics director Andreas Mink, “Driverless buses are not currently legally possible on public roads. Furthermore, this is not our aim.” Mink explained that Mercedes is using the Future Bus’ interior design “for rethinking the tried-and-tested partitioning of the passenger compartment, which has remained essentially unchanged for decades,” and the company hopes “to make the passenger compartment seem more relaxed and less strictly compartmentalized.” Mink added that the Future Bus is revolutionary because its “consistent driving style lowers fuel consumption and therefore emissions, reduces wear, and is also passenger-friendly.”
College Of Engineering, Haslam College Of Business Tackling Big Data.
Tennessee Today (8/22) reports that the College of Engineering and the Haslam College of Business have a new joint resource using technology donated by IBM. The “Advanced Analytics Lab, IBM Enabled” will “enable the university to store large amounts of unstructured data in a security-rich environment while providing students and researchers the processing systems necessary to analyze it.” According to the article, “Students in the Advanced Analytics Lab will conduct research in the analytics of large data sets from the financial and health care sectors.”
Apple Acquires Health Data Start-up Gliimpse.
USA Today (8/22, Akhtar) reports that Apple has acquired the personal health data start-up Gliimpse. USA Today says “Gliimpse takes a patient’s medical records and uses coding to produce a personalized, shareable electronic health record.” USA Today says that the start-up was founded by Anil Sethi, a former systems engineer at Apple, in 2013. The report also points out that Apple “has been expanding into digital health since releasing its HealthKit app” in 2014 and “may have also acquired the machine learning platform Turi for $200 million earlier this month.”
The Wall Street Journal (8/22, McMillan, Subscription Publication) points out that Gliimpse is free for consumers and that healthcare providers and software developers pay for the service’s data-sharing software and services. According to Barbara Ballinger, the co-founder of Cardiogram, Gliimpse gives Apple an opportunity to build a platform for electronic medical records data.
The Daily Mail (8/22, Prigg) has a similar report.
Engineering and Public Policy
Judges Rule On Dakota Access Pipeline Construction In North Dakota, Iowa.
The AP (8/22) reports US District Judge Daniel Hovland postponed a Thursday hearing on “whether a preliminary injunction should be issued to prevent protesters in North Dakota from interfering with construction” of the $3.8 billion Dakota Access oil pipeline. The judge also extended a restraining order against the protesters until the hearing on September 8. The judge says in his order filed Monday that the two sides are “strongly encouraged to meet and confer in good faith” to resolve the dispute out of court.
The AP (8/22) separately reports District Court Judge Jeffrey Farrell on Monday denied a request by Iowa landowners to immediately halt construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline on 15 parcels of their land, “saying they must first talk to state regulators.” The landowners have sued, “saying the board does not have the authority to give Texas oil company Dakota Access the right to forcefully condemn private farmland under eminent domain.”
FBI To Investigate Laser Beam Incident At Dakota Access Pipeline Protest. The AP (8/22) reports in a separate article that the FBI was “called to investigate a laser beam allegedly being aimed at the cockpit of an airplane that was doing surveillance of an ongoing oil pipeline protest,” according to Morton County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Donnell Preskey. The protesters “have disrupted construction of the $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline that’s designed to carry North Dakota crude to Illinois.”
Dakota Access Pipeline Approval Criticized. In a piece for the Indian Country Today Media Network (8/22), Dallas Goldtooth, the Keep It In The Ground Campaign Organizer for the Indigenous Environmental Network memberships, writes that “the recent news that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved nearly all the permits for the Dakota Access dirty oil pipeline, while disappointing, was not a surprise.” According to Goldtooth, “the Corps has a long history of going against the wishes and health of tribal nations – by putting our water resources, our climate and our communities at risk – in favor of fossil fuel interests.” Goldtooth claims that “the Corps utterly failed in consulting with tribal nations on the impacts and route of Dakota Access, as required by federal law.”
NYTimes Analysis: Offshore Wind Industry May Grow In US.
The New York Times (8/22, Gillis, Subscription Publication) reports that completion of the Block Island Wind Farm off the coast of Rhode Island “will mark the start of a new American industry.” Thousands of offshore wind turbines have already been installed in Europe, but American wind power projects “ran into roadblocks, including high costs, murky rules…and stiff opposition from people who did not want their ocean views marred by machinery.” However, the Administration has been using a 2005 law to clarify wind-power regulations and lease out large patches of ocean floor for wind-power development. State governments in recent months have also been making more commitments to developing renewable power sources.
Report Finds New Mexico Nicely Positioned To Develop Clean Technologies.
The Albuquerque (NM) Business First (8/22, Cardillo) reports that a new report from the University of New Mexico has highlighted “areas where the state can build on existing research in materials science and technology,” including advanced nuclear energy systems and energy storage. Last month, the school hosted the Southwest Regional Energy Innovation Forum which Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, U.S. Secretary of Energy and Los Alamos National Laboratory director Charles McMillan participated in. The report also highlighted “hydrogen technology” and “efficiency and manufacturing costs in photovoltaics.” In addition the report “highlighted the dual role of studying energy directly, and materials science needed for large scale testing and commercialization.” Moniz said in the report, “[There is] no doubt about the centrality of materials to so many of the energy technologies that we still need to invent and deploy.” The DOE “has signaled through its economic development efforts that it intends to increase emphasis on clean energy in the region.”
Energy Department Proposes Rule For Ovens, Stovetops.
Greenwire (8/22, Marshall, Subscription Publication) reports the Energy Department is proposing a rule that would cut “energy use for residential cooking products, including ovens and electric and gas cooking tops.” The “rule” is one of around 14 DOE “expects to finalize this year as part of President Obama’s broader Climate Action Plan.” The rule “is the first proposed standard for electric cooking products.” In addition it “updates an existing standard for gas cooking products that prohibits standing pilot lights, according to the Appliance Standards Awareness Project.”
DOE Releases Hydroelectric Production Expansion Vision.
The Aiken (SC) Standard (8/22) reports the Energy Department has “released its Hydropower Vision, a new, forward looking plan for emissions-free electricity generation that lays out pathways to better harness hydroelectric production throughout the nation.” The DOE “looks to reach its goals by 2050, including eight hydroelectric producing dams” in South Carolina. Three of the dams would “span the Savannah River between Georgia and South Carolina.” According to the agency, “hydroelectric generation capacity tallied to 101 gigawatts in 2015.” DOE’s vision “expects that capacity to grow to 150 gigawatts by 2050 and expects to top the halfway mark of that growth by the year 2030.”
Obama Proposal Aims To Encourage Renewable Power Development On Public Land.
Bloomberg News (8/22, Dlouhy) reports “although the Obama administration has given initial approvals to 46 wind and solar projects on 216,356 acres of public lands since 2009,” only 15 are currently in operation. Some projects “have been abandoned” and others “are still being built or are undergoing years of required environmental analysis.” The Obama Administration “says it has a plan to cut through that red tape: a new rule, set to be imposed within weeks, that would encourage developers to bid on government-selected tracts with gusty winds and intense sunlight that are pre-cleared of major environmental conflicts.” The proposal “could be a boon to Berkshire Hathaway Energy Co., First Solar Inc., Iberdrola SA and other companies that have their sights on public land,” but developers are concerned “it will stifle development, putting them at odds with environmentalists.” The rule “would mirror the competitive bidding process the U.S. government already uses to sell oil and gas rights on public land.”
Musk Sounds Alarm Over California’s Zero Emission Vehicle Program.
The San Francisco Chronicle (8/19, Baker) reports Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk recently “ripped” the California Air Resources Board, which he said “is being incredibly weak” and should be “ashamed of themselves” for failing to support the state’s Zero Emission Vehicle program. While “Musk is the most prominent person so far to sound an alarm about the program,” the article reports it has become “a source of increasing concern to environmentalists,” who fear it will fall short of the goal to have 1.5 million emissions-free vehicles on the street in California by 2025. The article reports the Air Resources Board is planning to discuss the program’s future at a hearing in December, and that board spokesman Dave Clegern “brushed off Musk’s criticism.” Clegern said, “CARB is working very hard to move the state of California forward. The moving parts are quite different.”
Study Finds No STEM Gender Gap In Kindergarten.
Education Week (8/22, Zubrzycki) reports that kindergarten girls and boys scored equally on well on “a large national test of science skills,” according to a study by University of Maryland, Baltimore County, assistant professor of public policy and researcher F. Chris Curran published in Educational Researcher. Curran, and graduate student Ann T. Kellogg analyzed data from the National Center for Education Statistics’ Early Childhood Longitudinal Study and found that “boys start to pull ahead by 1st grade,” and “both Asian students’ and Hispanic students’ scores drew closer to those of their white peers by 1st grade, while the gap between white and black students remained about constant.”
Monday’s Lead Stories
• NASA Astronauts Install Docking Port At ISS, Facilitating Future Commercial Spacecraft Access.
• Tennessee Leads Nation In FAFSA Completion Rate.
• NASA Launches Free Online Database With Research Papers, Data.
• A First In SE Asia: Ilocos Norte Univ Opens Graduate Course On Renewable Energy For Engineers.
• Ford Pledges To Launch Level 4 Autonomous Driver-Less Taxi Service In 2021.
• NHTSA, EPA Finalize Phase 2 Greenhouse Gas Standards For Large Trucks.
• North Texas School Designs Building To Inspire STEM Learning.