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

Leading the News

EPA To Reexamine Coal Ash Waste Regulations For Power Plants.

The Washington Examiner Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/14, Siciliano) reports the EPA is considering revising “11 pieces of an Obama administration rule governing how coal ash waste is handled from power plants.” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt signaled yesterday “that the agency is granting two petitions from the utility industry to review the final rule governing coal combustion residuals, or coal ash, as a nonhazardous form of waste.” The move follows an announcement Wednesday “by the EPA that it will delay for two years the Obama-era rule on handling toxic wastewater from coal plants. Both rules are seen by the industry as part of an increasing regulatory burden on coal plant operators.”

Reuters Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/14) reports the agency “said it is in the ‘public’s interest to reconsider specific provisions’ of the regulation and figure out how to amend it to give states more leeway in how they tailor their permit programs to comply with the rule.” In a press release the EPA said, “EPA is not committing to changing any part of the rule, or agreeing with the merits of the petition – the Agency is simply granting petitions to reconsider specific provisions.” The Washington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/14, Dennis, Eilperin) reports green groups “were quick to criticize Pruitt’s latest decision as another nod to special interests.” The Hill Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/14, Henry) and the Wall Street Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/14, Puko, Subscription Publication) also provide coverage of this story.

Higher Education

UC Berkeley Student Effuses Over Advancements In 3D Metal Printing.

Writing about 3D printing for the Huffington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/14), UC Berkeley EECS student and developer Nikhil Reddy says “we now have a 3D metal printing process that’s faster, safer, and cheaper than its existing counterparts, and it’s going to flip traditional means on their heads.” The startup Desktop Metal is working on what could “transmute metal printing from an extravagant, rigid platform into a reliable solution that’s 20 times cheaper and 100 times faster,” with 3D metal printers targeted at “rapid prototyping for engineering teams, and a production measure for large-scale manufacturing timelines.” Reddy calls the advent of 3D metal printing “the birth of a market equalizer, one that promises to bring even the underdogs into competition with behemoths, and that is a damn cool guarantee.”

Collapsed For-Profit Accreditor Seeking New Life Under Trump.

Politico Morning Education Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/14) reports that Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools President Michelle Edwards says the group, which “the Obama administration terminated,” is in “talks with the Trump administration to bring the organization back to life.” The accreditor, “which was accused of approving too many dishonest for-profit schools…has ‘begun communicating with the Department of Education about the meaningful changes made to date and our plans for maintaining and expanding those reforms in the future,’” Edwards says.

Fidelity Investments Launches New Program For Employers To Pay Student Loans.

Forbes Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/14, Friedman) reports that Fidelity Investments “is offering employers a new program to help employees pay off undergraduate or graduate student loans more quickly.” Fidelity’s Student Debt Employer Contribution program “will help employers make after-tax contributions towards their employees’ student loans.”

ASEE Board Reorganization – Feedback Needed
ASEE ED Norman Fortenberry presents rationale on a proposed reorganization of the ASEE Board of Directors. Please leave your feedback (ASEE member login required).

NEW Podcast
One energy solution may be found in looking toward the ocean…not necessarily what you’d expect from researchers at land-locked Penn State.

FREE Action on Diversity Webinar: Empathy in Engineering — Why it Matters
Tune in 9/20 at 2:00 PM, ET for a FREE 90-minute webinar on empathy in engineering! Drs. Jo Walther and Nicki Sochacka will explore how faculty can encourage empathetic thoughts and actions in the classroom, and why empathy should be a core skill for future engineers. Dr. Shari Miller will offer her unique perspective on empathy as an expert in the field of social work Register today.

Research and Development

Researchers Claim To Discover Android Malware Outbreak.

Fortune Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/14, Hackett) reports, “Security researchers claim to have discovered one of the biggest outbreaks of Android malware ever to sneak its way from the GooglePlay Store onto people’s devices.” Fortune says, “The campaign consisted of dozens of malicious apps that sent fraudulent premium text messages and charged people for fake services, according to researchers at Check Point Software Technologies.” At least 50 apps “featured an advanced form of the malware that used ‘packing,’ a technique that compresses code with encryption, effectively masking it” and allowing it to evade Google security filters.

University Of Maryland Launches New Drone Test Facility.

WJLA-TV Share to FacebookShare to Twitter Washington (9/13) reports that the University of Maryland A. James Clark School of Engineering has opened “an outdoor test site for drones…made of netting, so it allows for the unmanned aircraft to be tested in weather conditions.” Dubbed the “Fearless Flight Facility,” the resource s compliant with FAA regulations.

Unmanned Aerial Online Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/13) reports that the facility “will serve as a critical nexus between the Clark School of Engineering’s College Park labs and the UAS test site in Maryland’s St. Mary’s County, says the university.” The piece quotes Clark School of Engineering Dean Darryll Pines saying, “The University of Maryland continues to make incredible strides in autonomy and robotics. Facilities like this one provide the real-world testing conditions that enable innovative breakthroughs. F3 allows us to pursue an aggressive UAS research agenda that would not be possible without the protection of a netted enclosure.”

NSF Gives California Universities $8 Million For Work On Bionic Suit For Paralyzed Patients.

The Los Angeles Business Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/14, Subscription Publication) reports that the National Science Foundation has given USC’s Keck School of Medicine, UC Irvine, and Caltech a Cyber-Physical Systems Frontier grant for $8 million to “fund the development of a fully implantable brain-machine interface device that could restore the ability to walk and restore sensation to the lower body, allowing users to “feel” while they walk.” The technology “will transmit commands to a robotic exoskeleton for walking that will then transmit sensory information back to the brain.”

Study: Light, Water Could Improve Perovskite Solar Cell Efficiency.

The Huffington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/14, Deaton) reports the last decade “has seen a radical drop in the price of solar panels, driven largely by advances in manufacturing and installation.” New research published in the inaugural issue of the journal Joule “suggests that light and water could be used to make perovskite solar cells markedly more efficient.”


Google Hit With Gender Discrimination Lawsuit.

The CBS Evening News (9/14, story 12, 0:15, Mason) reported that “three women who used to work for Google sued the company today for discrimination,” claiming that Google “pays women less than men for similar work and assigns female workers jobs less likely to lead to promotions.”

NBC Nightly News (9/14, story 6, 1:45, Holt) reported that the lawsuit accuses Google “of paying women less than their male counterparts and also denying them promotions.” NBC (Kent) added that three former employees, Kelly Ellis, Holly Pease and Kelli Wisuri, “say Google’s failure to pay female employees the same for substantially similar work has been and is willful.” In an email to NBC News, Google “denied the claim, saying, we disagree with the central allegations. We have extensive systems in place to ensure that we pay fairly. If we ever see individual discrepancies or problems, we work to fix them.” NBC added that “Google’s workforce is made up of 69 percent men and 31 percent women,” and that “earlier this year, the Labor Department sued Google, also alleging compensation data revealed systemic compensation disparities against women across the workforce.” Google “has also denied those allegations.”

The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/14) reports that the lawsuit “follows a federal labor investigation that made a preliminary finding of systemic pay discrimination among the 21,000 employees at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, California. The initial stages of the review found women earned less than men in nearly every job classification.”

Industry News

Oil Majors Enter Competition Over Electric Vehicle Charging Stations.

Reuters Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/15, Reuters) reports that in Europe, there is high competition between “power utilities, tech start-ups and oil majors” fighting to “establish themselves as the dominant players in the fast-growing business of charging stations.” The competing parties are involved in a “bit of a landgrab now to win this sector,” says Tim Payne, chief executive of British charging start-up InstaVolt. Among the oil majors, BP and Shell have both “announced plans or launched pilot projects for EV charging,” although analysts note that it is unlikely either would become “serious contenders for a business that would effectively curb demand for their chief product: oil.” A Shell spokeswoman “said it did not make economic sense yet to equip petrol stations fully with EV charging points.”

Engineering and Public Policy

California Lawmakers To Vote Friday On Proposal To Achieve 100% Clean Energy BY 2045.

NPR Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/14, Sommer) reports that “California lawmakers must vote by the end of the day Friday on the most ambitious clean energy goal in the country: 100 percent clean energy by 2045.” The article states that while Hawaii has already set “its own 100 percent goal,” California “uses about 30 times more electricity than Hawaii and is the fifth largest economy in the world.”

Author: Man-Made Earthquakes Pose Greatest Risk To Cushing’s Oil Infrastructure.

Writing in Politico Magazine Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/14, Miles), Kathryn Miles, the author of “Quakeland: On the Road To America’s Next Devastating Earthquake,” says that two weeks after Hurricane Harvey made landfall and oil refining hit record lows, “six key refineries remain shut down and an additional 11 are either struggling to come back on line or operating at a significantly reduced rate.” That slowdown “has shifted oil pressures in other places, too. And none may be quite as vulnerable as the tank farms in Cushing, Oklahoma,” a location that has been designated “critical infrastructure” because it is “the nexus of 14 major pipelines, including Keystone.” But the “biggest potential cause of that incapacitation” in Cushing is earthquakes, swarms of which “began occurring about five years ago, when wastewater injection and other fracking-related activities changed the seismic face of Oklahoma in dramatic fashion.” Discussing “regulating the ability of the tanks to withstand an earthquake,” Miles says that “what standards do exist are created by the American Petroleum Institute, a national trade organization representing the oil and gas industry. And the standards are not overly rigorous, say seismologists.”

DOE Invests $50 Million In Projects To Increase Grid Resiliency.

Greentech Media Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/14, St. John, Subscription Publication) reports the Department of Energy on Tuesday “announced $50 million in funding for projects” to modernize the electric grid, with a focus on distributed energy and grid intelligence. The article reports that while these projects “won’t be able to stop a hurricane or prevent hackers from trying to disrupt the grid. … they could play a role in keeping the grid running amidst storms or cyberattacks, or by helping it recover after an outage.” The article mentions the Grid Resilience and Intelligence Platform, which received a $6 million grant. The project’s partners include Tesla and Southern California Edison.

Decentralized Energy Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/14) also reports.

Energy Trade Groups Agree With DOE Findings On Need For Diverse Energy Mix.

DailyEnergyInsider Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/14, Randolph) reports energy sector trade groups wrote a joint letter to Congress on Thursday “that largely expressed agreement with the findings of a recent U.S. Department of Energy report on electricity markets, which highlighted the need for a diverse energy mix in order to provide reliable and electricity to customers.” The group of industry representatives “from the electric, petroleum, nuclear, wind and hydropower sectors,…sent the letter to members of the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee.” The letter said “that the trade organizations agreed with several findings and recommendations of the DOE Staff Report to the Secretary on Electricity Markets and Reliability, which Energy Secretary Rick Perry ordered in April to assess the impact of federal policies on energy markets and the early retirement of coal and nuclear plants.”

Transmission Line Project To Connect Wind Energy From Wyoming To Southwest.

The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/14) reports “construction on transmission lines to connect energy generated from wind farms in southern Wyoming” to states in the southwestern US “is planned to begin in 2019.” The TransWest Express Transmission Project is planning “to build 730 miles of transmission lines with 3,000-megawatt capacity.” The transmission “lines would connect from a terminal outside Rawlins, Wyoming, and run through northwest Colorado and Utah to end at another terminal near Las Vegas” providing access to “markets in California, Nevada and Arizona.”

Indiana Solar Nonprofit Says It Won’t Be Able To Meet Demand Of Program.

The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/14) reports that Solar Indiana Renewable Energy Network, a group which gives homeowners a discount for getting solar panels, “says it won’t be able to meet the demand for that discount before a new Indiana law limiting compensation for solar power takes effect.” The group “says a vendor expects by year’s end to finish installing solar panels for only about 25 of some 260 south-central Indiana residents who are seeking its financial discount.” The group “blames the backlog on strong solar panel demand ahead of an impending state deadline.”

Seven City Buildings Add Solar Panels In Salt Lake City.

The Deseret (UT) News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/14, McKellar) reports seven buildings in Salt Lake City “have newly-installed solar panels thanks to a $500,000 city investment, Mayor Jackie Biskupski announced Thursday.” The new panels “double the total number of Salt Lake City’s municipal facilities with solar energy to 14 and are part of the city’s goal to reach 100 percent renewable energy for community electricity supply by 2032.” In a statement Biskupski said, “Salt Lake City is committed to powering our government operations, and ultimately the whole community, with 100 percent renewable energy. … This latest round of projects puts solar panels in seven distinct parts of the city, increasing access and visibility to the transition to clean energy that is underway.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

STEM Students In Missouri School Designed And Built 3-D Printer.

The Clinton County (MO) Leader Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/14, Bonebrake) reports students in the STEM program at East Buchanan High School “designed and built a 3-D printer for the elementary students” and also “developed a manual that will allow elementary teachers and students the ability to utilize this new addition to the elementary school.” Program director Mrs. Valeri Jones said, “This is a student-based and project-based curriculum and allows the students to develop future job and life skills in many areas.” One student said the program “has helped me develop public speaking skills, research skills and communication skills.”

Farm Bureau Member Promotes Vocational Agricultural Education As STEM Field.

Mary Smallsreed, a member of Trumbull County Farm Bureau, writes in the Warren (OH) Tribune Chronicle Share to FacebookShare to Twitter(9/14, Smallsreed) about vocational agriculture education as part of a STEM curriculum, saying that it is supported with federal funds and includes “classroom and laboratory instruction, supervised occupational experiences, and membership in Future Farmers of America.” She adds that there are many careers in agriculture and it is necessary to “get the teachers excited” about the program in order to “engage their students.”

Thursday’s Lead Stories

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