Leading the News
Eleven Industry Groups File Opposition To DOE Directive To FERC.
The Washington Examiner (10/3, Siegel) reports lawmakers yesterday had their first opportunity “to probe energy industry representatives about the potential impact of the Trump administration’s controversial proposal to help coal and nuclear power plants.” Some House Energy and Commerce subcommittee members questioned “Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s plan, expressing concern that it would undermine an ‘all of the above’ energy landscape by favoring certain power sources over others.” Rep. Kathy Castor said, “This is quite a misguided effort they need to put back to the shop.” On Friday, Perry asked the FERC “to create regulations that would change regional power market pricing to reward the ‘reliability and resilience attributes’ of plants that have 90 days of fuel supply on site, which many took to mean nuclear, coal and hydropower.” Some “lawmakers suggested Tuesday that the Trump administration is acting politically by encouraging FERC, which is independent, to take a dramatic policy shift to boost struggling industries.” On Monday, the American Petroleum Institute joined eleven energy groups in writing a joint filing with FERC opposing Perry’s plan for a 60-day rulemaking process.
E&E Publishing (10/3, Mandel, Subscription Publication) reports the natural gas industry is “cautiously watching a potentially explosive directive issued Friday by the Energy Department that would boost payments to their competitors in the coal and nuclear power businesses.” According to some at an industry conference in Washington, “was that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s independence — and legal strictures that it must follow clear procedures to ensure transparency and legal accountability — blunt the potential impact of the proposal to aid a natural gas industry competitor.” E&E adds “observers say such a rule, if implemented, could radically alter today’s electricity markets.” Axios (10/3, Geman) reports that the filing calls Energy Department’s directive one of the most significant proposed rules in “decades,” which could “affect electricity prices paid by hundreds of millions of consumers and hundreds of thousands of businesses, as well as entire industries and their tens of thousands of workers.”
“This is one of the most significant proposed rules in decades related to the energy industry and, if finalized, would unquestionably have significant ramifications for wholesale markets under the Commission’s jurisdiction,” wrote the 11 groups in their filing, according to Politico Morning Energy. (10/3, Andragna) (CNBC (10/3) reports that the groups says the 60-day timeline is “‘aggressive’ and the department didn’t provide adequate justification for fast-tracking a process that could have huge impacts on wholesale electricity markets.”
Kemp: Perry’s Proposed Grid Rule Scrambles Energy Alliances. Reuters (10/3, Kemp) market analyst John Kemp claims that Secretary Perry’s new grid resiliency rule is “making for some odd bedfellows across the energy sector” by pitting “the coal and nuclear sectors against an eclectic alliance of wind, solar and gas companies as well as rural electric cooperatives and major energy consumers.” He says the rule also highlights “central tensions within the Trump administration’s energy policy,” for example, how the White House “draws support from pro-business groups that support a free-market approach to energy production as well as those that want a more interventionist and protectionist strategy.” The article notes that API is a signatory in the filing opposing the directive.
DC Council Member Proposes City Student Loan Forgiveness Program.
The Washington Post (10/3, Douglas-Gabriel) reports that on Tuesday, DC Council member David Grosso introduced a bill that would implement a city student loan forgiveness program covering “up to five years of payments for individuals earning less than $75,000 a year or married couples with a combined income of less than $95,000.” Grosso has not estimated the costs of such a program, “but said requiring applicants to be enrolled in an income-driven repayment plan could hold the reins on the expense.” The Post says DC is one of the nation’s most educated regions, but “with one in five residents shouldering student loans,” it also “has the highest concentration of debtors in the nation,” according to ED. A study conducted by the Center for American Progress and the Washington Center for Equitable Growth also found that residents in DC’s low-income neighborhoods with “small student loan balances are having a harder time repaying than people in wealthy areas carrying six-figure debt.”
Former US Official Outlines Ways To Improve PSLF.
The Century Foundation president Mark Zuckerman, who served as Domestic Policy Council deputy director under former President Obama, notes in a piece for Politico (10/3, Zuckerman) that this month marks the tenth anniversary of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, meaning that “the first eligible borrowers will receive loan forgiveness.” That milestone, Zuckerman says, “comes as the PSLF is under threat like never before,” as President Trump’s proposed ED budget calls “for its elimination altogether.” Zuckerman concedes that the PSLF “program will cost billions of dollars in the coming years,” but stresses that the program “encourages young Americans to work in critical public-sector jobs, while reducing their debilitating debt burden.” Zuckerman outlines “steps that the Trump administration can take to improve the PSLF,” like focusing “more attention on loan servicers appointed by” ED. He also calls on ED to “permit borrowers to apply online and allow nonprofit employers to digitally mass certify eligible employees annually” to streamline the certification process.
Experts Weigh In On Future Of PSLF Program.
U.S. News & World Report (10/3) reports “more than half a million borrowers” have signed up for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program since 2007, and nearly 30 percent of those borrowers “hold more than $100,000 in federal student loans,” according to a 2016 Brookings report. Additionally, the report found, many borrowers “in the program hold a graduate or professional degree.” PSLF now “faces uncertainty,” however. “While it may still be around for older borrowers, policy analysts say the program is unlikely to continue in its current state for new borrowers.” Public attorney Michael Lux, the founder of The Student Loan Sherpa blog, countered that the program will not likely be eliminated entirely, as doing so would constitute a breach of contract for those already enrolled.
Research and Development
NASA To Extend Expandable Module’s ISS Mission.
Space News (10/3, Subscription Publication) reports that NASA plans to extend the mission of an experimental expandable module on the ISS beyond its original two-year timeline. NASA said on Oct. 2 that it plans to issue Bigelow Aerospace a contract for three-to-five years of additional services for its Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM). BEAM was launched to the ISS in April 2016 and has served as an engineering testbed, although NASA is eyeing use as additional storage as well. NASA said that “BEAM continues to demonstrate positive performance in space and initial studies have shown that it can be used long-term on the ISS to support the government’s needs for on-orbit stowage and for technology demonstrations.” The agency plans to store more than 100 Cargo Transfer bags, “a standard unit of cargo storage on the station,” in the module, freeing up “about four payload racks” in other modules for research. NASA also wants to study the module’s radiation and debris shielding effectiveness. NASA said that it may consider additional extensions at the conclusion of the contract.
Extracellular Vesicles Used To Repair Tissues, Study Says.
Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News (10/3) reports that researchers from the University of Birmingham have published a paper in Scientific Reports saying “they have used extracellular vesicles (EVs) to repair damaged tissues in a manner that simulates the body’s natural healing process.” The article says that the researchers “believe their study represents the first step down a new path for tissue regeneration with the potential to help repair bone, teeth, and cartilage.” The researchers say that their technique is different from current methods in that it “delivers all the advantages of cell-based therapies but without using viable cells, by harnessing the regenerative capacity of EVs that are naturally generated during bone formation.”
Safran Unveils Fuel-efficient Jet Engine Prototype.
Reuters (10/3, Hepher) reports that French engine manufacturer Safran unveiled a new engine prototype Tuesday “that would radically cut fuel consumption, potentially reshaping air travel from 2030.” The Open Rotor engine will move “previously hidden” parts of the engine “outside to capture more air.” It was developed with European Union (EU) support. EU research official Clara de la Torre “said the new type of engine could help airlines cut air fares because it requires less fuel.” Safran CEO Philippe Petitcolin said that if the company wants “to be ready in 2030 we have to start now. If oil prices return above $100 I think there will be much stronger interest.” When asked how passengers would react to “seeing a double row of fast-spinning blades, rather than an engine whose moving parts are concealed,” Petitcolin said that it was still an unknown. Regulators would need to determine whether the engine could be certified “using existing rules for failed parts and bird strikes.”
Researchers Win Nobel Prize In Physics For Detecting Gravitational Waves.
The Washington Post (10/3, Achenbach) reports Rainer Weiss, Barry C. Barish and Kip S. Thorne – members of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory scientific collaboration – “detected gravitational waves for the first time just two years ago, the echoes of a massive collision of two supermassive black holes.” Their discovery won them “the 2017 Nobel Prize in physics Tuesday.” The Post republishes a piece explaining the discovery that ran shortly after the detection was first announced.
Engineering Professors Discuss Ways To Reduce, Prevent Earthquake Damage.
“Researchers are developing novel techniques to ensure that future structures are even better equipped to avoid collapse” in an earthquake, and one day “they may be able to predict or even prevent earthquakes before they happen,” said Futurism (9/27), which discussed the matter with University of Buffalo civil engineering professor Andrew Whittaker, California Institute of Technology geophysics and civil engineering professor Thomas Heaton, California Institute of Technology mechanical and civil engineering professor Domniki Asimaki, and University of Michigan civil and environmental engineering associate professor Jason McCormick. Futurism explained that collapsing buildings – and not the actual tremors – caused most of the approximately 230 deaths from the “massive 7.1 magnitude earthquake” that struck Mexico City on Sept. 20.
Utah State University Receives NSF Grant For HydroShare Data-Sharing Program.
The Logan (UT) Herald Journal (9/29) reported the National Science Foundation awarded a $4 million grant to Utah State University researchers “to continue building HydroShare, a worldwide data-sharing program for hydrological research.” USU civil and environmental engineering professor David Tarboton said once bugs in the system are fixed, then HydroShare will be able to support hydrologic modeling as well. Consortium of Universities for the Advancement of Hydrologic Science executive director Jerad Bales “said HydroShare has been used for several noteworthy projects,” including “the National Water Model, which simulates observed and forecast streamflow across the U.S., by the National Weather Service.”
Latina Engineers Discuss Need To Increase Diversity In Tech Industry.
NBC News (10/3) reports online that only 13 percent of American “engineering jobs are held by women, and an even smaller percentage by Latinas,” who account for only two percent of the engineering workforce, according to a National Science Foundation study. The University of Washington School of Engineering’s first Latina full-time professor, Cecilia Aragón, “says that what is needed is more funding specifically for Latina technologists, and increasing opportunities for one-on-one type of mentorship, which she views as increasingly vital.” On the uproar caused by the infamous “Google memo, Aragón says she was sad when news of it broke simply because she felt like these ideas had already been discredited and she hopes it does not discourage young Hispanic women to follow in her footsteps.” The head of Google’s Latino Community Engagement, Laura Marquez, similarly said that improving diversity is “something we are laser focused on right now.”
EU Officials To Meet With Executives About Battery Manufacturing.
Reuters (10/3, de Carbonnel, Guillaume, Felix, Taylor, Steitz) reports the EU next Wednesday “will host auto, chemical and engineering executives…to discuss developing battery manufacturing in the bloc to compete with Asian and U.S. manufacturers.” European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic told Reuters, “Our ambition is to create real production in the EU – a full value chain, including recycling. … Supporting the roll-out of batteries is simply an imperative if we are serious about the transition into e-mobility.” According to Reuters, “German chemical group BASF, automakers Renault and Daimler and engineering firm Siemens” have been invited to the talks and Volkswagen, “Total unit Saft Group which makes batteries, automotive supplier Continental AG and materials technology group Umicore are among those to say they would attend the talks.”
Ford CEO Pledges To Reduce Costs By $14 Billion, Invest In Trucks, EVs.
Bloomberg News (10/3, Naughton) reports Ford Motor Co. CEO Jim Hackett told investors in a briefing on Tuesday that the company “will target reducing materials costs by $10 billion and engineering outlays by $4 billion over the next five years.” In addition, USA Today (10/3, Bomey) says that “his plan includes a dramatic simplification of Ford’s vehicle lineup, including a reduction in passenger cars and investments in pickup trucks, crossovers and sport-utility vehicles.” According to USA Today, the company also “plans to cut spending on traditional internal combustion engines by 32% from 2016 to 2022” and will “invest heavily in electric cars.”
The Los Angeles Times (10/3, Fleming) reports Hackett said, “We can’t compete for the future unless we get fit today.” He continued, “Our priority is to reset revenue and attack costs.” He added “We will do this by increasing common parts, reducing order combinations and building fewer prototypes,” which the Wall Street Journal (10/3, Colias, Subscription Publication) reports Hackett said will give the company “the time, resources and flexibility to evolve.”
However, Reuters (10/3, White, Lienert) reports Hackett and other Ford executives acknowledged that “most of those savings will not show up on Ford’s bottom line until 2019 and 2020…reflecting the industry’s long product engineering lead times.”
Collaborative Robots Gaining Ground In Manufacturing.
The Chief Executive (10/2, Guillot) reports that collaborative robots “are gaining ground as a valuable tool in the manufacturing industry. But manufacturers that want to make the most of these robots need to guide their system design and deployment with principles that support collaboration between man and machine.” A recent study by ABI Research “found that 13% of manufacturing companies surveyed have collaborative robot systems in operation, while another 15% expect to have them operational within the next year.” Dan Kara, Research Director of Robotics at ABI Research, “said that while the adoption of industrial robots has been limited by high costs and complex programming requirements, co-bots are easy to program, flexible and can work safely in close proximity of humans.”
Jim Lawton writes in a Forbes (10/3) op-ed that robots “are no longer the object of science fiction; they are here, capable and doing productive and valuable work in manufacturing.” Collaborative robots “arrived 5 years ago to kick off a revolution in automation.” While manufacturers were skeptical, and “it’s taken some time,” the tide has turned. Today, manufacturers “are embracing robots to solve labor challenges; soon they will do more. As manufacturers take concrete steps to embrace Industry 4.0, the disruptive technology embodied in robots will drive more than efficiency and productivity improvements – it will become a vital contributor to operations that are agile, innovative and highly competitive.”
Engineering and Public Policy
Self-Driving Car Legislation Receives Criticism For Lack of Safety Measures, Privacy Protection.
Reuters (10/3, Shepardson) reports that auto safety advocates criticized the self-driving car bill currently before Congress. Former NHTSA chief Joan Claybrook said, “The public will be the crash-test dummy for this dangerous experiment.” Similarly, head of the Center for Auto Safety Jason Levine said there was an “absence of corporate caution in the rush to be first to get self-driving cars on the road.”
Meanwhile, Politico Morning Transportation (10/3) reports that the number of amendments to the bill are “stacking up ahead of the Senate Commerce Committee’s self-driving car bill markup Wednesday.” One of the first-round amendments was filed by Sen. Jim Inhofe, and seeks to include trucks in the legislation. In addition, Sen. Richard Blumenthal “said he is considering offering several safety-related amendments” and Sen. Brian Schatz “said he’s submitted amendments dealing with data collection from driverless vehicles – biometric data, energy efficiency data, etc. – ‘and then some language around metropolitan planning organizations utilizing open data, like Google Maps and Waze, for traffic engineering.’”
Opinion: Governments, Car Companies Need To Resolve Competing Goals Of Self-Driving Cars. In The Conversation (US) (10/3), Lily Elefteriadou, Director of the University of Florida Transportation Institute, writes that research at her institute shows that the key to resolving the competing goals for self-driving cars between governments and car companies is to have greater “communication.” Elefteriadou adds that her institute is providing opportunities to do that by “working with the Florida Department of Transportation and the City of Gainesville to set up an autonomous shuttle between the UF campus and downtown Gainesville and partnering with the industry to create a testing area for autonomous cars and other advanced transportation technologies on campus roads and surrounding highways.”
Carbon Capture Advocates Lobby Furiously For Funding In 2018 Budget.
The Houston Chronicle (10/3, Osborne) reports that advocates for carbon capture technology are “lobbying furiously to try and keep alive funding” for studying the technology in the 2018 budget. In the White House budget proposed earlier this year, President Trump “proposed cutting funding to the program that funds research and development into carbon capture by more than 50 percent to $280 million.” Energy Secretary Perry, however, recently urged oil companies to study carbon capture at a meeting with the National Petroleum Council. Rich Powell, executive director of the ClearPath Foundation, a group advocating for reducing carbon emissions, said that Secretary Perry “has repeatedly said that’s not my budget.”
Energy Secretary Pushes For New Pipeline Projects.
E&E Publishing (10/3, Subscription Publication) reports Energy Secretary Rick Perry aims “to speed up the pace of oil and gas pipeline construction, even as new projects face increased opposition from environmentalists and officials in some states.” Energy Department Deputy Secretary Dan Brouillette said “streamlining the approval process for new pipelines, many of them intended to ship a flood of oil extracted via hydraulic fracturing in places like the Permian Basin, is a critical piece of the secretary’s agenda.” Brouillette stated, “There’s simply no way our existing infrastructure can handle this surge in the supply over the long haul. … We must build more, and we must maintain and upgrade our existing infrastructure.”
US Solar Sector Spars Before ITC At Hearing.
Reuters (10/3, Groom) reports US solar manufacturers yesterday asked the US International Trade Commission “to impose tariffs on cheap foreign-made panels, clashing with companies who rely on those products to build low-priced projects that can compete with gas and coal.” The ITC “is set to recommend measures to prop up the small domestic solar manufacturing industry after it ruled unanimously last month that producers have been harmed by imports.” The commission “must deliver its report by Nov.13 to President Donald Trump, who will then decide how to proceed.”
New York Officials Hope To Expand Offshore Wind Energy Projects.
The AP (10/3) reports officials in New York “are seeking to expand offshore wind generation in the Atlantic Ocean.” New York “has proposed four new sites for wind energy projects to the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management” and “officials say they are asking federal regulators to expedite the process.” Each of the “four proposed sites announced Monday are in areas south of Long Island and closer to New Jersey.”
E&E Publishing (10/3, Subscription Publication) reports director of the New York Offshore Wind Alliance Joe Martens said, “If New York State continues on this path, it will be the national leader in renewable energy and offshore wind, with Long Island at the center of a new clean energy economy. … Other states are vying for this status, so New York needs to move aggressively and smartly.”
Santa Fe School Board Denounces State’s Proposed Science Standards.
The Albuquerque (NM) Journal (10/3) reports the New Mexico state Public Education Department unveiled its proposed Next Generation Science Standards three weeks ago, and they have since been criticized for omitting “key concepts like evolution, climate change and the age of Earth.” On Tuesday, the Santa Fe Public Schools board “signed off on a letter urging” PED to adopt the national science standards “in their entirety and without controversial modifications.” The letter warned that the proposed changes “will deny our children in New Mexico the same educational opportunities afforded students in other states, ultimately leaving them unprepared to compete in a world where science aptitude is needed more than ever in order to be successful.” The letter also says PED’s failure to publicly disclose the basis for the modifications leaves “open for question the authenticity of the proposed replacement.” Some school officials speculate that the “changes may have been influenced by the oil and gas industry, creationists, and political expediency.”
Chicago First Grade Students Investigate Simple Machines.
An anonymous contributor, in a piece for the Chicago Tribune ’s (10/3, 54) “From The Community,” says Hoover Math and Science Academy first grade teacher Julie Guedel’s students “recently practiced being mechanical engineers by investigating various simple machines including mechanical pencils, tape, can openers and a handheld mixer.” The first graders “observed what the machines were made of and how the machine worked to solve a problem.”
Michigan State Officials Discuss Expanding Access To CTE.
MLive (MI) (10/3) reports Michigan state Superintendent Brian Whiston and state Talent and Economic Development Director Roger Curtis testified before members of the state House Workforce and Talent Development Committee on Tuesday “on recommendations designed to expand access to career and technical education.” In June, Gov. Rick Snyder unveiled the recommendations as part of his Michigan Career Pathways Alliance. If implemented, the recommendations “would amend the Michigan Merit Curriculum to include a career exploration and job readiness course in seventh or eighth grade,” and “strengthen career counseling, make it easier to recruit and retain teachers in the skilled trades, foster relationships between educators and employers, and make opportunities in career and technical education more equitable across the state.” Snyder “and others say there’s a significant number of jobs that are going unfilled in the state because employers cannot find applicants with the necessary skills.”
University Of Michigan Researchers Receive NSF Grant To Study Impact Of Flexible Spaces In STEM Learning.
Campus Technology (10/3) reports University of Michigan electrical engineering and computer science associate professor Cindy Finelli, also the director of the university’s new Engineering Education Research Program, and research fellow Aaron Johnson received a $300,000 grant from the National Science Foundation’s Improving Undergraduate STEM Education Program. With the grant, the researchers can further “their research into ‘how the flexible spaces make a difference in the ways students interact with one another and with faculty, and how they affect the way students learn,’ according to a university news release.” The researchers have already launched a preliminary analysis from studying College of Engineering classrooms. Johnson has also “conducted a pilot study in classrooms with easily movable furniture, monitors throughout the room and tablets for teachers to pitch content onto screens as they wander around the room.”
Tuesday’s Lead Stories