November 2012, Vol. 24, No.11


Ocean energy generation project makes a splash in Maine

A commercial, grid-connected energy generation system made history on July 24 in Eastport, Maine. Ocean Renewable Power Co. (ORPC; Portland, Maine) launched its TidGenTM turbine generator unit for its Cobscook Bay Tidal Energy Project, the first commercial ocean energy generation project in the United States, according to an ORPC news release.

The project is the first phase of the Maine Tidal Energy Project, funded in part by the U.S. Department of Energy and the Maine Technology Institute.

ORPC received a pilot project license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for the project in February, began installation in March, and on Sept. 13 began delivering electricity to the grid.

As a source of renewable energy, the system generates electricity when its rotating foils are turned by river and ocean currents to power a central permanent magnet generator installed underwater. Turbine generator units are installed in groups to form complete power systems that are designed to resist corrosion, operate without gears and lubricants, and require no fossil fuel or emit anything into the water, the website says.


Not all sea-level rises are created equal: Atlantic coast a 'hotspot' for rising sea level

Portions of the U.S. Atlantic Coast are experiencing three  to four times faster rates of sea-level rise than other coastal areas around the world, according to a U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) news release. 

Since 1990, sea level along a 965-km (600-mi) stretch of coastline from Cape Hatteras, N.C., to Boston has increased 2 to 3.7 mm/yr compared to the global average of 0.6 to 1 mm/yr, the news release says. 

Findings were explained in the USGS report “Hotspot of Accelerated Sea-level Rise on the Atlantic Coast of North America,” which was published in the journal Nature Climate Change. For the report, USGS scientists analyzed tide gauge data throughout much of North America, removing long-term trends associated with vertical land movements, to focus on recent changes, the news release says. 

The report showed that sea-level rise along this “hotspot” is consistent with slowing of Atlantic Ocean circulation. And the change in circulation may be tied to changes in water temperature, salinity, and density in the subpolar north Atlantic, the news release says. 

“Though global sea level has been projected to rise roughly 2 to 3 ft [0.6 to 1 m] or more by the end of the 21st century, it will not climb at the same rate at every location,” the news release says. 

Wastewater reveals Texas cocaine use

Wastewater in Lubbock, Texas, has revealed a secret: cocaine use spikes on weekends. 

After examining wastewater being transported to the Lubbock Wastewater Treatment Plant, Texas Tech University master’s student Juliet Kinyua discovered that traces of cocaine increase by up to a third on weekends, according to the Texas Tech Today article, “Forensic Science Student Applies New Technique to Research.” 

On average city residents use a total of 900 g of cocaine during an average weekday, but  this total increases to 1200 g on weekends, the article says. 

Kinyu, now a doctoral student at the university’s Institute of Environmental and Human Health, used wastewater epidemiology and gas chromatography–mass spectrometry to test the wastewater for benzoylecgonine, a chemical only produced when humans metabolize cocaine, the article says. 

The chemical can be detected within 96 hours after cocaine is consumed, so samples were collected on Mondays to represent weekend use and on Fridays to represent weekday use, the news release says. 

The research was published in the Journal of Forensic Science and could be used by law enforcement and social workers to understand drug use in communities, the article says. 

California industrial site receives a green makeover

The Burbank (Calif.) Water and Power (BWP) headquarters campus has received a green makeover. BWP and AHBE Landscape Architects (Culver City, Calif.) have transformed the industrial area into the “EcoCampus.” They completed the first phase of the project earlier this year. 

The EcoCampus includes three Platinum-level Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) buildings, one of which is California’s first LEED Platinum warehouse, according to a BWP and AHBE news release. It is the only industrial project out of 150 projects worldwide to be included in the Sustainable Sites Initiative pilot program, which provides guidelines and performance benchmarks for landscape design, construction, and maintenance, the news release says. 

EcoCampus uses five different types of water filtration technologies, including infiltration, flow-through, detention, tree root cells, and rainwater capture. It also includes green spaces to be used by employees and to house filtration systems, three green roofs on the administration building, a green street that stretches across three city streets, solar arrays that power the service center and warehouse buildings, and channels to direct stormwater into a filtration system. 

In addition, an old electric substation was left on the site; its skeletal remains will be a trellis for plants to grow, the news release says. “Ultimately, the master plan would see the campus become a zero-runoff site, far exceeding what state law requires,” the news release says.