SOTU: A Few Interesting Energy Moments and What They Could Mean

Screenshot of the White House's live feed of tonight's State of the Union

The pundit chatter over the next few days will likely center on other topics President Obama covered in his 2014 State of The Union Address. Raising the minimum wage, moving on from the controversy over the Affordable Care Act, and foreign policy issues like Iran and military strategy are already dominating the conversation.

But there were a couple of notable mentions of energy policy in the the President's speech that actually represent a departure of sorts from past policies, at least if you read between the lines.

And just as notable, in the energy realm, were the things that went unmentioned.

Dad and Daughter Make First Cross-Country Tesla Road Trip

The cross-country-worthy Model S | Photo: Tesla

In another blow to so-called "range anxiety" keeping electric cars from entering the mainstream, a pair of Tesla drivers have made the first-ever transcontinental drive using only the luxury electric car's supercharger stations to "refuel."

The pair, John Glenney and his daughter Jill Glenney, left New York City in their Tesla Model S on January 20, arriving in Los Angeles on Sunday -- a six-day trip. The pair's route was a bit less direct than it could have been, as they had to follow the network of Tesla Supercharging stations now in operation -- which meant their NYC-L.A. trip took them through Rapid City, South Dakota and Gallup, New Mexico.

With about 40 minutes at each charging station to fill their batteries to 80 percent, which would give the Model S a bit more than 200 miles' worth of juice in ideal conditions, that's a rather leisurely trip, but that will change as Tesla adds more Supercharger stations. The company plans to expand coverage of the I-70 corridor this year, with nationwide coverage slated for 2015.

You Might Be Able to Fuel Your GM with GMOs

Left: Starting cells with around 15 percent lipid content. Right: Engineered cells with nearly 90 percent lipid content. | Photo: University of Texas at Austin | Cockrell School of Engineering

Imagine inheriting a huge chunk of money, spending it carelessly for a while, then suddenly realizing you need to change your ways and live off the interest alone. Replacing fossil fuels with biofuels is pretty much the same deal. Nature has stored away millions of years' worth of biomass in coal and oil deposits, and we've gotten used to consuming a lot more of that stored energy each year than the earth can replenish.

When we consider a shift to biofuels we run up against that basic problem pretty hard: we can only squeeze just so much energy for fuel out of our global ecosystem's annual productivity, and we've gotten used to using a lot more than that.

But a new study published this week suggests that a bit of genetic tinkering can help a microorganism boost its ability to turn organic matter into usable fuel, which might make it a bit easier to run our vehicles on fuel that doesn't spend down our fossil fuel inheritance.

1 Million Electric Vehicles in California? A Look at the State of the State

Our chosen lifestyle | Photo: skydiveone/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Environmentally speaking, there wasn't much new in Governor Brown's State of The State message Wednesday morning. The Governor remains committed to building a high speed rail system. He said that the state's drought meant we needed to keep working on the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, as well as restoring and protecting wetlands.

For the most part it was all pretty basic stuff, reaffirming prior policy declarations from the Governor's office. But one issue the governor mentioned has attracted some notice from environmental and clean-tech activists.

The issue? Our famously automobile-dependent state's annual gasoline habit, and the technology that offers to replace it.

Bird Deaths Continue at Ivanpah Solar as Tortoises Go Missing

Desert tortoises are slowly going missing from the Ivanpah solar project site | Photo: Mike Baird/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Bird deaths continue at a large solar plant nearing completion in the Mojave Desert, and biologists are unable to account for the whereabouts of 23 of the federally Threatened desert tortoises displaced by the project. That's according to a monthly report filed by project owner BrightSource Energy with the California Energy Commission (CEC).

According to the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System's Monthly Compliance Report for December 2013, project biologists reported 13 dead birds found on a portion of the nearly 4,000-acre project in December. That figure is about the same as November's tally of 11, and down significantly from the site's October death toll of 52 birds and six bats, suggesting that bird deaths at the site may spike during seasonal bird migration. Causes of death included collisions with mirrors and burn injuries from solar flux.

Meanwhile, the compliance document also reports that the whereabouts are unknown of 23 of the Threatened desert tortoises project biologists have been monitoring, including five sub-adult tortoises that have been missing from the project's tortoise holding pens for 18 months or more.

This Is Pretty Sweet: New Battery Runs On Sugar

Y.H. Percival Zhang (right), an associate professor of biological systems engineering at Virginia Tech, and Zhiguang Zhu show off their new sugar battery. | Photo: Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

You may be able before long to charge your cell phone by carbo-loading it, if a Virginia Tech team's research pans out. According to a paper published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications, a group of researchers have found a way to harness the energy in a simple, inexpensive carbohydrate to generate electrical power. The resulting "biobattery" can hold more juice per ounce than similarly sized lithium ion batteries, using only biodegradable compounds.

"Sugar is a perfect energy storage compound in nature," said Virginia Tech biological systems engineer Y.H. Percival Zhang, who led the study. "So it's only logical that we try to harness this natural power in an environmentally friendly way to produce a battery."

Zhang et al's work doesn't necessarily mean you'll be able to top off your electronics by grabbing a sugar packet from the counter in your favorite cafe. The team's biobattery uses a different carbohydrate as its energy source: maltodextrin, a commonly used food additive.

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