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How Much Fossil Fuel Should Be Left in the Ground?

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A new study pinpoints the type and location of fossil fuels that should remain unburned if the world is to meet its climate goal.

The planet still holds vast reserves of fossil fuel that could be extracted economically. However, according to a new analysis, a third of the world’s oil, half of its gas, and 80 percent of its coal reserves must remain unused if we are to have a good chance of avoiding potentially devastating climate change.

The study, authored by researchers at the University College of London, is the first to suggest which specific resources, and where, should be left in the ground. Importantly, it differentiates between the total amount of natural resources left in the ground and the amount of fuel it would be technologically and economically feasible to extract.

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China’s Growing Bets on GMOs

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New technology and large government research initiatives in ­genetically modified crops are giving China a storehouse for a more populous future.


How will China get enough to eat? More than 1.3 billion people live in the world’s most populous nation, and another 100 million will join them by 2030. China is already a net food importer, and people are eating more meat, putting further demands on land used to grow food. Meanwhile, climate change could cut yields of crucial crops—rice, wheat, and corn—by 13 percent over the next 35 years. Mindful of these trends, China’s government spends more than any other on research into genetically modified crops. It’s searching for varieties with higher yields and resistance to pests, disease, drought, and heat. The results are showing up in the nation’s hundreds of plant biotech labs.

 

At a test plot of transgenic soybean plants on Beijing’s outskirts, Fanyu Lin, site manager (left), stands with Caixia Gao, a leading GMO researcher and principal investigator at the State Key Laboratory of Plant Cell and Chromosome Engineering.


This soybean plant has been genetically modified in an effort to produce more and higher-quality soybean oil.


Left: At a government lab in Beijing, a technician cleans ears of corn in preparation for removing the seeds and subjecting them to genetic-modification technologies.
Right: In a tissue culture room, researcher Bing Wang works on seedlings of Arabidopsis, a fast-growing weed commonly used as a model organism by plant biotech researchers.
Bottom: This petri dish is full of nine-day-old Arabidopsis seedlings grown at 28 °C, a relatively high temperature. The goal of the experiment is to see how heat alters the plant’s hormonal behavior and growth patterns. Such experiments add to basic knowledge that can guide future approaches to GMOs, including varieties that can better withstand the hotter heat waves expected in the future.


 

 

Rows of rice seedlings in test tubes await the removal of their protoplasts, or living material in cells. It’s the first step toward systematic gene-editing experiments in pursuit of desirable traits such as high yield and disease resistance.

 


Caixia Gao shows off a strain of rice that has had genes removed so that it grows far shorter than typical rice, which can be seen to the left and right. Gao is investigating whether such diminutive rice strains devote more energy toward producing seeds—the food—and less toward leaf material.

Low Oil Prices Mean Keystone Pipeline Makes No Sense

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New exploration on the bulk of Canada’s oil sands reserves can’t start unless prices are at least $60 per barrel, economists say.

The recent dramatic plunge in oil prices threatens to make the proposed Keystone XL pipeline something of a white elephant.
The proposed pipeline, which would transport crude oil from these sands to refineries along the U.S. Gulf of Mexico, is a flashpoint in U.S. politics. The Republican-led Congress wants to build it, and the House of Representatives is set to vote on this question. President Obama has pledged a veto.
But if prices stay so low over the coming year, Canada’s vast fossil fuel resource, called tar sands or oil sands, couldn’t fetch high enough prices to be mined in the first place.
If prices stay in the low $50 range, “the necessity for Keystone XL may disappear,” says Pete Howard, the president emeritus of the Canadian Energy Research Institute in Calgary, Alberta. “We’ve got rail [transportation] right now as a safety valve, and if we build up rail capacity to carry three-quarters of a million barrels, that pretty much takes up all the projects that are under construction right now.”
Last summer, rail capacity handled 240,000 barrels daily, and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers projects that rail capacity will grow to 700,000 barrels per day by 2016.
Oil prices today stand around $50 a barrel, a plunge of more than 50 percent since last summer due to a glut of production, including from the United States. Saudi Arabia’s recent decision to not scale back production has also softened demand.
Canada holds the world’s largest known reserves of bitumen, a tar-like form of petroleum, in underground sands in the province of Alberta. Recovering this oil is done in two basic ways: washing the sands with hot water and chemicals, or injecting steam through horizontal shafts underground. Both processes are more costly than traditional oil drilling, and emit more greenhouse gases (see “Canada’s Oil Sands on the Verge of a Boom Again”).
Right now there are at least 20 oil sands projects under construction in Alberta that are due to come online between now and the end of 2017. Regardless of oil prices, they will be finished because much of the capital expenditure is already sunk. However, Howard adds, “by this time next year, if the oil price hasn’t moved back upwards, the next stream of projects will start to be delayed.”
Last year, a London-based think tank, Carbon Tracker Initiative, issued a report carrying even more conservative predictions. It said oil prices would need to be at $95 per barrel or higher for 92 percent of Canada’s tar sands production to make economic sense.
That would leave much of the resource untouched. Even when existing construction projects come online, Alberta will produce around a million barrels per day. Canada is estimated to have the capacity to produce six million barrels, if fully developed.
Temporary dips in oil prices are no big deal because investment decisions involve long time horizons. Conventional tar sands mining projects have 40 or more years of lifetime; steam-assisted projects last 30 years. To make economic sense over the long term, the former requires an average cost of $85 a barrel; the latter, $60 or more a barrel.
President Obama has said he would approve the pipeline only if it did not “significantly exacerbate” climate change. A State Department study concluded Keystone would probably have no such impact because the oil would be mined anyway.

SpaceX Claims Partial Success with Rocket Crash Landing

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Success would redefine the economics of space travel, but SpaceX’s reusable rocket shows that it’s still hard to perform a safe landing.The Falcon 9 rocket launches from Cape Canaveral, Florida, carrying a payload destined for the International Space Station.


 

As if launching a rocket into space weren’t enough, on Saturday SpaceX tried to bring one safely back to earth by setting it down on a floating landing pad.

The effort failed, with the rocket crashing into its target. Even so, Elon Musk, the billionaire founder of SpaceX, claimed that the attempt brings the company a step closer to developing a fully reusable launch vehicle—something that could revolutionize the space industry by making launches a lot cheaper.

The Falcon 9 launch vehicle took off successfully early on Saturday morning, sending a capsule off to resupply the International Space Station. The first stage of the vehicle was designed to return to the ground—in this case a heavily modified ship at sea—and land softly using special thrusters.

Musk announced the failed landing on Twitter. “Rocket made it to drone spaceport ship, but landed hard,” he said. “Close, but no cigar this time. Bodes well for the future tho.”

Some equipment on the so-called spaceport ship suffered damage as a result of the hard landing. “Ship itself is fine,” Musk wrote. “Some of the support equipment on the deck will need to be replaced.”

It’s unclear how the failure may affect SpaceX’s timeline for developing such a capability. Before the attempted landing, Musk said there was a 50-50 chance of success.

After releasing the second stage, the boosters of the Falcon 9 first stage oriented the 14-story-tall rocket vertically as it sank back down to earth and controlled its descent. Sticking the landing is tricky because the rocket’s speed must be controlled carefully, and the correct orientation requires very fine control of the vehicle’s thrusters, as well as several hydraulic fins.

Returning a vehicle to the ground this way is not a new idea. The Russian Soyuz space capsule lands on Earth using retro-rockets, as do many space exploration vehicles landing on other celestial bodies. However, it remains an extremely difficult engineering feat, especially with such a large object.

Musk blamed the hard landing on a failure of the four “grid” fins used to steer the first stage on its descent. “Grid fins worked extremely well from hypersonic velocity to subsonic, but ran out of hydraulic fluid right before landing,” he wrote in another tweet.

This is why most previous attempts at reusable launchers have taken the form of space planes like the Space Shuttle or the Air Force’s semi-secret X-37. These vehicles are very complex and expensive. Some rockets have been designed to be recovered via parachute. While this is cheap and reliable, it also takes a long time to recover and recondition the rocket for another launch.

A normal Falcon launch costs roughly $65 million to $70 million—which is already about half the cost of competing services—but that price could drop to between $30 million $40 million, Caceres estimates, if SpaceX can learn to land the launch vehicle.

How many times the Falcon 9 could be reused is not known. It is highly unlikely that a Falcon 9 could be reused 10 times or more.

That would be especially true if SpaceX were to make a completely reusable launch vehicle. Right now, only the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket is designed to be reusable. SpaceX hopes to eventually develop a reusable second stage booster, too.

Can GM Go from Volt to Bolt?

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GM revealed a concept all-electric hatchback today that it claims has a 200-mile range.

 

GM says it plans to start selling the Chevy Bolt in 2017.


 

GM today unveiled an all-electric concept car, called the Bolt, which it says will have a 200-mile range. That’s comparable to the range of Tesla’s electric luxury cars, but the Bolt will cost around $30,000 (while a Tesla will sell for between $70,000 and $94,000).

The Bolt, a compact hatchback, will be launched in 2017, GM says, making it a competitor to a mid-priced, mass market car that Tesla is working on. Electric cars could be a lot more attractive to consumers if they could travel as far as gasoline vehicles can travel between refueling.

GM would not discuss anything about the battery design or chemistry that would allow the Bolt to reach a 200-mile range. Success will mean either developing an entirely new battery technology, or—more likely—greatly lowering the cost of lithium-ion batteries. LG Chem, which supplies lithium-ion batteries for GM’s existing electric-gas hybrid car, the Volt, has previously announced that it plans to supply batteries for cars with a 200-mile range.

GM started trying to develop a 200-mile range electric car in 2012, about the time it licensed what had seemed to be breakthrough technology based on research at Argonne National Laboratory. Soon after, however, that technology was shown to have a fatal flaw.

Tesla Motors predicts it will be able to deliver a 200-mile range, $35,000 car by 2017, in large part by scaling up production of existing battery technology.

GM also unveiled a second-generation Chevrolet Volt at the Detroit Motor Show today. The new model has a battery-only range of 50 miles instead of 38 miles in the same-size battery pack as the previous model of the Volt (the electric range is shorter than other electric cars because it’s designed to use a gasoline engine for longer trips).

The improvements to the Volt’s battery provide clues about how GM might lower the cost of lithium-ion battery technology. A GM executive says the Volt will benefit from tweaks to battery pack design and the underlying lithium-ion cell design and chemistry. The range has also been boosted by allowing owners to discharge the battery more fully between recharges.

The new Volt’s battery pack incorporates cells made by LG Chem in a factory that was, until recently, idle in Michigan (see “Too Many Battery Factories, Too Few Electric Cars”). The pack includes fewer, but larger, individual cells, and can store 18.4 kilowatt-hours of electricity, up from 17.1 kilowatt-hours. The Volt also has more horsepower, because the battery pack can discharge power at 120 kilowatts, up from 110 kilowatts.

The Volt has another new feature that contributes to the overall efficiency gain: two electric drive motors. One motor is optimized for lower speeds, such as city driving. The second motor can help at higher speeds, and for quick acceleration.

But sales of the Volt, which GM introduced in 2010, have been lower than GM projected. To date, total U.S. sales are above 73,000, but 2014 sales were 18,805, a drop of 18.6 percent from 2013. The Nissan Leaf all-electric did far better, with sales of 30,200 cars last year in the United States, up 33.6 percent from 2013. The second-generation Volt, considered a 2016 model, won’t be available until the middle of this year. Pricing has not been announced.

Beyoncé Pregnant With Baby No. 2?! See Her Cryptic Beach “Bump” Photo

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Beyoncé, what did you just do? Could it be? Is she…
On Sunday, the 33-year-old pop star posted a cryptic photo on her Instagram page that suggests that she may be pregnant with baby No. 2! The picture shows Queen Bey lying on a sandy beach, with sand covering her up to her neck and displaying what appears to be a giant baby bump.
No caption was provided and it’s unclear when the photo was taken. She and husband Jay Z, 45, have not commented.
The two are parents to daughter Blue Ivy, who just turned 3, and recently vacationed in Cambodia (see pic below) and Thailand.

Bey had said in 2013, in an interview with ABC News, that she “would like more children,” adding that she thinks Blue Ivy “needs some company.”
A year ago, she told Anderson Cooper that motherhood “just gives you purpose,” adding, “I realized why I was born and, more than anything, all of the things I want to pass onto my child and the best way of doing that is not by preaching or telling her but showing her by example.”
Bey and Jay tied the knot in April 2008 after about six years of dating. When Beyoncé was pregnant with their little girl, she had revealed her first pregnancy on stage at the 2011 MTV Video Music Awards.
The picture was posted hours before another award ceremony, the 2015 Golden Globes in Los Angeles. The two are not expected to attend.

Meet Conchita Wurst, aka the Woman Who Worked a Serious Beard During the Golden Globes Red Carpet

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Forget about the gowns and all the fabulous bling. Let’s talk about the facial hair!
Heads definitely turned when Conchita Wurst stepped onto the 2015 Golden Globes red carpet in a forest green gown.
But while the dress is what most viewers tend to look at during award shows, our eyes went straight to her face that just so happened to have a beard.
“Always try to see behind the curtain,” she tweeted Sunday morning.
So who is this woman making a serious statement on the carpet?

As it turns out, she is a successful Austrian singer and artist who has over 870,000 fans on Facebook.
Behind the beard, Wurst really wanted to share an important message with her fans and followers.
“The Golden Globes are an event that brings the glamour of Hollywood into living rooms across the planet,” she wrote on her social media sites. “But let’s not forget the events like this are also a strong showcase of the diversity and seriousness in entertainment as an art form.”
She added, “Recent events in Europe have shown that freedom is speech is under attack. Let’s unite and keep on with our unstoppable fight for peace and freedom—and freedom of expression.”

Billy Bob Thornton Says His ”Lifelong Goal” Is to Sleep With Jennifer Aniston

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You’d think Billy Bob Thornton would’ve taken his own advice last night after his hilarious, yet brief, Golden Globes acceptance speech—but apparently not!
The actor, who took home the award for his work in Fargo stopped by Access Hollywood’s backstage show and played a rather rousing game of Would You Rather with the co-hosts. You know, just like Tina Fey and Amy Poehler did on stage during their ridiculously funny opener…

Between Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston, Thornton didn’t hesitate one bit before he blurted out, “Jennifer Aniston, lifelong goal. That’s all I’m saying.'” Well, then!
Next up on the interview was a choice between Bill Murray and Christoph Waltz, to which Thornton replied, “I don’t even know what the second one is, so Bill Murray.

But the antics didn’t end there! The actor was asked “Keira Knightley or Jennifer Aniston,” and well, you can guess who he picked.
“Jennifer Aniston. How many times does it take you to get this through your head?!”
Just moments before the candid interview, Thornton was on stage at the Beverly Hilton Hotel accepting the Globe for Best Actor in a TV Series, Drama where he told the audience that his words have a history of being twisted.
“These days you can get in a lot of trouble no matter what you say, you know what I mean?” he told the A-list audience.
“You can say anything in the world and get in trouble. I know this for a fact. So I’m just going to say thank you!”

Leonardo DiCaprio and Rihanna Get Flirty at Playboy Mansion Party—How Hot and Heavy Did Things Get?!

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Well, it’s no big secret that Leonardo DiCaprio is a fan of beautiful women, so this shouldn’t come as a huge shock.
A-list actor (and his beard) was getting up close and personal with none other than Barbados beauty Rihanna during a pal’s birthday party at the Playboy Mansion over the weekend—but just how hot and heavy did things get?! Not as steamy as you’d probably like (you dirty dog, you).”No one was making out. They are just friends. That’s it,” a source who was also at the party.

“There was a big group dancing. Tom Hardy, Naomi Campbell and a bunch of other people. Everyone was having a good time together. Maybe a little bit of friendly flirting but no scandal here.”

Leo and RiRi were spotted smooching during the party (but that could be considered “friendly flirting,” too, right?).

The star-studded event on Saturday was to celebrate designer Nikki Erwin’s 30th birthday, whose boyfriend is Leo’s good pal, Chuck Pacheco, producer of films Alpha Dogs and My Sister’s Keeper.
Celebs like Paris Hilton, Hilary Duff, 50 Cent, Pamela Anderson and Tobey Maguire were also at the party.
DiCaprio was recently in the midst of breakup speculation after being spotted without his supermodel girlfriend Toni Garrn on numerous occasions, causing fans to assume that they’ve broken up for good. Another clue that their romance might has fizzled is that the blond model was not at DiCaprio’s 40th birthday party in November.
Well, it looks like the newly single star is in good (and gorgeous) company.

Kim, Khloé and Kourtney Kardashian Making First-Ever Visit to Armenia: Get the Details!

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The Kardashian sisters have taken over half the globe to date. Next stop: Armenia.
Khloé Kardashian, Kim Kardashian and Kourtney Kardashian are planning to travel to their paternal ancestral homeland in April, E! News has exclusively learned.
The specifics are still being worked out for their family milestone journey, but Kim is set to take daughter North West with her, while Kourtney will be traveling with kids Mason, Penelope and Reign as well. Several cousins are also expected to be along for the continent-crossing ride.
Kim’s hubby, Kanye West, will make the trip if his upcoming touring schedule allows.

“Visiting Armenia has been on Kim’s bucket list forever,” a family insider tells us. “They are all so excited! They want to learn about their heritage.”


The Kardashian sisters’ late father, Robert Kardashian, was born to Armenian-American parents and his great-grandparents were ethnic Armenian immigrants from a part of Turkey that at the time belonged to the Russian Empire (which toppled in 1917).


The sisters have always culturally identified with their Armenian roots, annually paying tribute to victims of the Armenian Genocide, which occurred in what is now modern-day Turkey, and otherwise proudly recognizing their heritage. Kim has also spoken out about the plight of Syrian Armenians caught up in the ongoing civil war in Syria.
In 2011, when Kim landed on the cover of Turkish Cosmopolitan, she was upset that the magazine put out the issue at a time that coincided with the global Genocide Remembrance Day, April 24, reusing the same cover shot that had been used for the inaugural issue of Armenian Cosmopolitan the previous month.

“Cosmopolitan Magazine has a number of international editions all around the world that run in various territories, and when I did this shoot for the international covers I had no idea that Turkey was planning to run my story on their cover THIS month, considering Genocide Remembrance Day is this month,” Kim said at the time.
“My Armenian heritage means a lot to me and I’ve been brought up to be incredibly proud of my family’s background and culture so as an Armenian-American woman it is a huge honor for me to be on the first ever Armenian Cosmopolitan cover.”
Bon voyage, Kardashian fam—we can’t wait to see the pics!