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No more masks! No more mandates!

Let everyone know you are done with fascism. Stand up for your freedoms. Don’t let the New York “freedom pass” spread. If you don’t stand up now, it’s going to be too late. Get your message across with this new T-Shirt now available in my Etsy shop. While you are there, check out my “Don’t Be Afraid of Climate Change” shirt.

No masks
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Cyber Attacks on Oil and Gas Are Not New

If you are like me, the attack on the pipeline that caused so much havoc in the Eastern U.S. came as a complete surprise. What I did not know was that this is nothing new. Saudi Aramco has gone through this at least several times that we know of. Check out this interesting read from SHALE Magazine:

Saudi Aramco, the oil mogul of Saudi Arabia, confirmed the high probability that one of its contractors was responsible for leaking company data-centered in a cyber-extortion plot involving a hefty $50 million ransom. Keeping the contractor’s name private for now, the company informed the Associated Press they recently identified a limited quantity of data held by contractors and released without permission. Saudi Aramco has also maintained a level of secrecy regarding the incident and has not revealed if the source of compromise resulted from hacking.

“We confirm that the release of data was not due to a breach of our systems, has no impact on our operations, and the company continues to maintain a robust cybersecurity posture,” said Aramco.

Threat Identified

Taking credit for the attack, ZeroX claims to have hacked and stolen data from Aramco’s network and its servers. Offering the sale of the information on the Darknet, the threat group, as well as Aramco, told BleepingComputer the attack was not of a ransomware nature.

The $50 million prospective data sale includes valuable information associated with Aramco’s refineries, personal information pertaining to approximately 14,000 employees, system specifications, price sheets, and internal analysis information. Additionally, IP address security has been compromised along with crucial Wi-Fi data. ZeroX informed BleepingComputer the group is currently in negotiations to sell the data to five potential buyers.

Prior Attacks

Saudi Aramco is no stranger to cyber threats and attacks. The infamous 2012 Shamoon malware attack proved staggering in effect and contaminated every computer found at the oil company. Hard drives were deleted, and the finishing touch included the burning of the American flag on computer screens. As a result, the company was forced to destroy over 30,000 computers and shut down its network. 

A joint venture, known as Sadara, between Aramco and Michigan-centered Dow Chemical Company found itself under attack in 2017. Computers were disrupted, which officials at the time predicted as another version of Shamoon. Lastly, 2018 brought havoc again when a Shamoon malware variant once again entered the arena. 

Remaining on Top

Much can be said involving Aramco’s business model after surviving the string of cyberattacks and yet still steaming ahead. Even with this latest attack, Aramco still reigns as a significant player in the global oil market. After trading ceased for Eid al-Adha, a Muslim holiday, the portion of Aramco that trades on Riyadh’s Tadawul stock exchange found itself at $9.30 a share. While that might sound subpar, the company is stickered with a value of $1.8 trillion, solidifying it as one of the most valued in the world.

Nick Vaccaro is a freelance writer and photographer. Besides providing technical writing services, he is an HSE consultant in the oil and gas industry with eight years of experience. He also contributes to Louisiana Sportsman Magazine and follows and photographs American Kennel Club field and herding trials. Nick has a BA in Photojournalism from Loyola University and resides in the New Orleans area. 210-240-7188

Elon Musk Leaves California
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Elon Musk Leaves California by Melissa Nichols

The second wealthiest man in the world, Elon Musk, has moved from California to Texas. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, he cited California taking “innovators for granted” as one of the main move factors. Tesla still has its headquarters in California, but a new facility is being built in Austin, Texas

“Fascist” lockdowns

Musk had threatened to move the Tesla headquarters out of California back in May when he could not open one of his facilities there. In the same interview, Musk told the Wall Street Journal that living in California “wasn’t the best use of my time.” And, California is even now under a new lockdown order that went into effect over the weekend. Residents are to stay at home for at least three weeks. Back in May, during the original lockdowns, Elon Musk called the mandates “fascist,” and he said California was “forcefully imprisoning people in their homes.”

More on their way out than in

After his comments, Democrat San Diego California State Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez eloquently defended California’s mandates with the tweet reading, “F*ck Elon Musk.” That attitude, along with California policy, is probably why the state has been losing 100,000 residents to other states every year for the last 15 years

Not good for business

California has one of the country’s highest personal income tax rates at 13.3%. Taxes and the “greenmail,” the environmental hoops businesses have to navigate and pay for to do business there, are two of the main reasons for the mass exodus to Texas for many California businesses. Of California, Musk said, “There used to be over a dozen car plants in California. And California used to be the center of aerospace manufacturing. My companies (Tesla and SpaceX) are the last two left.” And they may not remain headquartered there for long.

Originally published on

Mitsubishi Power: Hydrogen is the Future
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Mitsubishi Power: Hydrogen is the Future by Melissa Nichols

I attended a virtual fireside chat hosted by Mona Dajani, Global Head of Energy and Infrastructure Finance Group Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP. The speaker was Paul Browning, President of Mitsubishi Power Americas, Inc. The chat title was Energy Transition, a topic we hear more about every day. But, even though it is a subject much debated in the political arena, Mr. Browning doesn’t feel politics has as much of an effect on the transition of energy away from fossil fuels as we think. 

For once, it isn’t about politics

America has lowered carbon emissions by 40% over the last 20 years, and Mr. Browning believes that achievement had very little to do with who is in the White House. Technology and markets, primarily replacing coal with natural gas, have driven the dramatic drop in emissions. They started dropping with President Bush, and they have continued through to President Trump. And, as long as technology is allowed to develop and markets are allowed to run naturally, emissions will continue to go down until we reach that elusive net-zero goal. 

But how do we reach that goal? Is it even attainable? According to Mitsubishi Powers’ message, it is most likely not completely attainable, but we can get close with their help. Their message states: Creating a future that works for people and the planet by developing innovative power generation technology and solutions.

Hydrogen is the future

That power, according to Mr. Browning, is hydrogen. Hydrogen makes up three-quarters of the mass of the universe, making it the most abundant element. It produces only water when burned, and its uses are many and varied. It can be used to create everything from electricity, chemicals, food, electronics to fertilizer. 

At this time, Mitsubishi Powers does not see hydrogen as a fuel. Natural gas has no immediate competitors in that area, at least not yet. Right now, hydrogen’s power is in storage. It may become a fuel in the future after more advances in technology. They want entirely hydrogen-powered plants, but for now, they are working on the development of hydaptive plants. These are plants built to use natural gas at the onset but are capable of transitioning to all hydrogen over the course of their lifetime. 

The chicken and the egg

The main problem with the development of more hydrogen use is one of infrastructure. This is a problem also preventing widening the use of renewables. The hydrogen is going to need massive amounts of pipelines to get it where it needs to be. Some areas, such as Utah, are already equipped to move forward with hydrogen because of the massive underground areas ready to store it. But elsewhere, Mitsubishi is waiting for hydrogen demand to develop before building the underground hydrogen storage needed. But, for demand to develop, there has to be storage available to make it a viable investment. Mr. Browning implied that once this chicken and the egg problem is resolved, hydrogen will bring about the carbon-free future so many people want. 

Originally published on

Nuclear Power Plants - A Matter of National Security
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Nuclear Power Plants – A Matter of National Security by Melissa Nichols

As a nation, we are quickly losing our ability to produce domestic uranium for the fabrication of nuclear fuel. State-owned enterprises, most disturbingly those in Russia and China, are on track to surpass the United States as a world leader in nuclear energy. It would be oxymoronic to gain energy independence with fossil fuels only to become dependent on other nations for nuclear fuels. 

Early Retirement

The next ten years could see the United States lose more than 10% of its nuclear capacity. Since 2013, the nation has lost ten nuclear power plants to premature shutdowns. Another seven nuclear power plants are scheduled to be forced into early retirement. Nuclear power creates 55% of America’s clean energy. Why environmentalist groups are so deadset against them is mind boggling.

President Trump realizes the importance of complete energy independence to national security. That is why the United States Nuclear Fuel Working Group established by the President in his July 12, 2019, Memorandum on the Effect of Uranium Imports on the National Security and Establishment of the United States Nuclear Fuel Working Group was created.

New Nuclear Power Plant Technology

The United States Department of Energy (DOE) is working closely with the Nuclear Fuel Working Group and other organizations to promote the growth and development of new nuclear power technology. It has selected two innovative U.S. reactor designs to be awarded $160 million for testing, licensing and building their designs. The plants should be operational within seven years. Over those seven years, the DOE will invest another $3.2 billion.

TerraPower LLC, with GE-Hitachi, Bechtel and Energy Northwest, will develop Natrium, a sodium-cooled fast reactor that leverages technologies used in solar thermal generation systems. “Natrium couples a 345-megawatt electric (MWe) nuclear reactor with a molten salt energy storage system that can flexibly operate with renewable power sources. The simplified design and decoupling of nuclear and non-nuclear systems allow for expedited licensing and construction. The team expects to reduce the amount of nuclear-grade concrete required for the plant by 80% compared to traditional large-scale reactors.”

X-Energy, with Energy Northwest and Burns and McDonnell, is developing the Xe-100 reactor and a specialized uranium-based pebble fuel. “The team will demonstrate a four-unit, 320 MWe plant that uses high-temperature helium gas to produce heat and electricity more efficiently. It leverages previously DOE-supported high-temperature gas technologies and uses the most robust nuclear fuel on earth, TRISO particles. Each 80 MWe reactor continuously refuels, meaning it can operate for a very long time before needing maintenance that might normally be done during refueling outages. The major components will also be factory-fabricated, making the plant faster and cheaper to build.”

The DOE will also provide an additional $30 million to help reduce the risk of as many as five more advanced reactor designs. They will announce who will be receiving these funds later in the fiscal year.

Originally published on

Green: Step by Step
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Green: Step by Step by Melissa Nichols

Many of the largest oil companies, primarily those in Europe, seem to be competing for bragging rights. BP, Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron and Total are the most vociferous of the bunch so far. I’ve already outlined BP’s plans for themselves and the world. If you would like to read about the recent BP Week, click here.

How to get green “step” by “step”

In April, Shell announced its steps for becoming net-zero by 2050. Without delving into their detailed report, those steps are as follows:

  • An ambition to be net-zero on all the emissions from the manufacture of all our products by 2050 at the latest
  • Accelerating Shell’s Net Carbon Footprint ambition to be in step with society’s aim to limit the average temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius in line with the Paris Agreement’s goals on Climate Change. This means reducing the Net Carbon Footprint of the energy products Shell sells to its customers by around 65% by 2050 (increased from about 50%), and by about 30% by 2035 (increased from about 20%)
  • A pivot towards serving businesses and sectors that by 2050 are also net-zero emissions

To me, these seem more like goals than steps. Perhaps in the detailed report they reveal the actual steps. But if it is anything like political campaigns, goals and steps are rather fluid terms.

Chevron announced on their website what they are doing now to go green:

  • $100MM pledged to the OGCI Climate Investment fund
  • $1B in carbon capture and storage project investments in Australia and Canada
  • $100MM committed to Chevron Technology Ventures to set up the Future Energy Fund launched in 2018
  • 85% reduction of methane emissions from Chevron’s U.S. onshore production operations since 2013

Total also announced their “steps” for the future. For those who have not heard of it, Total Energy is a major energy player, which produces and markets fuels, natural gas, and low-carbon electricity. The steps they have laid out are:

  • Net Zero across Total’s worldwide operations by 2050 or sooner
  • Net Zero across all its production and energy products used by its customers in Europe  by 2050 or sooner
  • 60% or more reduction in the average carbon intensity of energy products used worldwide by Total customers by 2050 – with intermediate steps of 15% by 2030 and 35% by 2040

Say what you mean and mean what you say

Again, these aren’t steps so much as goals. But are they attainable goals, and are they goals that can be taken at face value? A website called Inside Climate News answers at least the second question. “But many of the pledges are misleading and misrepresent how much the oil giants are changing,” the article says. “Most glaring is that none of the companies has committed to cut its oil and gas output over the next decade, the simplest and most reliable way — one might say the only way — to cut emissions, and a must if the world is to avoid dangerous warming. In fact, the stated net-zero ‘ambitions,’ as the companies generally call them, do not require that greenhouse gas emissions fall to zero at all. They rely instead either partly or largely on capturing or canceling out these emissions with unproven technologies and reforestation at a questionable scale.”

I both agree and disagree with the Inside Climate News writer’s ire. These companies are already not trusted by many simply because they are large companies and by others simply because they are fossil fuel companies. They aren’t going to win points from either group by using wordplay. If they mean net-zero via carbon capture, they need to man-up and come out and say so. 

I also disagree because it is illogical even to pretend to think that fossil fuel companies, large or otherwise, can just turn off the tap and have everyone continue to live the lives they have grown accustomed to. We can rely more on green energy, sure, but on a small scale. California is proving that point for us. What they can’t get from renewables, they get from Russia and neighboring states. Plus, planes don’t run on peddle-power. No matter the size of your hamster wheel, it’s going to take some jet fuel to get a plane off the ground. For renewables to be viable, they MUST work hand-in-hand with fossil fuels. They wouldn’t even exist without fossil fuels to create them. No, turning off the fossil-fuel tap isn’t the answer, and neither is the large oil companies’ green chest-beating. We need plain talk and common sense, and we need it now more than ever.

Originally published on

Enough Plutonium to Send us all Back to the Future
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Enough Plutonium to Send Us All Back to the Future by Melissa Nichols

Secretary of Energy Brouillette and South Carolina officials announced an agreement between the current administration and the state of South Carolina. This agreement has been a long time coming.

“The Trump Administration is committed to tackling our nation’s toughest challenges where previous Administrations have failed, including the removal and disposal of Cold War era plutonium from the State of South Carolina,” said Secretary Brouillette. “Today’s announcement is a promise to the people of South Carolina that plutonium will be removed safely from this state while saving the American taxpayers over $1 billion. I thank Attorney General Wilson, Governor McMaster, and other South Carolina leaders who have been strong partners with DOE to get us to this day. This historic agreement could not have been possible without the leadership and support of President Trump and Attorney General Barr. This is a good day for South Carolina.”

Behind schedule and over-budget

It started with the ending of the Cold War. The U.S. Department of Energy needed a place to send now unwanted weapons-grade plutonium. The idea was to send it to South Carolina and have it modified for use in nuclear power plants. A facility would have to be built called a mixed oxide fuel fabrication facility (MOX). In 2002, because the facility was not yet completed, legislation was passed to assure either the removal of the plutonium or the completion of the facility by a specific date or reparations would have to be paid to the state.

In 2018 former-secretary Perry and the Trump administration decided to terminate the construction of the facility. By that time, it was $13 billion over budget and 32 years behind schedule. Even for a government program, that seems pretty bad. 

South Carolina has been trying to be rid of the plutonium for years

South Carolina had seen the writing on the wall, and back during the Obama administration, they sued the DOE for not adhering to the 2002 legislation. It is only now, in 2020, that an agreement has at last been reached. 

The DOE had a deadline of January 1, 2022, to remove the 9.5 metric tons of plutonium stored at the Savanna River site. The decision was made to use the “dilute and dispose” method to get rid of the plutonium. Unfortunately, this safe and effective method is extremely time-consuming. The DOE would not be making that 2022 deadline. With the chosen method, removal would be complete sometime in 2049. That’s only 27 years behind schedule. Really, considering the original project was 32 years behind schedule, it’s an improvement. Fortunately, the new agreement reached at the end of August extends the DOE’s window of removal. The new deadline is 2037, putting them just 12 years behind schedule. Impressive. The agreement also calls for $600 million to be paid to South Carolina upfront. In 2037, the DOE will pay a percentage of late fees based on how much plutonium is left in the state by that time.  

Next stop, New Mexico

Much of the plutonium will travel to New Mexico, and it will undergo the “dilute and dispose” method there. Some of the plutonium, around half a metric ton, was shipped to Nevada sometime before 2018, without any officials in Nevada being made aware. But that is another story. You can read more about it here.

Originally published on

California Blackouts: There is no Easy Answer
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California Blackouts: There is no Easy Answer by Melissa Nichols

California used to be right up there with Texas when it came to fossil fuel production. But for nearly forty years, California’s production has steadily declined. From 1982 – 2017, their dry natural gas production fell 46%. But their need for it has not followed suit. Now, their production output equals only one-tenth of the state’s demand. 

This isn’t their fault

They are leaning more and more heavily on renewable energy sources: wind and solar. With the closing of many of their natural gas and nuclear plants, their electricity needs not coming from renewables come from neighboring states. This out-of-state supply is what Californian energy officials blame for the electricity shortages. In a letter to Governor Newsome, they point out that heatwaves don’t stop at the state border. Their neighbors are also feeling the heat, and therefore need more electricity for themselves, and so have less excess electricity to sell.   

The letter does have a definite finger-pointing feel. Instead, those officials might want to follow those states’ footsteps and learn to make so much power they have extra. And they do claim California needs to produce more energy – but they feel it needs to produce more renewable energy and to invest in more batteries. 

California: Between a rock and a hard place

The government there seems to have backed the state into an area between a rock and a hard place. In order to produce more renewable energy, they need hundreds of square miles, if not more, on which to build turbines and solar panels. And they need to invest heavily in creating more infrastructure. Batteries aren’t cheap, either. That’s quite an investment for a state not known for investing wisely. 

It would be less expensive to return to natural gas and nuclear power. But the heatwaves they are experiencing could be difficult for even these reliables. Nuclear power plants need cool water running through the plant, and high temperatures beget warm water. Nuclear plants would have to reduce production without enough cool water. In the same vein, high heat has been known to lower natural-gas power plants’ efficiency. What’s a state to do?

An idea might be to allow exploration of the Monterey shale formation. Located in central and southern California, it could be bigger than even the Eagle Ford in Texas, or it could hold almost nothing at all. Estimates, even within the same company, range from one end of the spectrum to the other. But, we may never know who is right about the Monterey reserves. Gaining oil and natural gas permits in California is no easy feat. Even when power plants have to reduce production, a shortage is less likely if there are enough of them.

Cars need power, too

Solar and wind power are used primarily for producing electricity. The state still needs to keep moving, and it is still running on fossil fuel. As of 2017, California had 337,483 electric vehicles (EVs). In 2018, there were 14,762,517 fossil-fuel run vehicles in the state. That’s a lot of gas and diesel.

Roughly 60% of California’s crude oil comes from foreign sources. (Only twenty years ago that that number was 15%.) The countries providing this oil do not have or adhere to the Environmental Protection Agency’s standards for American companies. And this oil arrives at the state on large ships that burn significant quantities of fuel and are more likely to have an accident or spill than a pipeline. But, since pipelines are frowned upon, shipping is the only option. 

What can the state do now? They can’t afford to move forward with their renewable plan, and they refuse to move back to the reliability of nuclear and natural gas. Until the Californian government can come to a decision, its citizens will continue to sit in the dark.

Originally published on

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Nuclear Fusion: What You Don’t Know, But Should by Melissa Nichols

Nuclear Fusion: What You Don’t Know, But Should

Nuclear fusion can knock nuclear fission out of the water, literally. And not only nuclear-fission power, it could erase the need for fossil fuels and renewables. Why aren’t we hearing more about it? I don’t want to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but it might have something to do with fossil fuels and renewables being big business. Let’s not let business stand between us and nearly unlimited energy created with less waste and impact than even traditional nuclear power.

Something old, something new

The theory behind nuclear power is old. It begins in the 1700s with the discovery that matter can never be created or destroyed; it can only change form. In the 1800s, the same was discovered of energy. It cannot be created or destroyed, only change form. Then came Einstein and his E=mc2, which means, generally, that matter and energy are interchangeable. (Click to hear Einstein himself explain the theory.) It was then only a matter of time before the discovery that changing matter to energy created MUCH more energy than the other way around.

Nuclear fusion is the same process powering the sun. According to Merrium-Webster, it is the fusing of two atomic nuclei to form a heavier nuclei, resulting in the release of an enormous amount of energy. Its opposite of nuclear fission, which is widely used today. Fission is the process of splitting atoms. This splitting releases heat energy that is in turn used to heat water and ultimately to create electricity.

Sitcoms aren’t science

Contrary to popular belief, the nuclear reactors we use now create very little radioactive material. The rods needed for the process can be handled with gloves, and they can be used for five years. The nuclear waste that comes from a reactor isn’t the green sludge seen on The Simpsons. It’s used rods that are buried with little to no environmental impact, not unlike the burial of CO2 in the carbon capture process. Nuclear fusion, however, creates even less waste than this.

Renewable but finite

The amount of energy from nuclear reactions, either fusion or fission, is astronomical compared to the finite energy sources we have today. Renewable energy is limited by more than how many sunny or windy days there are. It is limited because it is based on the kinetic flows of matter in nature. Water, wind and solar have a cap on the amount of energy they are capable of producing; this is why they take up so much land. Hydro-power dams fill entire valleys with water. Wind is less substantial than water, so it eats up even more land. Solar power has the same problem as wind – lots of space is needed for creating small amounts of energy. Fossil fuels can create large amounts of energy, but the earth is said to hold a finite supply. 

Nuclear fusion funding

In 1980, Congress passed the Magnetic Fusion Energy Engineering Act, and it was signed by President Carter. The goal was to have demo fusion reactors online by 1995, and functioning reactors providing energy to the grid by 2005. Mysteriously, it never received the funding it needed.

Hope for the future

There is hope. If you are like me, you never heard about the nuclear fusion reactor being built in the south of France. Thirty-three countries have come together to get it built. As of summer 2019, it was 65% complete. It has a target date of 2025 for being turned on. But don’t get too excited, according to a spokesperson for the project, it will take an additional ten years before the reactor is fully functioning. But, considering it will be able to supply more power with the least amount of waste and impact on the environment than any other energy source in history, it will be worth the wait. 

(Originally published on

Melissa Nichols is the author and illustrator of the children’s book to help parents and children dispel the fears causing widespread climate anxiety and depression. “Don’t Be Afraid of Climate Change” is available on Amazon. Click here to read more about it. 

Blog Writing

National Ocean Month: 6 Things You Don’t Know About the Ocean by Melissa Nichols

The news is full to overflowing these days, so you may not have heard that June is National Ocean Month. But the ocean is something we cannot afford to forget about. There are 372,000 miles of coastline in the world, and around 2.4 billion people, around ⅓  of the earth’s population, live within 60 miles of an oceanic coast. But even with the immensity of the oceans, over one billion people do not have access to clean, fresh water. Only 3% of the world’s water is fresh, and ⅔ of that is frozen. The Department of Energy (DOE) and the Water Power Technology Office (WPTO) are working to solve this problem, but first let’s look at why our oceans deserve our attention.

Six things you might not know about our oceans:

  1. They produce over half of the world’s oxygen and absorb 50 times more carbon dioxide than the atmosphere.
  2. Oceans regulate the climate by transporting heat from the equator to the poles. 
  3. Seventy-six percent of all U.S. trade involves some form of marine transportation.
  4. The U.S. ocean economy produces $282 billion in goods and services, and ocean-dependent businesses employ almost three million people.
  5. They provide 80% of the fish we consume, plus ingredients for countless other food products.
  6. They provide  ingredients for medicines that help fight cancer, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, and heart disease.

Waves to Water

Even while providing all of the above, the ocean might also be able to provide the world’s citizens with something even more valuable: fresh drinking water. As mentioned above, the DOE and the WPTO have partnered to launch the Waves to Water Challenge. This challenge has five stages that span three years and offers a total of $3.3 million in cash prizes. The goal: to develop a small desalination system using the power of the waves for creating clean drinking water. Desalination is the process of removing dissolved salts and other minerals making water usable for drinking, irrigation, and industrial use.

  • Stage One: Concept: Propose a wave powered system – now closed
  • Stage Two: Design: Develop a detailed plan and model – now closed
  • Stage Three: Adapt: Design for testing: June 8, 2020 – Nov. 30, 2020
  • Stage Four: Create: Demonstrate working principles: Jan. 2021 – July 2021
  • Stage Five: Drink: Test and demonstrate in the ocean: Sept. 2021 – Spring 2022 

This is worth watching

Twenty stage one winners were announced last November. Each received a $10,000 prize for continued research. On the DOE website, each of the winning stage one teams has a two minute video detailing their concept. It’s hard not to watch them all. The ideas are very clever and vary widely. If you would like to see them click here.

On June 8, seventeen stage two winners were announced, and stage three was opened. It is not necessary to win a stage to move on to the next. Anyone with ideas is free to enter any stage still open. 

National Ocean Month

There are other prizes and contests offered during this year’s National Ocean Month. They range from finding ways to clear the ocean of plastic waste to using the ocean as a new source of renewable energy. Click on the DOE’s website for more information. 

Originally published on