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Transformative Science: Energy Efficiency at the National Labs

November 4, 2013 - 4:00pm


In the race to combat global climate change, energy efficiency is the "low hanging fruit" for reducing our carbon footprint. This month on, we're featuring the Energy Department's National Labs and their work in energy efficiency: the technologies they've developed, the research they've conducted and the cutting-edge facilities they've built. New technologies and processes developed at the National Labs are fundamentally changing the way that consumers and businesses approach energy efficiency, saving energy and money along the way.

New Energy Efficient Materials and Technologies

The National Labs are leading the way in developing exciting new technologies that will transform the clean energy economy. The energy efficiency sector is no different. In the 1980s, scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory first developed cool roofing materials, which reflect the sun's radiation back to the sky, thereby lowering building temperatures, reducing the need for air conditioning and saving energy. Today, scientists in the Buildings Program at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory are working across disciplines -- like sustainable design, building operations and management and energy analysis -- to improve the energy efficiency of buildings and reduce their environmental footprint. Likewise, at Argonne National Laboratory, scientists are partnering with industry to design and test next-generation energy management systems for buildings -- from occupancy estimation to ventilation optimization.

User Facilities

The National Labs have a number of designated user facilities available for use by researchers in academia or the private sector. These user facilities include tools and capabilities that are unique among scientific institutions. In the area of energy efficiency, Oak Ridge National Lab's Building Technologies Research and Integration Center allows researchers to study the impacts of climate on attic and roof assemblies, building envelopes, insulation and air barrier systems. It can also be used to demonstrate the performance of equipment like water heaters, combined heat and power systems and HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) systems.

Highly Efficient Buildings

The National Labs also practice what they preach. At the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the Research Support Facility (RSF) houses about 1,300 federal employees and is one of the largest net-zero office buildings in the world -- meaning it produces as much energy as it consumes. The 360,000-square-foot facility was built at a price comparable to other Denver area office buildings, about $259 per square foot. The Illinois Accelerator Research Center, a new facility being built at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, will enable researchers to develop partnerships with private industry for the commercial and industrial application of accelerator technology. The 83,000 square-foot building is aiming for a LEED Gold rating from the US Green Building Council, a rating recognizing the building's limited use of natural resources and increased energy efficiency.

These are just a few examples of the ways that the National Labs are advancing the field of energy efficiency, saving consumers and businesses energy and money. To learn more about the Energy Department's National Labs or their work in energy efficiency, keep checking throughout the month of November.