New research assesses energy balance of large-scale photoelectrochemical hydrogen production

In the search for clean energy solutions to displace greenhouse gas emitting fossil fuels, few technological options are as alluring as directly producing hydrogen from sunlight. If hydrogen, the most abundant element in the universe, could be produced on earth economically and with a minimum overall environmental impact, it could provide energy to both stationary and transportation applications with very low overall carbon footprint and climate impact. For example, hydrogen could be the fuel input in fuel cells to generate electricity, or feedstock for producing liquid transportation fuels.

Today however, the most economical way to make hydrogen is by reforming fossil fuels such as natural gas—with the nearly same negative impact to the climate as direct combustion. Hydrogen production via electrolysis—splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen using electricity—can in principle use renewable electricity, but it is currently much more expensive.

Scientists are pursuing a promising pathway to generating large-scale amounts of hydrogen for clean energy production directly by splitting water using sunlight, a process called photoelectrochemical (PEC) production. Instead of splitting off the hydrogen from hydrocarbons and being left with carbon, which is typically oxidized and emitted into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, photoelectrochemical production splits off hydrogen from water, leaving clean oxygen gas.  Researchers have accomplished PEC on a small scale in laboratories, but scaling up the process into hydrogen generating plants capable of supplying enough to meet the needs of industrial societies requires considerably more research and technology development.

Many unanswered questions lie not just in the technology, but in the area of life-cycle impact—in particular, its net energy balance. An energy production facility such as one based on PEC technology, should generate more energy over its lifetime than is used to manufacture and operate it. Scientists and funding agencies would like to understand what research directions they need to follow in order to make large-scale PEC-based hydrogen production a reality.

A new study from scientists at the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP) created a life-cycle assessment (LCA) model to provide some estimates that might help guide research directions to faster marketplace success. They constructed a model simulation of a large-scale PEC-based hydrogen production facility, using what is known currently about the technology as well as projections of future performance. JCAP scientists affiliated with the Materials, Physical Biosciences, Chemical Sciences and Environmental Energy Technologies (EETD) Divisions of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) participated in the study.

“The modeling of this solar-to-hydrogen technology provides insights into its potential competitiveness,” says the study’s lead author, Roger Sathre of the Environmental Energy Technologies D. “It will help identify the key challenges and opportunities for improvement.”

EETD researchers have had considerable experience performing life cycle assessments of technologies still in the laboratory, such as new infrared-blocking electrochromic window coatings, carbon sequestration technologies, as well as advanced biofuels. Their results are intended to help guide lab R&D to market success.

Thorough description and many inputs

The development of the hydrogen production model required many components, and considerable input from the researchers developing the technology. The research team modeled a facility capable of producing the hydrogen equivalent of 1 GW of continuous output, or 610 tons of hydrogen per day. All U.S. light-duty vehicles could be powered by about 160 such plants.

“This study is the first to look at a large hydrogen generation system, and to make a thorough assessment of its balance of system [BOS] requirements—its energy and materials inputs and outputs,” says Jeffery Greenblatt of EETD, one of the study’s authors. A couple of prior studies have evaluated smaller scale systems, about one-thousandth the size, focusing on their economics.

The Berkeley researchers prepared a preliminary engineering design of the plant, and generated a model describing the system-wide energy flows associated with producing, using, and decommissioning the facility. This allowed them to calculate the facility’s three primary energy metrics.

One is the life-cycle primary energy balance, or how much net energy the facility would provide over its lifetime. The second is the energy return on energy investment (EROEI), which describes how much usable energy the facility generates divided by its energy inputs—it must be greater than one by as much as possible for the technology to be viable. Finally, the energy payback time measures how long the facility must operate to deliver the hydrogen equivalent of the energy required for its manufacturing, construction and decommissioning.

Creating the model required building the facility up from its components. The team modeled a large, two square meter photoelectrochemical cell, assembled in a truck-transportable structure called a panel containing 14 cells. Panels were arranged in fields consisting of 1,000 panels each, and the overall facility was made up of 1,510 fields. (See Figure 1.)

The model required estimates of energy use to make all these components, plus the rest of the plant such as pipes for water and gas, storage tanks, compressors, sensors, roads, and the like. Construction, operation and decommissioning required estimates of the energy inputs, material inputs such as water and process gases, and transportation to bring in materials and cart out wastes. The plant was assumed to have a service life of 40 years.


Positive energy benefits require meeting system-level goals

Under the model’s base case conditions, the plant’s payback time is 8.1 years. The energy return on energy invested, at 1.7, is positive. The life-cycle primary energy balance over the plant’s 40-year life is more than 500 petajoules. “One petajoule is the energy required to power 50,000 hydrogen fuel-cell cars for a year,” Greenblatt points out.

“Our results show that hydrogen production based on photoelectrochemical technology has the potential to deliver significant amounts of energy,” says Sathre. “There are a number of variables that influence how much energy, and these are variables that R&D in the field needs to focus on.“

The most important factor is the overall efficiency of conversion from solar energy to hydrogen, termed the solar-to-hydrogen (STH) efficiency ratio. The higher the STH efficiency, the better the energy return (the base case assumed 10 percent conversion efficiency). The lifespan of the PEC cell, the energy used to manufacture the PEC cell, and the lifespan of the rest of the facility are the other most important factors. The report addresses a number of research directions that could lead to more efficient PEC cells.

The researchers estimate that if PEC cells have an STH efficiency of 20 percent (which they believe is possible eventually), and a cell life span of 20 years, the plant can have an energy payback time of just three years, and an EROEI of more than 3, almost double that of the base case.

“Our result validates the need for high efficiency PEC cells, something the research community already understands,” says Frances Houle, Department Head for Science-Based Scale-Up at JCAP and another of the study’s authors. “It also drives home the need for cell longevity—on the scale of years—well beyond what is currently measured in the lab, which is the scale of hours. Also, we found that the energy investment in the balance of system is smaller than that required to fabricate the PEC cells, so methods to make the cells with less energy will be impactful.”

Greenblatt adds that “research is on the right track, because the analysis suggests that a plant built with PEC technology will be energy-positive, but future R&D should ensure that the variables most affecting net energy balance—efficiency, longevity, initial energy investment—are well-understood and optimized.”

—Allan Chen

Roger Sathre, Corinne D. Scown, William R. Morrow III, John C. Stevens, Ian D. Sharp, Joel W. Ager III, Karl Walczak, Frances A. Houle, and Jeffery B. Greenblatt. “Life-cycle net energy assessment of large-scale hydrogen production via photochemical water splitting,” Energy & Environmental Sciences, DOI: 10.1039/c4ee01019a.

This research was supported by JCAP, a DOE Energy Innovation Hub, supported through the Office of Science of the US Department of Energy. Information about JCAP is available online at 


EETD Microgrids Researchers to Collaborate with MIT and IIT-Comillas University

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) announces the signature of a collaboration license with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and IIT-Comillas University (Madrid) for the Utility of the Future Program. DER-CAM, software developed in the Microgrids Group at the Environmental Energy Technologies Division (EETD), will play a key-role in this project, which is part of the MIT Energy Initiative.

Greater utilization of local energy resources, increasing use of natural gas (NG), and integration of renewables (solar photovoltaic and wind) into electricity supply are prominent in contemporary discussions of energy policy both in the European Union and the U.S. The deployment of distributed generation (DG) and renewable energy sources is expected to grow in coming years, and significant impacts on the operation and planning of distribution grids and, more generally, the sustainability of energy systems, are expected.

DER-CAM, the Distributed Energy Resources Customer Adoption Model, has been developed and improved for more than 10 years at Berkeley Lab. The main feature of DER-CAM is its ability to determine the cost-optimal design inside one or more buildings. It chooses which DG technologies a customer should adopt and how these technologies should be operated based on specific site load, technology characteristics and price information. This makes DER-CAM the ideal software for such a project.

The Utility of the Future project will provide a neutral framework within which to evaluate the economic, regulatory, and technological impacts of the ongoing evolution of the power sector worldwide.

The study brings together an interdisciplinary MIT Energy Initiative consortium in partnership with IIT-Comillas University. The research partners will develop scenarios of distributed energy resources (DER) technologies, business models, and regulatory environment to understand how the electricity system will change over the coming decade.

Improvements in the cost and performance of a range of distributed energy generation (DG) technologies, and the potential for breakthroughs in distributed energy storage (DS) are creating new options for on-site power generation and storage, driving increasing adoption and impacting utility distribution system operations. In addition, changing uses and use patterns for electricity–from plug-in electric vehicles (EVs) to demand response (DR)–are altering demands on the electric power system.

To this end, the research partners will use DER-CAM to simulate technical capabilities and economic and environmental benefits associated with the provision of energy services based on distributed energy resources—including distributed generation, distributed energy storage, electric vehicles and demand response—that will allow the creation and proliferation of new business models.

DER-CAM will also help assess NG-fuelled distributed generation technologies from an economic point of view, identify the most attractive areas of application and understand the opportunities to increased natural gas utilization in distributed generation applications. Indeed, the developments observed in the electric power sector offer both opportunities and challenges for natural gas utilization in DG applications like co-generation, which will provide a bound between gas and electricity systems.

The Microgrids group at Berkeley Lab is looking forward to this partnership, which will start the week of July 14 with the arrival of students from both universities in Berkeley to be trained on DER-CAM by EETD staff.

The duration of the project is expected to be two years. Some of the researchers include Professor José Ignacio Pérez-Arriaga (co-PI, MIT), Stephen Connors (Senior Research Scientist, MIT) and Pablo Frías (Professor, IIT-Comillas University) among others.

Dr. José Ignacio Pérez-Arriaga
Visiting Professor, Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research (CEEPR), MIT
Professor and Director of the BP Chair on Energy & Sustainability, Instituto de Investigacion Tecnologica (IIT), Universidad Pontificia Comillas

Stephen Connors
Head, Analysis Group for Regional Energy Alternatives (AGREA); Director, AGS Energy Flagship Program
MIT Energy Initiative

Dr. Pablo Frías
Professor of Electrical Engineering at the Engineering School of Universidad Pontificia Comillas.

Additional information

For more information about the MIT Energy Initiative, go here.

To learn more about DER-CAM, please click here.


Karen Tapia-Ahumada, GTI-MIT Energy Fellow,

Tomás Gómez, Professor at IIT Comillas,

Michael Stadler, Microgrids Group at Berkeley Lab,



Department of Energy’s FLEXLAB Opens Test Beds to Drive Dramatic Increase In Building Efficiency

Berkeley, Calif. – July 10, 2014 – The world’s most advanced energy efficiency test bed for buildings is open for business, launched today by U.S. Department of Energy Deputy Secretary Daniel Poneman. DOE’s FLEXLAB at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) is already signing up companies determined to reduce their energy use by testing and deploying the most energy efficient technologies as integrated systems under real-world conditions. The facility includes a rotating test bed to track and test sun exposure impacts, and other high-tech features.

In addition to Deputy Secretary Poneman, University of California President Janet Napolitano, Genentech Vice President Carla Boragno, Webcor CEO Jes Pederson, and PG&E Vice President Laurie Giammona joined event host Berkeley Lab Director Paul Alivisatos to speak about the power and potential of this facility to help California, the nation and the world reduce energy use, curb greenhouse gas emissions and save money.

“In the United States, nearly 40 percent of all energy and over two-thirds of all electricity consumed goes to operate commercial, industrial and residential buildings,” said Deputy Secretary Daniel Poneman. “To power these buildings, Americans spend more than $400 billion every year. By making buildings more energy efficient, we can save money by saving energy and drive the nation to our low-carbon future.”

“So far, Berkeley Lab’s energy efficiency work has saved American families, businesses, and institutions many billions of dollars in energy bills. If all goes as planned, FLEXLAB – the first of its kind test bed designed to enable much more aggressive whole building energy savings – will add to that impressive tab,” said Berkeley Lab Director Paul Alivisatos.

“Berkeley Lab is already a global leader in smart-building innovations that are helping our nation cut greenhouse gas emissions,” said Napolitano, president of the University of California, which manages Berkeley Lab for the U.S. Department of Energy. “FLEXLAB will allow us to cut building emissions even further, and lessons learned here will be instrumental in helping UC reach its carbon neutrality goal by 2025.”

In the first test bed experiment, leading biotech company Genentech is leveraging FLEXLAB to test systems for a new building at their South San Francisco headquarters.

“At Genentech, we are constantly innovating and following the science, so we were excited to apply this approach to energy efficiency and building optimization,” said Carla Boragno, Genentech Vice President for Site Services. “FLEXLAB represents a new type of experiment for us, and presents the opportunity to be first-in-class in another area of innovation. We are proud to be the leading client of FLEXLAB.”

PG&E is next in line to use the facility to test the next generation of technologies – those that focus on whole building systems – for emerging technologies incentive programs.

PG&E is working with an advisory committee to identify system-scale efficiency improvements that make best sense for most businesses. It is testing alternatives in FLEXLAB, starting with innovations in building envelopes, lighting and shading.

“Compared to the usual ‘widget’ approach of offering incentives for single pieces of equipment, utilities are finding the next generation of energy efficiency technology – which includes single or multiple integrated building systems – is an order of magnitude more complex. FLEXLAB will help them get a handle on this,” said FLEXLAB Executive Manager Cindy Regnier. “And that opens the door to new and renovated buildings that are dramatically more energy efficient.”

That’s what Bay Area-based builder Webcor – Genentech’s contractor – hopes to find. In FLEXLAB’s pre-launch private-sector experiment, Webcor is using the rotating test bed to plan a 250,000-square-foot building, which includes a built-out space that mimics Genentech’s interior office space and will test for user comfort and utility.

“We are running tests and gathering data that will allow us to maximize the Genentech building’s energy-efficiency potential,” said Webcor CEO Jes Pederson. “FLEXLAB could revolutionize the way we plan and build energy-efficient buildings.”

Recognizing that building inefficiency is a critical obstacle to achieving U.S. clean energy and emissions goals, DOE issued a Request for Proposal in 2009 for a new kind of testing facility to address the challenges buildings face in achieving deeper levels of energy savings. Many buildings are designed to be energy efficient, but once they are up and running, can use a lot more energy than planned. To close that achievement gap and accelerate breakthrough technologies, Berkeley Lab competed and won the $15.9 million contract to build FLEXLAB, a testament to the Lab’s long history of energy efficiency innovations.

FLEXLAB is a testing ground for developing new, energy-efficient and low-carbon building technologies. Berkeley Lab and its utility and private sector partners will identify, test and measure technologies of the future that will help California and the world move to a cleaner, more efficient energy future.

Opening day featured a series of panel discussions focused on energy efficiency from a business perspective. Speakers represented companies including Microsoft, Siemens, Oracle, Wells Fargo, Colliers International, and Schneider Electric.

For more information, including photos and videos, go to

# # #

Lignin’s role in reducing life-cycle carbon emissions explored in new research paper

Cellulosic biofuels are the focus of intense research aimed at developing transportation fuels that are significantly lower in carbon intensity than those derived from petroleum. Biofuels have the potential to reduce the impact of the transportation sector on the climate—cellulosic ethanol, by some estimates, may reduce the carbon emissions relative to gasoline by up to 80 percent. While researchers have developed technologies capable of converting many components of wood and other plant material into liquid fuels, lignin, a chemical in plants that gives their cells rigidity, has proven difficult to break down.

Current models of the refining process for biomass-to-transportation fuels assume that the lignin component is burned onsite to meet the plant’s process heat and power needs. Onsite combustion offsets some of the plant’s energy costs, and provides the plant with offset credits for greenhouse gas emissions.

Other options exist, including shipping the lignin to nearby coal-fired power plants. Offsetting some of the coal burned in these plants with lignin from biorefining reduces their carbon footprint. What is the most effective way to use lignin such that the positive impacts of reducing energy demand and emissions can be achieved at the lowest capital cost and water demand? The answer to this question interests parties across the energy industry, from policymakers to utilities and operators of generating plants, to the biofuels research & development community. For the first time, research conducted at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) addresses this question at a national production scale.

A new study, published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology and led by Corinne Scown, uses life cycle analysis modeling (LCA) to answer this question. Scown is in Berkeley Lab’s Environmental Energy Technologies Division (EETD). Scown and her colleagues conducted a life-cycle assessment of four options for using lignin: (1) onsite combustion for heat and power; (2) onsite combustion plus the use of additional gas-fired power generation; (3) export lignin to coal-fired power plants, use natural gas to meet the biorefinery’s heat requirements and a portion of electricity use; (4) export lignin to coal-fired plants, use natural gas to meet all of the biorefinery’s heat and power needs.

In cases 1 and 2, biogas produced at the refinery and a solids boiler for the lignin produce electricity and process heat used in the manufacturing of the biofuels. Cases 3 and 4 eliminate the need for a solids boiler at the refinery site.

The team evaluated these four cases under a U.S.-based cellulosic biofuel production scenario in which corn stover (leaves, stalks, husks and cobs of corn), wheat straw, and the fast-growing tall grasses of the genus Miscanthus are converted to 160 billion liters of ethanol annually. The results are applicable to any biofuel process that cannot breakdown lignin. “As far as we know, this is the first evaluation of lignin use options at the scale of a national biofuels production scenario,” says Scown. “We also know of no other study that has explored the life-cycle water use tradeoffs of such a scenario.”

Using a computer model of an ethanol biorefinery, the research team calculated that the life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions ranges from 4.7 to 61 grams of carbon dioxide per megajoule (g CO2e/MJ). This compares to 95 g CO2e/MJ for gasoline.

Scown adds, “Overall, we found that exporting lignin to coal-fired power plants can reduce GHG emissions at a magnitude comparable to using lignin onsite to provide power in some cases. Export of lignin can reduce life-cycle water consumption by up to 40 percent, and reduce capital costs by up to 63 percent, in part, by eliminating the need for an onsite solids boiler.”

The study also found that nearly half of U.S. coal-fired power plant capacity is expected to be retired by 2050, which will limit the capacity for co-firing with lignin, and double the transportation distances between biorefineries and coal power plants.

The article “The role of lignin in reducing life-cycle carbon emissions, water use, and cost for U.S. cellulosic biofuels,” was authored by Corinne D. Scown, Amit A. Gokhale, Paul A. Willems, Arpad Horvath, and Thomas E. McKone. The research was funded by the Energy Biosciences Institute.

Read the full report at:



2014 ITRI-Rosenfeld Fellowship Winners Announced

Zhenhua Liu and Chinmayee Subban were recently announced as the winners of the 2014 ITRI-Rosenfeld Postdoctoral Fellowship. The fellowship honors the contributions of Arthur H. Rosenfeld, of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Environmental Energy Technologies Division (EETD), for his work toward the advancement of energy efficiency on a global scale. The selection process includes scrutiny of the applications by a selection committee, presentations by the finalists, and panel interviews. The award enables the applicants to engage in innovative research that leads to new energy-efficiency technologies or policies, as well as the reduction of adverse energy-related environmental impacts. It is made possible through a gift from the Industrial Technology Research Institute of Taiwan (ITRI) and with EETD support.

Zhenhua Liu earned his PhD in Computer Science at California Institute of Technology (Caltech). His research focuses on the efficient integration of renewable energy into IT and the power grid. His proposal topic for the fellowship was Demand Response: Coordinating IT and the Smart Grid Towards a More Sustainable Future, and his mentor for this work is EETD’s Mary Ann Piette. For this project Liu plans to develop new demand management algorithms, develop new demand-response programs, and investigate other opportunities that would help guide the management of data centers, buildings, and other systems. He has already begun working on his project at the Lab.

Chinmayee Subban earned her PhD from Cornell University’s Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology. Her graduate and postdoctoral research has been focused on the design and characterization of electrode materials for fuels cells and lithium-ion batteries. Her proposed topic of research for the fellowship was Technology Invention: New Electrode Materials for Water Treatment with Capacitive Deionization (CDI), and her mentor for the work is EETD’s Ashok Gadgil. Her goal for this project is to develop more efficient, affordable electrode materials for CDI, bringing costs down and thus enabling the widespread use of the technology in treating brackish water for poor and rural communities around the world. She will begin at the Lab in September.

The award ceremony will take place in October 2014, at Berkeley Lab.

The application period for the 2015 ITRI-Rosenfeld Postdoctoral Fellowship will open in August 2014.

More Information

ITRI-Rosenfeld Postdoctoral Fellowship website


EETD Scientist Participates in Energy Efficiency Standardization Roadmap

The following press release is from the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Energy Efficiency Standardization Coordination Collaborative (EESCC), a group chaired by the U.S. Department of Energy and the private sector. William Miller of the Environmental Energy Technologies Division, and, formerly, a longtime energy efficiency manager at Pacific Gas & Electric, participated in the development of this document.

For information on downloading the Roadmap document, see the links below.

New Energy Efficiency Standardization Roadmap Establishes National Framework for ActionRoadmap Details 125 Recommendations to Advance Energy Efficiency Standardization in the Built Environment

With the release today of the Standardization Roadmap: Energy Efficiency in the Built Environment, U.S. industry, government, standards developing organizations (SDOs) and other energy efficiency stakeholders now have a national framework for action and coordination on future energy efficiency standardization. Developed by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI)Energy Efficiency Standardization Coordination Collaborative (EESCC) – a cross-sector group chaired by representatives of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and Schneider Electric – the roadmap charts 125 recommendations to advance energy efficiency within the built environment.

According to the DOE, our nation’s buildings account for more than 70 percent of total U.S. electricity use and 40 percent of the nation’s total energy bill, at a cost of $400 billion dollars per year. With 20 percent or more of this energy wasted, comparable reductions in energy have the potential to save an estimated $80 billion annually. Standards, codes, and conformity assessment programs offer significant opportunities for energy and cost savings and improved energy efficiency capabilities for the nation’s buildings. The roadmap identifies many such opportunities, detailing recommendations and timelines for action across five interrelated areas of focus:

  • Chapter One: Building Energy and Water Assessment and Performance Standards outlines 46 recommendations to address identified standardization gaps in these areas
  • Chapter Two: System Integration and Systems Communications details 9 gaps and recommendations examining how building subsystems could be integrated in order to manage the energy use of a building or campus of buildings for maximum efficiency
  • Chapter Three: Building Energy Rating, Labeling, and Simulation outlines 22 recommendations to address identified standardization gaps
  • Chapter Four: Evaluation, Measurement, and Verification (EM&V) details 32 gaps and recommendations to advance the field of EM&V
  • Chapter Five: Workforce Credentialing puts forth 16 overarching recommendations to advance workforce credentialing for the energy efficiency field

Lev Ruzer, EETD Affiliate and Editor of the Aerosol Handbook, Passes Away at Age 92

Dr. Lev Ruzer, who worked as an affiliate with the Environmental Energy Technologies Division’s Indoor Environment Group for 24 years, has passed away. During his tenure at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), Ruzer, worked without financial support; purely for the love of science.

Ruzer was born in the Soviet Union, where he studied nuclear physics at Moscow University but was unable to work as a scientist upon graduation for political reasons. Once the political tides turned, he worked as a researcher, assessing dosages to animals exposed to radon and its decay products—work that would earn him an equivalent to a PhD in 1961. He founded and chaired the Aerosol Laboratory at the Institute of Physico-Technical and Radiotechnical Measurements in Moscow from 1961 to 1979, and in 1968 published a book on radioactive aerosols. In 1970 he became a doctor of technical sciences, and in 1977, became a professor. However, in 1979, with another political shift, he was discharged, and was unable to work for eight years.

In 1987, he emigrated to the United States, and he began to work as an affiliate at Berkeley Lab in 1989. He published papers in the emerging field of dosimetry of nanoparticles, as well as a book on radioactive aerosols; all in all, he authored more than 130 publications and was granted three patents. He also served as editor of Aerosol Handbook: Measurement, Dosimetry, and Health Effects. The expanded and updated 2nd edition was published in 2012, when Ruzer was 92 years old.

Lev was always friendly, with a great sense of humor. He enjoyed telling stories of his life in the Soviet Union, and when asked how he was doing, would often say, “Not as good as yesterday…but better than tomorrow!”—an example, he said, of Russian optimism. His commitment to science was unwavering, and watching him taught one the value of persistence; even in his nineties, when typing became a challenge, he produced long, detailed papers.

Berkeley Lab was fortunate to have hosted Lev and his research for more than two decades. “We will miss Lev,” says William Fisk, Head of the Indoor Environment Group. “I am happy that we could serve as his host for these many years.”

Mark Wilson

Selling an Energy-Efficient Loan Portfolio—New Policy Brief

Can financing deliver significant private capital and rapid growth in home energy efficiency improvements? A key element may be attracting secondary-market investors to buy the efficiency loans and thereby replenish funds for a new round of lending. A new policy brief from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Energy Markets and Policy Group, led by efficiency financing expert Peter Thompson, details how two creative financing entities crafted a ground-breaking deal with several novel features that may offer valuable lessons for future efficiency financing transactions.

The policy brief, Selling an Energy Efficiency Loan Portfolio in Oregon: Resale of the Craft3 Loan Portfolio to Self-Help Credit Union, provides insight into the recent transaction of an on-bill energy efficiency loan portfolio between two mission-oriented lenders, Craft3 in Oregon and Self Help in North Carolina. Craft3 works with local utilities and Clean Energy Works (CEW) program to provide consumer energy efficiency loans for home energy upgrades in Oregon and Washington. The transaction is notable for the many innovative design elements of the Craft3 loans, including: long loan terms (up to 20 years), on-bill collection, and novel underwriting approaches. The case study illustrates how certain design decisions can sometimes both facilitate the objectives of efficiency financing programs and possibly present challenges for the sale of a portfolio of energy efficiency loans.

The policy brief explores:

  • The motivations for the sale and how the transaction benefited both parties;
  • The process that the two parties went through to finalize the transaction;
  • How the design of the CEW/Craft3 program impacted the terms of this transaction and how the deal was structured; and
  • Lessons that efficiency program administrators can take from the transaction.

This case study is the latest in the LBNL Clean Energy Financing Policy Brief series. These working papers highlight emerging financing models, important issues that financing programs face, and how these issues are being addressed.


Frank Asaro, Nuclear Chemist Who Contributed to Dinosaur Extinction Theory and Archaeological Studies, Passes Away

Frank Asaro, a nuclear chemist known for his work on the asteroid impact theory and mass extinctions, as well as for determining the origins of archaeological artifacts around the world, and for his work on alpha decay, passed away on June 10, 2014 at the age of 86. He was for many years a scientist at the Environmental Energy Technologies Division (EETD) of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), and prior to that, in the former Nuclear Chemistry Division.

Asaro is most famous for being a member of the team that proposed the mass extinctions that took place 65 million years ago were caused by Earth’s collision with an asteroid. The impact threw a cloud of dust into the atmosphere so thick that it obscured the sun, suppressed photosynthesis, and caused a massive die-off, including the demise of the dinosaurs. University of California Berkeley physicist and Nobel Prize winner Luis Alvarez, geologist Walter Alvarez (his son), Asaro, and Helen Michel analyzed rock samples collected by Walter in Italy and other locations from the Cretaceous-Paleogene (also known as the Cretaceous-Tertiary) boundary layer of the Earth’s crust.  The samples contained a clay layer enriched in the element iridium by 600 times the normal concentration found on Earth.

Puzzling over a number of possible explanations for the enrichment, they concluded, in a classic paper published in the journal Science in 1980, that this iridium had extraterrestrial origins and was deposited when the mixture of dust and ash from the impact of an iridium-enriched asteroid settled. The team used neutron activation analysis (NAA) to measure the concentration of iridium in the layer. Their report caused a sensation in the scientific world and among the public. Asaro was expert in NAA and, with Michel, performed laboratory analysis of samples brought from around the world.

The paper caused a sensation in both the scientific community and among the general public, but over time, much more evidence has come to light to support the theory, including the discovery in 1990 of direct evidence of for the asteroid’s impact in a crater in Mexico in 1990. In 2010 an international panel of experts in geology, paleontology and related fields published the results of their exhaustive review, ruling in favor of the asteroid theory.

Asaro later designed and named the Luis Alvarez Iridium Coincidence Spectrometer specifically to measure trace iridium. Asaro set the standard for measurement of this and other trace elements in the field of archaeometry.

Applying Chemistry and Physics to Archaeology in the 1960s

In the 1950s, with Isadore Perlman, his doctoral thesis advisor at UC Berkeley, Asaro helped to develop neutron activation analysis into a technology precise enough to determine the origins of archaeological artifacts by measuring their chemical compositions. Neutron activation analysis uses the gamma ray emissions of radioactive chemical elements in irradiated pottery samples to accurately measure the abundances of elements in the sample.

The unique composition of an artifact provided a chemical signature that archaeologists could use to help determine the provenance, or point of origin of artifacts—the quarry where, for example, the clay in a shard of pottery came from. Knowing the origin helps archaeologists understand patterns of mobility, trade, wealth and settlement in ancient civilizations. The paper they published on NAA in 1969 became a landmark, the field’s most heavily cited reference.

Although he was best known for his work on the iridium layer and the asteroid theory of extinction, Asaro spent a considerable fraction of his career applying NAA to archaeological studies.

With Michal Artzy, Perlman and Asaro demonstrated in 1967 that an innovative Late Bronze Age style of pottery known as Palestinian bichrome, long considered to have been manufactured in Palestine, was actually manufactured in Cyprus and exported to Palestine.

In 1973, Asaro and colleagues studied the Colossi of Memnon, two 50-foot quartzite statues near Luxor. The statue-guardians of Pharaoh Amenhotep III were built before 1,200 B.C.  In 27 B.C., the north statue fell during an earthquake. The damage was repaired in 200 A.D. by order of Roman emperor Septimius Severus. Archaeologists had long thought that the quartzite for the original statue had come from a quarry 100 miles away near Aswan. Asaro’s team showed that the original rock for the statues came from quarries in Cairo, 420 miles away—an amazing distance to transport so much weight at that time—and that the Romans used stone from the nearer Aswan quarry to repair the statue.

Drake’s Plate—A bona fide fake

Next to the extinction research, Asaro may best known for demonstrating that “Drake’s Plate,” a metal plaque that was purportedly left by Sir Francis Drake when his ship the Golden Hinde landed on the California coast in 1579, was actually a fake.

In 1936, the plate was reported found in Marin County, and acquired for the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley by Herbert E. Bolton, the Library’s Director from 1920 to 1940. Bolton believed that Drake landed somewhere along the Marin coast, and when the inscribed brass plate turned up, he and other experts of the time authenticated it and put it on display at the Bancroft. However, over the decades, rumors began to circulate that the plate was a fake.

In 1977, Asaro and Michel applied neutron activation analysis to the plate and determined that the brass was probably manufactured between the last half of the nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth, proving that California’s best known artifact was a fake. Just who was behind the hoax was not established until 2003 when historians published an article in California History pointing the finger at a group of Bolton’s distinguished friends. The authors argued that the fake artifact was a practical joke that went out of control when Bolton prematurely authenticated the plate before they could reveal the truth to him privately.

65-Million Year Journey Began in 1927

Frank Asaro was born July 31, 1927, and grew up in Escondido, California, the son of an avocado farmer, Nicolo Asaro, and Annie Asaro. He earned his undergraduate degree and PhD in chemistry at UC Berkeley. He studied alpha decay processes in nuclear chemistry for his doctorate under the supervision of Perlman, who was also the head of the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab’s Chemistry Division. Asaro worked with Perlman another 14 years studying nuclear structure. They conducted groundbreaking work that contributed evidence to support the now accepted unified model of the nucleus. In 1967, Perlman became interested in archaeology, and Asaro changed directions along with him.

“How good was Perlman at choosing new fields?” Asaro later said. “I thought I would take three months off to do this. I made that decision in 1967, and I’m still doing this work [some 40] years later.”

Even after his retirement from Berkeley Lab in 1991, Asaro continued to work “just for the fun of it.” With archaeologist David Adan-Bayewitz of Bar-Ilan University in Israel, he employed neutron activation analysis to investigate a series of archaeological and historical problems. One of their first research projects contributed crucial analytical evidence for solving the century-old problem of identifying the Roman-period settlement of Shikhin. When Adan-Bayewitz and Asaro encountered difficulties distinguishing the element compositions of nearby pottery production sites employing NAA, they enlisted the help of Robert Giauque, and together showed that high-precision X-ray fluorescence measurements could be more effective, in certain cases, than those of NAA for studies of local trade. XRF does not require a particle accelerator, and is easier to use. For many years the team employed both measurement techniques concurrently in their research.

At about the same time, in the early 2000’s, Asaro continued development work on NAA and achieved a breakthrough in measurement precision for several elements, particularly iron. The high-precision capabilities helped the group demonstrate that the element compositions of pottery vessels from two production workshops only 200 meters apart, at the same Roman-period settlement, could by clearly distinguished.

In the course of his measurements, Asaro noticed what he thought to be unusually high concentrations of silver in two pottery samples. No one before had ever paid any attention to silver in ancient pottery, and they decided to investigate whether silver concentrations might be meaningful. Asaro distrusted the existing measurements of silver, so he developed a new coincidence technique of silver analysis by NAA, which he used to check NAA and X-ray fluorescence measurements. This enabled the research team to study silver concentrations in about 1,300 pottery vessels from about 40 sites in Israel and, with Kathleen Slane, also in ancient Corinth in Greece. The researchers demonstrated that anomalously high silver concentrations were found only at urban sites and were context-related. Asaro considered this work to be potentially as important as the work on the iridium anomaly.  

“The most intricate study dealt with archaeological evidence for contact with Jerusalem in the first century, before the city was destroyed by the Roman army in 70 CE,” says Adan-Bayewitz. In order to be able to assign with confidence a Jerusalem-area origin to ceramic oil lamps from settlements located more than 100 miles from that city, the team employed three statistical approaches. In one of these, Asaro classified lamps to subgroups, which included samples with nearly identical composition. No comparably tight pottery provenance groups had ever been published. These Jerusalem-related subgroups eventually included more than 200 samples. Asaro told Adan-Bayewitz that this was the best provenance work he had ever done. This project, in which soil micromorphologist Moshe Wieder also participated, showed that at Jewish settlements far from Jerusalem, in contrast with non-Jewish settlements, there had been a pronounced preference for lamps specifically from the Jerusalem area.

Asaro’s work shows us that the past is not necessarily a closed book. People leave traces of themselves in the effect they have on others, and the unique chemical compositions of their artifacts, read from traces of energy that Asaro learned how to use, tell stories of human time and movement.

Asaro was the loving husband of the late Lucille Asaro (née Lavezo) and is survived by his sister Marie (Scudder) and four children Frank, Antonina, Catherine, and Marianna.

Services will be held on Thusday, June 19, 2014 from 1:00-3:00 pm at the Sunset View Cemetery, 101 Colusa Ave, El Cerrito, CA 94530, (510) 525-5111

—Allan Chen

Alvarez Theory on Dinosaur Die-out Upheld

Nuclear Physics Sheds Light on Ancient Archaeological Mysteries

Silver Anomalies Found In Jerusalem Pottery Hint at Wealth During Second Temple Period

Drake’s Plate: End of the Mystery?

Historical journal reveals secrets behind infamous Drake’s Plate hoax


Ashok Gadgil Inducted into National Inventor’s Hall of Fame

Ashok Gadgil, inventor of UV Waterworks, the Darfur stove and other low-cost, energy-efficient technologies for the developing world, has been inducted into the class of 2014 National Inventor’s Hall of Fame  (NIHF) in Washington D.C.  The induction ceremony took place at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) on May 21, in presence of many prior inductees, several industry sponsors, and senior staff from USPTO, the U.S. Department of Commerce and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Gadgil is one of five living inventors inducted in this class of 15 inductees.  The five include the inventors of 3-D printing, new methods of synthesizing biologically useful proteins, and carbon nanomaterials. Gadgil is the Director of the Environmental Energy Technologies Division at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and Andrew and Virginia Rudd Family Foundation Professor of Safe Water and Sanitation in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. The National Inventor’s Hall of Fame is part of the USPTO.

Gadgil was recognized by the Hall for work that “has helped 100 million people across four continents by making water safe to drink and by increasing the energy efficiency of stoves.”

“What is unique about my inclusion in this remarkable group of inventors is the recognition of value in humanitarian aspects and impacts of my inventions,” says Gadgil, “which apply science, technology, and creativity for scalable solutions to some problems of the poorest three billion people on the planet. I am pleased that USPTO signaled that they consider this purpose of inventing as important as the purely corporate or scientific ones.

Of the more than eight million total patents issued by the US Patent and Trademark Office, inventors of only 10 to 12 patents are annually elected to the NIHF.  About 500 individuals (living and dead) are inductees in the NIHF over the past 42 years of selection.   Earlier NIHF inductees who worked at the Berkeley Lab include Charles Towns, Louis Alvarez and Ernest Orlando Lawrence.

UV Waterworks Improves Drinking Water Sanitation

Gadgil began working in 1993, on the invention that was eventually named UV Waterworks after learning about a cholera epidemic in India that killed tens of thousands. According to the World Health Organization, 1.2 billion people lack access to safe drinking water, and they suffer more than 2 million deaths per year —mostly of children under 5—from waterborne diseases.

Using ultraviolet light to kill bacteria, such as the organisms that cause cholera, in water, a UV Waterworks device can provide safe drinking water for a village of 2,000, disinfecting four gallons per minute. Using only 60 watts of electricity, which could be obtained by a solar panel, the cost of disinfection is 4 cents per metric ton. With no moving parts, the device is simple, robust and designed to be fail-safe. A volume of water passes under the UV lamp in the device every 12 seconds.

Gadgil decided to patent the device on the advice of Berkeley Lab’s Technology Transfer Office, in order to combat the proliferation of technically inferior copies, and allow for a small start up to take the risk of commercializing the technology.  A California start up, WaterHealth International (WHI), obtained an exclusive license from Berkeley Lab to manufacture and sell the device in the developing world. WHI maintains quality control of the technology and sets up water disinfection installations in villages on a turn-key basis. They train local technicians to maintain the equipment, and the local installation manager sells the water a price of 0.2 cents per liter (prices can vary somewhat depending on local salaries and other costs).  Sale of the water pays for the cost and maintenance of the installation, salaries of two part-time local employees, public health outreach and education in the community, and the running of WHI including its business margins.

By 2012, there were more than five million people being served affordable safe water in India, Bangladesh, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria and the Philippines. Clean water from these stations is estimated to be saving around 1,000 lives per year. The technology, together with a system of distribution that ensures the proper manufacture, distribution, and operation of the system helps provide not only affordable clean water critical to good community health, but also, employment and local economic stimulus.

Energy-efficient Cookstoves for Darfur and Beyond

About three billion people throughout the world cook their meals using solid fuels, on low-efficiency polluting stoves.  The collection of wood imposes a large burden of labor and time – mostly on women and girls, and the exposure to the smoke from cooking is now recognized to be the single largest environmental threat to human health, prematurely killing four million people annually.

In 2005 Gadgil’s attention was drawn by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to the plight of women in camps for internally displaced people, in Darfur Sudan.  At that time women would walk on the average seven hours a trip, every other day, foraging for fuelwood to cook their families meals, and be at risk for assault while outside of these camps.  Based on his analysis of the situation, Gadgil determined that a robust, user-friendly, affordable, and fuel-efficient wood-burning stove could offer substantial relief to the women from their hardship, and risk of violence and extreme humiliation.

Visiting the conflict-torn region several times over a period of years, Gadgil and his team studied local conditions and the needs of the families in Darfur, and developed and field-tested a design for an energy-efficient stove made of sheet metal that could be assembled locally. The design evolved with carefully collected input from women cooks—stove users in the Darfur camps, and currently costs about $20, while saving $345 per year in fuelwood costs. (A large fraction of the camp population in North Darfur has stopped trying to collect wood, since the nearest supply is now mostly farther than a day’s walk. Instead, they spend their precious family income to purchase fuelwood from middlemen). Lasting more than five years, each stove saves $1,725 in fuelwood costs over its lifetime, reduces the household expenditure on fuelwood from 30% to 15%, and incidentally reduces the emissions of greenhouse gases by two metric tons annually.

As with the development of the UV Waterworks device, development of the Darfur stove technology by itself was not end of the process—distributing and proliferating the technology to those who needed it required additional ingenuity. Working with non-governmental organization partners in Darfur, the stoves team set up a supply, manufacturing and distribution chain. Sheet metal parts are precision-cut at a factory in India and shipped as flat kits to Darfur, where they are assembled into stoves by trained local displaced persons—which means jobs for the local community, the creation of skills, and a local light manufacturing economy. The distribution chain is optimized to make the manufacturing of stoves as low-cast as possible without requiring the high start-up costs of building stoves from scratch in Darfur or nearby regions.

While stoves continue to be given free of cost to households in the displaced persons’ camps, families outside the camps are now offered the stoves at an affordable price, the $20 it takes to manufacture one. The savings in fuelwood costs lightens their economic burden as well as reduces the exposure to danger of women gathering fuelwood outside the camps’ borders. As of early 2014, 37,500 stoves were in households in the hands of women in Darfur—worth $60 million in reduced fuel wood costs—and were helping 200,000 internally displaced people in these households.

The effort to manage the supply chain, and deliver the tens of thousands of energy-efficient stoves, moved into a non-profit organization called Potential Energy co-founded by Gadgil in 2008. With funding from USAID, this non-profit is now testing a fuel-efficient stove for Ethiopia, earlier developed at Berkeley Lab with funding support from the Department of Energy.  Ethiopia’s forest cover has declined from 50 percent of the country’s area in 1960 to less than five percent today, and yet 80 percent of households there still cook using wood fires.

Other Projects from Gadgil’s Laboratory

Gadgil and his team invented, and now are field-testing a technology to remove naturally occurring arsenic from drinking water. Bangladesh, parts of India, and other areas of the world get drinking water from wells contaminated with high levels of arsenic from the local geology. Over time, drinking this contaminated water poisons inhabitants, causing arsenicosis, cancer and other deadly maladies. More than 70 million in Bangladesh get their drinking water from arsenic-contaminated wells—the largest mass poisoning in human history.

Gadgil’s research team has developed a simple, robust, and inexpensive technology for removing arsenic from water that uses a small amount of low-voltage electricity and iron electrodes to effectively remove arsenic from water. ECAR (ElectroChemical Arsenic Remediation) removes arsenic and purifies water to better than WHO standards at a cost (including capital and consumable supplies) of about 0.08 cents per liter. It is a low maintenance device that produces very little waste. In 2012, ECAR was tested successfully in the field in West Bengal India.  An Indian water company licensed it from Berkeley Lab in late 2013.  With funding support from the Development Impact Lab, part of the USAID’s Higher Education Solutions Network, at UC Berkeley, Gadgil’s team is now working with the licensee company, Jadavpur University (Kolkata, India), and local governments and NGOs in India, to further develop the technology through a large-scale field installation to be operated over several months.  They hope that a distribution system along the lines of UV Waterworks could disseminate affordable arsenic-safe water in the region, using ECAR technology.

“It is quite amazing,” says Gadgil, “that with the extraordinary science and technology at our fingertips at Berkeley, we are able to develop locally affordable and highly effective solutions to some of the desperate problems of large numbers of poorest people on the planet.” He adds,  “It is also deeply satisfying to see the impact achievable by keeping in mind the need of a scalable business model, and respectful accommodation with local social norms and cultural preferences.”

From the Lab to the Marketplace: UV Waterworks

WaterHealth International

From the Lab to the Marketplace: Darfur Stove

Potential Energy

A Mission to Darfur:

Ashok Gadgil’s EETD and UC Berkeley webpages