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.
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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.

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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

Cost and Benefit Estimates of Renewable Portfolio Standards

The Electricity and Markets Policy Group has released a new report, authored jointly by Berkeley Lab and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, titled, “A Survey of State-Level Cost and Benefit Estimates of Renewable Portfolio Standards.”

Renewable portfolio standard (RPS) policies are in place in more than half of all U.S. states and have played a critical role in driving renewable energy deployment over the past decade.  In many states, however, fierce debates have recently arisen regarding the cost of RPS policies, and proposals have been introduced to repeal, reduce, or freeze existing requirements.  This report seeks to inform these debates by summarizing available data on the costs and benefits of RPS policies to-date and by highlighting key methodological issues that must be considered.

The report draws on a variety of data sources, including estimates developed by utilities and public utility commissions (PUCs) as well renewable energy certificate pricing, to summarize the net (or “incremental”) costs incurred by utilities to comply with RPS requirements.  The report also surveys recent studies that have assessed the magnitude of potential broader societal benefits (though for a variety of reasons, those benefits estimates cannot be directly compared to RPS compliance costs).

Key findings from this study include the following:

• Among the 24 states for which the requisite data were available, estimated RPS compliance costs over the 2010-2012 period were equivalent to, on average, roughly 1% of retail electricity rates, though substantial variation exists across states and years.

• Expressed in terms of the incremental (or “above-market”) cost per unit of renewable generation, average RPS compliance costs during 2010-2012 ranged from -$4/MWh (i.e., a net savings) to $44/MWh across states.

• Methodologies for estimating RPS compliance costs vary considerably among utilities and states, though a number of states are in the process of refining and standardizing their methods.

• Utilities in eight states assess surcharges on customer bills to recoup RPS compliance costs, which in 2012, ranged from about $0.50/month to $4.00/month for average residential customers.

• Cost containment mechanisms incorporated into current RPS policies will limit future compliance costs, in the worst case, to no more than 5% of average retail rates in many states and to 10% or less in most others.

• Although typically not considered within utilities’ estimates of net compliance costs, a number of states have separately estimated the value of RPS benefits associated with avoided emissions (ranging from $4-23/MWh of renewable generation), economic development ($22-30/MWh), and/or wholesale electricity price suppression ($2-50/MWh).

Important caveats and context for the findings cited above are explained fully within the report, which can be freely downloaded at:

Findings from the report will also be presented via a free webinar on June 10th at 9:00 am Pacific Daylight Time.  Registration for the webinar is available here:

This research was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (Strategic Programs Office and Solar Energy Technologies Office).

Galen Barbose

Adam Weber: Presidential Award Winner Continues to Hone Fuel-Cell Technology

On April 14, Adam Weber, a staff scientist in Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Environmental Energy Technologies Division (Berkeley Lab), stepped up in the East Room of the White House to shake hands with President Obama. Weber was one of 102 young scientists this year receiving the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, the highest honor bestowed by the United States Government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers. Weber was honored for his work on fuel-cell diagnostics and modeling activities as well as his leadership in coordinating scientific collaborations in these areas.

A graduate of Tufts University and the University of California, Berkeley, Weber is familiar with prestigious awards—he has also been the recipient of a Fulbright scholarship to Australia, the 2008 Oronzio and Niccolò De Nora Foundation Prize on Applied Electrochemistry of the International Society of Electrochemistry, and the 2012 Supramaniam Srinivasan Young Investigator Award of the Energy Technology Division of the Electrochemical Society.

Though Weber is honored by the recognition, and he enjoyed meeting the other recipients and taking his family to Washington, DC, for the awards ceremony, he maintains a steady focus on his day-to-day work in the laboratory. His current research revolves around three main topics: understanding and optimizing fuel-cell performance and lifetime; examining redox-flow batteries for grid-scale energy storage; and analysis of solar-fuel generators at the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis.

Scientists like Weber believe that the proton-exchange-membrane fuel cells being studied at Berkeley Lab and improved by Berkeley Lab industry partners are becoming an important part of our energy future—fueling cars and fleets, industry, appliances, and buildings.

Unlike batteries, fuel cells do not store electricity, they convert it from primary fuels like hydrogen—a plentiful and renewable resource. The main byproduct of the chemical conversion is water.

Working to make these fuel cells more durable, efficient, and effective, Weber uses mathematical computer models to provide an approximate idea of the distribution of heat, fuel, and water within different parts of the cell and to understand how these distributions affect the cell’s power output. Through these simulations, Weber can identify exactly what goes on inside the fuel cell with the aim of optimizing its performance.

“A lot of our core competence is on the physics-based mathematical modeling of the complex phenomena,” Weber said. “On the computer we can look at each of the components in the process and understand exactly how it works—where the water goes, where the hydrogen and oxygen go—and we can ask how we can make it better,” he said.

Right now he’s working on next-generation fuel-cell designs and materials, finding less expensive options to improve the technology and overcome stumbling blocks, such as improving the ability of fuel cells to operate at below-zero temperatures, making fuel cells more durable, and examining how to reduce cost without decreasing performance.

“Advancing fuel cells is important and it’s happening right now,” Weber said. “Hyundai is releasing a fuel-cell car this year, and Toyota will next year. But on the engineering and material side, there is still work need to be done for the Generation 2 designs,” he said.


Improving the Ion-Conducting Membranes in Fuel Cells

Fuel cells work by generating protons and electrons from a fuel (such as hydrogen) and moving the protons through an ion-conducting, polymer membrane while the electrons flow through an external circuit as electricity. The understanding and improvement of fuel-cell membranes is a major focus of what Weber and his colleagues are doing.

“We want to understand the processes, find the bottlenecks and ways to overcome them,” Weber said. “We’re looking for a viable way to have a carbon-neutral power source,” he said.

One of his projects is to understand how cell membranes function when used in the electrodes as a binder. The small thicknesses—as thin as 10s of nanometers of polymer—demonstrate different performance that may be key to allowing fuel cells to reduce their precious metal catalyst amount. Such study requires new analysis techniques.

Then they make recommendations to industry and laboratory partners for improving the membranes.

“We can tell them, ‘if you double the amount of the flow of this gas, or change the size of the device, or use have a material with these properties, these are the results you could obtain,’” he said. “Our results allow them to prioritize the research they are doing,” he said.

His team has also been working with Los Alamos National Laboratory on durability issues in fuel cells and with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory on detecting and understanding manufacturing defects of membranes and electrodes. In this latter work, Weber said, the joint team has developed new infra-red-based techniques to determine thickness variations and have begun to model how such defects impact performance.


Improving Fuel-Cell Operation at Low Temperatures

Weber’s work to improve the ability of fuel cells to work effectively at low temperatures—something critical to starting a fuel-cell-powered car in wintertime in a cold climate—was one of the specific reasons he was granted the Presidential Early Career Award. And this research is the subject of a journal article Weber recently co-authored in the Journal of the Electrochemical Society.

In the paper, Weber and his co-authors report findings about research studying the nucleation and growth of ice crystals forming in the catalyst layer of the fuel cells.  

It’s all about removing the water produced in the conversion process fast enough, Weber said, which freezes at low temperatures and stops the fuel cell from producing electricity.

“Right now manufacturers have a lot of engineering solutions for this—they dry out the systems to keep the water from flooding the system,” Weber said. “If we understand what’s happening, we can find a passive solution rather than an active solution, like a blower, that is inefficient,” he said.

Weber said that they started with experimental lab work, and then used the results in their computer simulation.

“For example, we filled the backing layer of the cell up with water and put it in a machine to measure the heat flow in the layer,” he said. “When things freeze, they give off a lot of heat. We set the temperature down to -10 degrees Celsius, and then we waited for the heat release when the water changes from liquid to solid. We did this a lot of times,” he said.

Weber and his team have taken the results of these experiments, and put them into models. Results have shown that, depending on how much below zero the temperature goes, it takes a long time for the water to freeze—longer than other models (which rely on a thermodynamic-based approach) have used.  Put another way, cell-failure time increases with increasing temperature due to a longer required time for ice nucleation.

“We can put the numbers into models, and then we’re able to tell manufacturers, with more accuracy than before, “if you’re at -10 degrees, you have this much time to raise the temperature until the cell shuts down and won’t work,’” he said.

Then, they take the diagnostics and results from the modeling to their industry partners. Weber said he’s been working with industry giant 3M for the last few years to see how their fuel cell operates in low temperatures.

“Working with a diverse team of industry, academia, and national laboratories, we’ve shown how we can increase performance of a 3M cell by removing the liquid water from one side of the cell, showing how it operates and how it works better,” Weber said.


Artificial Photosynthesis: Creating Fuels from Sunlight

Another project attracting attention for Weber is his work with artificial photosynthesis—producing fuels, like hydrogen, from sunlight. Weber is the team leader for the modeling and simulation team at the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis—a U.S. Department of Energy-funded innovation hub combining team members primarily from California Institute of Technology and Berkeley Lab.

Weber and his team are working to model and understand the various physics to design integrated photoelectrochemical cells that can efficiently produce hydrogen gas or maybe even liquid fuels from the atmosphere and water. He thinks this technology might have the efficiency needed to “close the fuel-cell loop,” producing the hydrogen that is then used in other fuel cells to produce electricity.


Looking Into the Future

Weber is enthusiastic about the future of his work at Berkeley Lab, pointing to his work on hydrogen/bromine redox (reduction-oxidation) flow batteries—a system that uses essentially the same framework (and sometimes materials) as those of fuel cells.

“The hydrogen/bromine flow battery is essentially a reversible fuel cell, with many of the same components but different issues,” says Weber.

Except that these cells can store electricity from wind and solar electric generation for grid applications in order to curtail their inherent intermittency.

As it was intended to do, his recent award has provided good incentive for his future work.

“It was very inspiring to see the people getting awards and hear the breadth of the research being done,” Weber said. “Getting the presidential award was a vote of confidence—not just for what we have already done, but for what we can do in the future. They are telling us, ‘Your best science is ahead of you and we’re looking forward to seeing what you can do next,’” he said.


LuminaNET: Social Network Sparks Off-Grid Lighting Conversation in Developing Countries

From a discussion about resources to fund a village solar microgrid in India, to a conversation about the environmental impact of solar portable lamps, to a heated exchange about a claim made by a member in a recent article, what’s happening inside LuminaNET this week—a social network for the global off-grid lighting community—looks a lot like what happens in any other robust community of like minded people. Except that in LuminaNET members live and work in 68 countries around the world and most would likely have never met without the forum.

Social networks are in the news these days with claims and questions about “viral” reach, crowd sourcing, and community building. But Evan Mills, founder of the Lumina Project at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), has found a way to successfully harness the power of social media for his cause.

“In this particular case, we had stakeholders all over the planet who didn’t know about each other,” said Mills. “An NGO in Zimbabwe doesn’t know about the researcher in Peru who has the answer to a burning question, but even though some don’t even have electricity at home they all have smart phones and Facebook…it was a natural progression,” he said.

LuminaNET is an initiative of the Lumina Project, which Mills started at Berkeley Lab in 1994 to cultivate technologies and markets for affordable low-carbon alternatives to fuel-based lighting in the developing world—which, Mills estimates, costs the world’s poor $38 billion each year, and is responsible for very significant amounts of greenhouse-gas emissions, particularly CO2 and black carbon.

In the 20 years since then, Mills and the Lumina Project have advised and inspired a number of private manufacturers to introduce and improve new products to the marketplace. No products were on the market when Lumina began; today—thanks to the efforts of many—more than 100 products are available to choose from. Lumina’s significant contributions to the off-grid lighting world include:

  • Ground-breaking research including a 2005 article in Science journal that presented the first-ever estimate of global energy expenditures for fuel-based lighting; a study that identified severe product quality concerns and developed the first quality assurance test protocols for these products; and the first lab-based research to quantify the levels of dangerous PM 2.5 emissions from kerosene lanterns (which determined that the levels can well exceed established U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and World Health Organization safety guidelines).
  • Technical assistance to the World Bank Group’s International Finance Corporation (2006) in evaluating the potential for off-grid lighting innovation in the African marketplace, resulting in a multi-million-dollar ongoing Lighting Global initiative to catalyze markets for off-grid lighting solutions. Nearly eight million people in Africa alone are benefitting from improved lighting under this initiative. Lighting Global greatly expanded Lumina’s quality testing approach, which has in turn been adopted by the International Electrotechnical Commission. About 76 products made by 36 companies have met the Lighting Global minimum quality standards, almost half of which only passed after correcting deficiencies identified during testing.
  • Field work including demonstrations of LED lighting (instead of kerosene) in rural chicken production (Kenya), artisanal night fishing (Tanzania), research on the use of kerosene among night vendors (Kenya’s Rift Valley Province), and as a substitute for diesel lighting among Tibetan yak herders.
  • Development of a novel methodology for greenhouse-gas savings accounting that has been formally adopted by the carbon trading system under the United Nations’ Clean Development Mechanism.

As part of the Lumina Project, Mills launched LuminaNET in late 2012, the world’s only social networking site for the off-grid lighting community. Mills said that LuminaNET was conceived as a way to involve more stakeholders with the Lumina Project and to further the technology transfer mission of his project, the Laboratory, and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). LuminaNET is funded by the Blum Center for Developing Economies and the DOE’s Global LEAP program.

“Most EETD researchers are engaged in technology transfer—we have a strong desire to do this—because we can’t achieve change or market uptake without awareness of the research done by us or others without it,” Mills said. “In this case, the audience who would benefit from this information is a community—bigger than any of them might have realized. Social media was a natural way to get this community talking,” he said.

The Lumina Project has had a conventional website and mailing list for more than 10 years, but Mills said that, even with energy being put into outreach and promotion, it was only getting 10 visits a day. Within a short amount of time after the social media site was launched, LuminaNET was consistently averaging 100 visitors a day.

“It’s a clear indication that people prefer a place where they can talk and connect with other like-minded people rather than a static self-centered website,” Mills said. “We had to go through the process ourselves to learn that, but it was quickly affirmed,” he said.

After a fair amount of work getting the site set up, seeding the conversations, dedicating some time to the blog, posting their own work, and recruiting early members, the site operates mostly on its own now, with more than 570 members and an average of six posts a day. Almost one third of the members have posted or participated on the site, said Mills, and almost all of the comments and posts are substantive and meaningful. The site is also actively visited by non-members, as evidenced by the 16,000 unique visitors since its inception.

The network not only fosters collaboration and information sharing within a far-flung community, but also has become a crowd-sourced research tool in and of itself, serving to pool unique data on off-grid lighting energy use and real-world field projects designed to deploy replacement products in the marketplace. Thus far, projects members have posted projects from 23 countries spanning Asia, Africa, the Americas, Oceania, and the Middle East.

“We have several different ways to crowd-source information on LuminaNET,” said Mills. “In one, we ask people, ‘what are you doing in the trenches?’ and ask them to identify their project on our on-line map. There is nowhere else where this data is aggregated, and no other place that these field projects for off-grid lighting have been pooled to be looked at. LuminaNET gives people working to improve off-grid lighting a common watering hole,” he said.

Mills is also using LuminaNET as a vehicle for pooling primary data on 80 draft country lighting assessments in support of a United Nations Environment Programme modeling effort that quantifies the magnitude of fuel-based off-grid lighting around the world. Members have collectively built a large library of off-grid lighting photos and videos as well.

Evan still finds time for research and publications—his latest, published in March 2014, provides the first peer-reviewed embodied-energy analysis  (Read the March 2014 report here) showing that solar-LED lanterns “pay back” the energy it takes to manufacture them within a month or two.

Looking to the future, Mills has three studies now underway with the United Nations Environment Programme. One study identifies the level of global energy subsidies that go to lighting fuels. Another identifies the potential loss of livelihood that could arise from the reduction of lighting fuel use, as well as new livelihood creation from solar replacements. The third study is looking at the health impacts of fuel-based lighting.

—Kyra Epstein