Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy
For transportation, buildings, and industry
The automobile represents freedom to millions of Americans. We can go where we want and when. But our mobility is not entirely free. More than half of the gasoline we put in our cars and trucks comes from abroad. And the energy we use to heat and cool our homes, run our appliances, and turn on the lights comes mainly from burning coal or natural gas, which releases carbon dioxide, the most abundant of the greenhouse gases, into the atmosphere.
At PNNL, we believe that greater energy efficiency, improved technologies for enabling renewables, such as wind, water, solar, and biomass, and new vehicle technology, including storage systems for electric vehicles, can lead to timely solutions to our nation's energy challenges. We are a team of materials scientists, economists, analysts, and engineers, who are finding more efficient ways to use energy resources in transportation, buildings, and industry, and advancing clean, renewable energy.
We work in these areas:
Building Technologies [+ expand/ - collapse]
Buildings account for about 40 percent or our nation's energy use and nearly 40 percent of our carbon dioxide emissions. With three decades of experience in buildings energy, we deliver energy savings in all stages of buildings-related research, technology development, and deployment. Our contributions are dramatically improving the energy efficiency of new and existing buildings and reducing their environmental footprint. For example, our innovative market transformation approach was instrumental in accelerating the widespread acceptance of compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). This program is widely viewed as one of the most successful cases of market transformation for a new energy efficient product in recent decades. We are also undertaking experiments in a matched pair of lab homes to evaluate technologies that can be added to a home after construction to improve efficiency. The homes will offer a side-by-side ability to test and compare new ideas and approaches that are applicable to site-built as well as manufactured homes in the region and nationwide.
PNNL also leads the U.S. Department of Energy's Building Energy Codes Program, which saves commercial building owners an estimated 300 trillion Btu of primary energy annually. Our work with BECP draws upon applied building science, whole-building energy simulation, and analysis capabilities to support development of effective code language that can be adopted and enforced nationally for both commercial and residential buildings. New homes and commercial building are continually being built to stricter energy standards. Additionally, we have been working with building owners and operators for the past 15 years to develop and implement strategies for retrofitting building equipment, improving operation and maintenance practices, and introducing automation of building systems. The results are increased energy efficiency, equipment life, and occupant satisfaction, accompanied by lower energy costs and reduced equipment downtime—all of which reduce the cost of building operations.
Biomass [+ expand/ - collapse]
Biofuels are fuels derived from plant materials, or biomass. Because biomass can be produced domestically and in a renewable fashion that protects the environment, it has the potential to address two of our nation's most significant energy challenges—reducing our reliance on imported oil and reducing our carbon footprint. PNNL is helping drive the shift from petroleum to bio-based fuels by developing the scientific and engineering foundations for converting biomass to biofuels that are infrastructure ready. Infrastructure-ready biofuels can use existing petroleum refinery and deployment capabilities with little new investment. We work with advanced biotechnology and thermal processes to produce alcohols, like ethanol, and other intermediates, like pyrolysis or bio-oils. And we are developing technologies to convert these intermediates into the next generation of hydrocarbon fuels, including gasoline, diesel and jet fuels.
Bio-based chemical products offer another option to reduce U.S. dependence on imported oil and also improve the economics of biorefineries. Conversion technologies developed at PNNL have been used to produce the "building blocks" for solvents, intermediates and monomers that make up some of the products we use every day, offering alternatives to today's petroleum-based processes.
In addition to developing new conversion technologies, we are active in analysis activities that include understanding process economics and life-cycle impacts of biomass-related research. These analyses consider water and land use and implications for biomass resource assessment tools that are being developed at PNNL.
Vehicle Technologies [+ expand/ - collapse]
The transportation sector—cars, trucks, airplanes, trains and ships—is the primary user of petroleum products in the United States. It also accounts for about one third of our nation's greenhouse gas emissions. At PNNL, we are helping to make vehicles more environmentally friendly. Our work to control vehicle exhaust emissions includes developing the technology used by catalytic converters to convert automobile exhaust emissions to non-toxic materials. To improve fuel economy, we are developing lightweight materials for cars and trucks as well as related manufacturing processes. Hybrid vehicles and plug-in electric vehicles have the potential to significantly improve fuel efficiency in cars and trucks, but they are limited by the lack of an effective way to store energy for long distances. We are developing advanced materials for lightweight, inexpensive and long-lasting storage batteries for hybrid electric vehicles.
To learn more about our work with vehicle technologies, see the Energy Processes and Materials website.
Fuel Cell Technologies [+ expand/ - collapse]
A fuel cell uses hydrogen's chemical energy to generate electricity with only water and heat as byproducts. Because there is no combustion, fuel cells produce electricity more efficiently than any other current power generation technology. Fuel cell technologies have the potential to address two of our country's most important energy challenges: reducing our dependence on petroleum imports and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. PNNL is focused on enabling the widespread use of fuel cells by:
- Developing high-capacity, regenerable, and energy-efficient hydrogen storage systems that will provide hydrogen for fuel cell vehicles and other applications
- Improving the performance and cost of current fuel cells by developing new materials, manufacturing, and component design for durable polymer-electrolyte-membrane (PEM) and phospohoric acid fuel cell systems
- Increasing fuel cell durability by developing improved catalysts and supports
- Creating fuel-processing technology, including hydrogen production from renewable fuels
- Developing low-cost solid-oxide fuel cell (SOFC) systems for small-scale, land-based applications, and military use.
- Developing and implementing, with the Department of Energy, practices and procedures to ensure safe operation, handling, and use of hydrogen and hydrogen systems
- Deploying stationary fuel cells at light industrial locations to provide electricity and heat and to transform the market for fuel cells.
To learn more about our work with fuel cell technologies, see the Energy Processes and Materials website.
Renewable Energy [+ expand/ - collapse]
Our country is investing in clean energy technologies that harness renewable sources of electricity—wind, water, solar, and geothermal. PNNL is accelerating the use of renewable sources of electricity in four areas.
- Wind power— We are using PNNL's expertise in environmental sciences, atmospheric sciences, and grid management to:
- Develop tools and methodologies that enable a high penetration of variable generation into our grid system
- Explore wind resource characterization through research projects and collaborative efforts
- Demonstrate an R&D approach to assessing environmental effects, using unique facilities and key partnerships for offshore wind energy. For more information, see our
- Water Power—Marine and hydrokinetic energy (MHK) includes devices used to harness the power of waves, tides, and currents. We are using our unique capabilities in marine sciences to reduce uncertainty and resolve key environmental issues to shorten time to deployment for these devices. PNNL's efforts are part of an overall program of research and development. Together with the complementary efforts of other national laboratories, National Marine Renewable Energy Centers, universities, and industry, we focus on addressing and unraveling the complex environmental issues associated with MHK technologies. For more information on our research, see the following:
- The Marine and Hydrokinetic (MHK) Environmental Impacts Knowledge Management System (KMS) website
- The Effects of Electromagnetic Fields on Fish and Invertebrates for MHK report and news release
- The Inflow Characterization for Marine and Hydrokinetic Energy Devices report
- The Environmental Effects of MHK: Assessment of Energy Removal Impacts on Physical Systems report
We also are using PNNL's expertise in hydropower to:
- optimize the efficiency and environmental performance of hydroelectric power plants
- increase fish passage safety and power production at existing dams
- study how fish and wildlife are affected by the variable stream flows from dams, and
- measure and predict greenhouse gas emissions from dam reservoirs.
For more information on PNNL's fish by-pass and dam operations projects, see this PNNL website: http://energyenvironment.pnnl.gov/projects/project_description.asp?id=288
For information on our projects and programs related to fish behavior and survival, see this PNNL website: http://energyenvironment.pnnl.gov/projects/project_description.asp?id=377
- Solar power—We are providing key breakthroughs in solar technology through new projects in thin film photovoltaics and thermal storage for concentrating solar power.
- Geothermal energy involves converting heat in the subsurface to electricity on the surface. We use our subsurface modeling capabilities to characterize potential geothermal energy sites to evaluate their capacity for long-term energy production. We also are developing technologies for capturing, extracting, and converting heat from untapped geothermal sources with a focus on enhanced geothermal systems. One of our technologies involves using metal organic heat carriers to increase the amount of usable heat energy that can be harvested from geothermal resources. Finally, we are leveraging our carbon capture and sequestration work to understand the geochemistry of carbon dioxide to potentially combine CO2 sequestration with enhanced geothermal systems.