DOE national labs come with study on cleaner energy technologies

Apr 27, 1998 02:00 AM

The United States has many options for reducing greenhouse gas emissions through new, cleaner energy technologies, the directors of 11 of the Department of Energy's national laboratories conclude in a recently released study. The directors recommend to develop a wide range of technologies over the next several decades.
The directors' report, Technology Opportunities to Reduce US Greenhouse Gas Emissions, outlines almost 50 technology pathways that could eliminate the emissions of hundreds of millions of tons of carbon per year. They include such near-term practical technologies as electric hybrid vehicles, high-efficiency lighting, super-insulating windows, and passive solar heating and cooling of buildings. They also include mid-term to longer term technologies that need further development, such as fuel cells for transportation, microturbines, broad use of biomass fuels and hydrogen-fuelled energy systems.
"Technologies already being developed by industry and by national laboratories are key to meeting President Clinton's challenge to reduce greenhouse gases while contributing to economic growth," said Secretary of Energy Federico Pena. "This report lays out what we need to do to bring our nation's best scientific and engineering talent to bear on solving this problem. With the support of American consumers and businesses, we can have a major impact on the kind of world we leave for future generations."

The 11 laboratory directors recommend that the federal government lead a vigorous national push to develop energy technologies during the next three decades to achieve a major reduction in the risk of global warming. While the study does not recommend specific funding levels for technology research, development and deployment, it estimates some increases will be needed to push critical technologies to the commercialisation stage. A report issued last year by the President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology reached a similar conclusion about the need for increased investment in energy research and development. Also, government-industry partnerships are essential, the laboratory study says, to overcome scientific, technical and commercial challenges to developing the recommended technologies.

The United States emits 23 % of the world's CO2 and other greenhouse gases. Some 90 % of those emissions come from energy use, and about 85 % of the CO2 released into the atmosphere comes from burning fossil fuels.
The study examines technologies that can reduce emissions in three ways:
- by using energy more efficiently,
- reducing the amount of carbon released through energy use and
- increasing the amount of carbon dioxide absorbed from the atmosphere.

Technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will become available at different times over the next 30 years, according to the study. In the first decade, significant advances in energy efficiency technologies -- such as in appliances, heating and cooling systems, and transportation -- would produce the greatest reductions in emissions. During the following 10 years, research-based advances in clean energy technologies could greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. These could include high-efficiency natural gas systems, renewable energy such as solar and wind, and fuel cells. And by 2030, research in carbon sequestration -- carbon storage, carbon absorption and carbon removal by oceans, forests and soils -- could produce valuable results.
The study stresses the importance of pursuing a number of technologies at each stage to provide choices and flexibility for energy users. The 47 options the lab directors recommend cover almost all sectors of the economy, including buildings, industry, transportation and agriculture.

Admiral Richard Truly, director of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and Dr. Alvin Trivelpiece, director of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, co- chaired the technology study.
The participating labs were Argonne National Laboratory, Brookhaven National Laboratory, E.O. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Federal Energy Technology Centre, Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories.

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