Monday, February 28, 2011

Dublin hoping to join suitors wooing new Berkeley lab campus

It may not boast bayfront views, but Dublin officials are banking on state recognition and the success of two national laboratories located nearby to help lure Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory to open a second campus in town. The City Council on Tuesday is expected to agree to provide a letter of support for SunCal companies' bid to land the 2-million-square-foot campus that is scheduled to open in December 2015. The council will meets at 7 p.m. at city hall, 100 Civic Plaza. Proposals are due March 4 and Lawrence Berkeley Lab expects to make a decision by June. More>

Walnut Creek may create $250,000 economic development department

Walnut Creek may create a new economic development department within City Hall that would be run by an economic development director set to pull down around $150,000 a year. The new division would tackle such issues as late-night alcohol policy for the downtown, and staffers would work with business leaders to promote the city and tourism. The economic plan also includes goals such as selling city property, bidding to host a second campus of the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and attract new events to Walnut Creek. More>

Jay Keasling: 'We can use synthetic biology to make jet fuel'

There is no doubt that synthetic biology is delivering. One of the leading lights in the field is Berkeley Lab's Jay Keasling, a professor of bioengineering at the University of California, Berkeley and CEO of the US Department of Energy's Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI). Five years ago, he created yeast cells that eat sugar and convert it into a frontline drug for malaria. It was more than a neat laboratory trick. A new facility being built in Italy will put the bugs to good use and make the drug artemisinin, quickly and cheaply. With each dose expected to cost around 15p, Keasling's bugs could save the lives of millions. Now he is switching his attention to finding a replacement for jet fuel and diesel. More>

Can a group of scientists in California end the war on climate change?

For the past year, Berkeley Lab physicist Richard Muller has kept a low profile, working quietly on a new project with a team of academics hand-picked for their skills. They meet on campus regularly, to check progress, thrash out problems and hunt for oversights that might undermine their work. And for good reason. When Muller and his team go public with their findings in a few weeks, they will be muscling in on the ugliest and most hard-fought debate of modern times. Muller calls his latest obsession the Berkeley Earth project. The aim is so simple that the complexity and magnitude of the undertaking is easy to miss. Starting from scratch, with new computer tools and more data than has ever been used, they will arrive at an independent assessment of global warming. More>

Friday, February 25, 2011

Berkeley Lab Expert Comments on Dangers of Cell Phones on NBC Nightly News

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Climate, habits affect life of electric car batteries

A variety of electric vehicles will hit the market this year, raising questions about the most critical element of any electric car: the battery. "If I want to buy an electric vehicle, I would want to know how many miles can I drive under real driving conditions, how long will my battery last and how long will the battery take to charge," said Venkat Srinivasan, a staff scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California who writes a popular battery blog at www.thisweekin More>

Google Ventures, Kleiner Perkins lead funding for energy company Transphorm

Hybrid and electric cars that are lighter and have longer range. Laptops without a converter "brick" that plugs into the wall outlet. Solar panels that lose much less energy when they link to the electrical power grid. Those are some of the products that Transphorm, a Southern California startup that officially "emerged from stealth" Wednesday, hopes to create with its new power conversion technology. "There is theoretically room for improvement and hopefully this will help us get there, but can I say that it will? No," said Steve Greenberg, an energy management engineer at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. "I'm always skeptical of announcements that are touting the greatest thing since sliced bread. It's like, let's see the numbers." More>

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Scientists From Different Fields Work Together to Research Cancer

Cancer research is normally conducted in a single field without collaboration. This approach has changed with the Bay Area Physical Sciences-Oncology center, which studies cancer across interdisciplinary fields. The center started in 2009 after Mina Bissell, a scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and her colleagues wrote a grant to the National Cancer Institute requesting funding for a program that would specifically explore how tissue cells develop deformities in relation to physical and biological events - research that could be used to better understand the development of cancer. More>

Berkeley Lab’s Saul Perlmutter wins Einstein Medal

Saul Perlmutter, a professor of physics at UC Berkeley and part of the Physics Division at Lawrence Berkeley Lab, has been awarded this year’s Einstein Medal, presented by the Albert Einstein Society. The medal was awarded for “discovering the acceleration of the universe” through the observation of very distant supernovae. Perlmutter shares the award with Adam Riess of the Space Telescope Science Institute and John Hopkins University. More>

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Praying for an Energy Miracle

Researchers at Caltech are working on a different solution. They are trying to invent a fundamentally new way of producing liquid fuels directly from sunlight, inspired by the way green plants convert sunlight to sugars. If this quest for "artificial photosynthesis" succeeds, it will address one of solar energy's fundamental challenges: how to store the power until it's needed. This research—a joint project of Caltech and Lawrence Berkeley National Lab—will be supported by $122 million over five years from the U.S. Department of Energy, pending Congressional appropriation of the funds. More>

New Batteries Fix Themselves

A newly created lithium-ion battery that can heal itself may improve the life span and safety of today’s energy-storage technologies, researchers report. Rechargeable lithium-ion batteries power cell phones, laptops and other portable electronics. But, like any batteries, they tend to break down over time. "Lithium-ion batteries will continue to be the technology used for the next 10 to 15 years in electric cars," said Kristin Persson of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, who is looking for new battery materials that not only have better energy storage but also avoid some of the pitfalls of traditional batteries. "It will take at least that amount of time to develop new materials." More>

Scientist finds Gulf bottom still oily, dead

Oil from the BP spill remains stuck on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, according to a top scientist's video and slides that she says demonstrate the oil isn't degrading as hoped and has decimated life on parts of the sea floor. That report is at odds with a recent report by the BP spill compensation czar that said nearly all will be well by 2012.The head of the agency in charge of the health of the Gulf said Saturday that she thought that "most of the oil is gone." And a Department of Energy scientist, doing research with a grant from BP from before the spill, said his examination of oil plumes in the water column show that microbes have done a "fairly fast" job of eating the oil. Lawrence Berkeley National Lab scientist Terry Hazen said his research differs from Joye's because they looked at different places at different times. More>

Friday, February 18, 2011

Kitt Peak Scope to Get $100M Shot in the Arm

A $100 million international project called Big BOSS could breathe new life into an aging telescope on light-challenged Kitt Peak southwest of Tucson. A consortium led by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory wants to outfit the 4-meter Mayall Telescope with the world's most sophisticated spectrographs and use it to answer one of astronomy's grand challenges: explaining why the expansion of the universe is accelerating rather than slowing. For the fields of astronomy and physics, it is an opportunity to test theories and challenge long-held beliefs - even Einstein's gravitational mathematics. More>

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Dark Energy Hunt Gets a New Tracker

A massive survey of distant galaxies should help unravel a mind-bending cosmic mystery: Why has the expansion of the universe sped up? The goal of the new project, called BigBOSS, is to develop a cosmic yardstick to accurately measure the universe's expansion, which seems to be getting a boost from an anti-gravity force known as dark energy. "It is a complete mystery what is going on with dark energy. It was completely unexpected," physicist Michael Levi with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory told Discovery News. More>

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Gasoline From Water? It Could Happen

A worldwide competition is under way to develop technology that will revolutionize the way we power everything. from our laptops to our cars, and the United States, at the moment, has a substantiive lead. The goal is to produce fuels -- hydrogen, methane, maybe gasoline -- by vastly improving on the photosynthesis that provides the fuel for plants and algae and all sorts of living things to grow. A consortium of several California research institutions beat out 19 teams across the country to win the chance to do something no one has been able to do before. The resulting Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis includes the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, the Stanford National Accelerator Laboratory, and University of California campuses at Berkeley, Santa Barbara, Irvine and San Diego. More>

Cal students root for machine over man on Jeopardy

I’ve learned that the computer geeks at Cal will be hosting a “Jeopardy!” viewing party on Wednesday and that they’ll be backing Watson, the IBM supercomputer, in its highly hyped showdown with the game show’s best-known human champs, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. Rooting against flesh-and-blood Earthlings? The nerve! No wonder none of them can get girlfriends! (The three-day man vs. machine matchup, some seven years in the making, began airing Monday). Anyway, the public is invited to Wednesday’s finale. Before “Jeopardy!” gets under way, they’ll lead a discussion with computer scientists — including Berkeley Lab's Horst Simon — talking about how “Jeopardy!” showcases the capabilities of artificial intelligence and machine learning. More>

Monday, February 14, 2011

Biofuel technologies vie to provide a sustainable supply of transportation fuels

Chemists, chemical engineers, and synthetic biologists have largely met the technical challenge of developing biofuels to supplement and then replace petroleum-derived transportation fuels in the coming decades. For biofuels to reach the U.S. market, however, these technologies have to fit into the existing transportation fuel infrastructure. Every major chemical and petrochemical firm has claimed a stake in the race to biofuel commercialization, as have dozens of start-up companies. “Because the energy industry is so large, there is room for everybody to play, as long as you can meet the economics,” says Berkeley Lab's Jay Keasling. “That is the great thing about this problem. Chemical technologies can be engineered to happen more quickly. It does take a long time to engineer the biology. But the beauty of biology is that it can work under dirtier conditions, and you can get the specific molecule you want under a range of conditions.” More>

Windmill power: We'll need more than 13,000

California law requires that by 2020, a third of our energy production should come from clean sources such as wind. We seem to be well on our way: California already has some 13,000 commercial wind turbines. But if that sounds like a lot, consider that a Lawrence Berkeley National Lab researcher recently told Climate Watch he believes we'll need 5,000 more to hit that goal. More>

Sunny prospect for solar-powered cars?

In President Obama’s Jan. 25 State of the Union address, he boasted “At the California Institute of Technology, they’re developing a way to turn sunlight and water into fuel for our cars.” What he is referring to is the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP), a team of scientists from Caltech and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory who were awarded $122 million in July from the Department of Energy after wining a national competition. Their idea is simple: to recreate the process by which all the trees and plants on this planet create their energy—photosynthesis. More>

Science Bowlers Win Regionals, Head to Nationals

Saturday, Feb. 6, was the U.S. Department of Energy's Regional Science Bowl Competition at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Twelve schools participated. The morning face-offs were round-robin, in which Albany was the only undefeated team. More>

Friday, February 11, 2011

2 Studies Target Sticking Points, Gaps in Life-Cycle Calculations of Biofuels

Conducting in-depth life-cycle assessments of the environmental impacts of biofuels is complicated, and new research suggests some questions in comparing biofuels to alternatives like petroleum-based fuels will never be answered. Furthermore, one study argues, consumer choices driven by price differences between bio-based and petroleum-based fuels will play into how biofuels affect the environment, adding another layer of complication that must considered. The two papers were recently published by the Energy Biosciences Institute, a partnership among oil giant BP PLC; the University of California, Berkeley; the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. More>

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Symposium on Global Green Cities of the 21st Century to Be Held in San Francisco

Organizers and sponsors of the Global Green Cities of the 21st Century: Evolving Models for Sustainable Urban Design today announced that the symposium will take place Feb. 23-25 at the San Francisco JW Marriott. With the goal of fostering sustainable urban development and design, the landmark symposium will shed light on the development of green cities. Gavin Newsom, lieutenant governor of California, will deliver the opening remarks on Feb. 23. The symposium will feature a high-level exchange of ideas and information among elected officials, planners, researchers, technologists, business executives and other leaders recognized worldwide. Among the participants is Berkeley Lab's Art Rosenfeld. More>

US science agencies targeted for cuts

The US budget battle of 2011 has barely begun, but the opening salvos are echoing loudly across the capitol — in some cases, signalling the potential for major cuts to labs and regulatory agencies. Most striking in its size and political implications is the proposed cut to the DOE Office of Science, which underwrites the lion's share of research in many areas of chemistry and physics in the United States and supports ten national laboratories, including Fermilab in Batavia, Illinois, the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory at Stanford University in Menlo Park, California, and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, California. The proposed cut would amount to a nearly 18% reduction from the Office of Science's 2010 budget. The shortfall would presumably have to be absorbed in the final months of the 2011 budget. More>

New life cycle assessment report highlights challenges of biofuels

Advanced biofuels have the potential to be clean-burning, carbon-neutral and renewable, but important social, economic and environmental issues must be addressed. “These challenges include constraints imposed by economics and markets, resource limitations, health risks, climate forcing, nutrient cycle disruption, water demand, and land use,” says Berkeley Lab's Thomas McKone. “Responding to these challenges effectively requires a life-cycle perspective.” More>

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

DOE designs energy-saving AC units

The U.S. government has released specifications for a highly-efficient rooftop air conditioning unit it believes could save the country a plethora of electricity, and commercial properties a considerable amount of money. "To help achieve the best-in-class rooftop units requested by industry partners, DOE national laboratories, including Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and Oak Ridge National Lab, will provide technical assistance to manufacturers or developers who want to build the more efficient units. Interested manufacturers will receive assistance in designing, constructing, measuring, and testing the new air conditioner units produced to this specification," said the DOE. More>

IceCube opens up a window on energy in the universe

The world's newest astronomical observatory is defined by a field of 86 colored flags rippling across an ice-covered polar landscape. Each banner marks a line of glass-covered orbs that stretches down a mile and a half into the ice, like beads on a frozen string. Known as IceCube, this massive underground array is designed to do what no other observatory has done before - catch a glimpse of elusive neutrinos, ghostly particles that are formed in the hearts of supernovas, black holes and other deep-space objects and may give scientists new information about the origins of the universe. But IceCube is something different, an observatory built entirely beneath the ice. Along each of the 86 cables are strung 60 three-foot spherical detectors, called digital optical modules or DOMs. The world's newest astronomical observatory is defined by a field of 86 colored flags rippling across an ice-covered polar landscape. Each banner marks a line of glass-covered orbs that stretches down a mile and a half into the ice, like beads on a frozen string. The sophisticated electronics of the DOMs, which analyze faint light signals in place under the ice, were conceived, prototyped, tested, and demonstrated by Berkeley Lab scientists and engineers. More>

Search for Wind-Related Grid Problems Finds a Bigger Concern

A national laboratory report targeted at wind power integration has found unexpected evidence of the electricity grid's vulnerability to potential blackouts due to the current operations of conventional -- not renewable -- generation. The study by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, issued last month, reports that frequency levels are dropping further than realized on the nation's two largest grid systems, particularly at the start of the day when electricity demand ramps up and when it ramps down in the evening. More>

Monday, February 7, 2011

Turning sunlight into fuel

"At the California Institute of Technology, they're developing a way to turn sunlight and water into fuel for our cars," President Obama said in his Jan. 25 State of the Union address. He was referring to the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis, or JCAP, where a team of California scientists are taking a multi-pronged approach to try to engineer a clean, cheap energy source from the sun.

How did JCAP get started?

Lewis: There was a national competition to form a Department of Energy hub; 20 consortia applied as teams. The team led by myself, with my colleagues at Caltech, some of the UCs, Stanford, the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, won that competition.

We have a California-based team of 200 scientists working on nothing else but fuels from sunlight.


DOE launches initiative to drive down costs of photovoltaics

Despite the drab, cold winter of Washington, D.C., the Department of Energy is focused on sunny warmth as Secretary Steven Chu unveiled a $27 million commitment to push down the cost of solar energy. The SunShot initiative seeks to make solar energy cost-competitive by 2020, without the aid of subsidies. The target: Solar-generated electricity must drop by about 75 percent to $1 per watt, or 6 cents per kilowatt-hour. Stanford recently joined with neighboring University of California, Berkeley, and DOE's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to form a photovoltaic consortium. The consortium has drafted a proposal to mobilize the industry around a goal to manufacture solar power at 50 cents per watt and sell that power at a dollar per kilowatt-hour. "It's an aggressive goal, an exciting goal, but it will require substantial advancements," said Ryan Wiser, a staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley, regarding the Sunshot initiative. More>

What Does a Malaria Drug Have in Common With Fueling Your Vehicle?

Some might call it luck, some might call it fate. Nevertheless, the day Berkeley Lab's Jay Keasling found out that a plant-based malaria drug called artemisinin was chronically in short supply – that was a very important day. You see, back in 2000, Dr. Keasling was looking for an organic chemical to be a suitable focus for his research into a new field of science known as synthetic biology. More>

Crime scene DNA testing on the move

A microfluidic chip that can come up with a DNA profile in less than three hours has been designed by US scientists for use at crime scenes. With current techniques, forensic scientists have to wait up to eight hours to get results. Using microchips to speed up the process has been investigated but integrating all of the profiling steps in one device has remained elusive until now. Berkeley Lab physical bioscientist Richard Mathies and UC Berkeley colleagues, in collaboration with the US Department of Justice, have produced a portable method to test DNA at a crime scene that integrates all of the steps in one device. More>

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Obama Spotlights Energy Efficiency Work at Penn St

Jim Freihaut thinks he might be on the verge of one of those "Sputnik moments" that President Barack Obama referred to in his State of the Union speech. The Penn State scientist wants to transform the building industry by making energy-efficient renovations more affordable. The administration is so interested that Obama plans to get a firsthand look at Freihaut's lab during a scheduled stop Thursday in State College. These days, the goals are more down to earth. The Department of Energy has designated three Innovation Hubs, one of which Freihaut leads, to focus on technology that has the potential to reduce dependence on imported oil and greenhouse gas emissions. The California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., and the Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory in Berkley, Calif., lead one hub focused on sun-derived fuels. More>

Cleantech companies off to a good start

Six cleantech companies that received a total of $23.6 million in seed funding from the Department of Energy's highly regarded ARPA-E program have, a year later, attracted more than $100 million in private capital investment. The announcement, made late Wednesday by the Energy Department, seeks to highlight ARPA-E's success in making early and strategic investments in potentially game-changing clean-energy technologies. Arun Majumdar left his job at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory in October 2009 to direct ARPA-E and has recruited high-caliber talent to work with him. More>

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Today’s Clean Tech Could Power the World by 2050

In two papers in press in Energy Policy (.pdf), Jacobson and coauthor Mark Delucchi of the University of California, Davis outline a plan to power the planet using renewables. They ranked the alternatives by comparing efficiency with health and environmental benefits. Wind, solar, geothermal and water power came out on top, and biofuels on bottom. Nuclear power fell in-between, as did coal burned using carbon-capturing smokestacks. These were then evaluated in terms of costs, materials and reliability. “From what I saw, it’s carefully done,” said Jonathan Koomey of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, who was not involved in the work. “If you take it as a back-of-the-envelope, high level, envisioning the future of what we want to create, this is a good example of that kind of work. I think it’s credibly done.” “I think it’s generally true that one finds there are no absolutely insurmountable technical barriers,” said Ryan Wiser, an expert in renewable energy policies at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, also not involved in the study. “The question isn’t fundamentally a technical one.” More>

57 rooms, killer view, free wi-fi — and a synchrotron

Mind-bending views are one thing. But not every hotel gets to brag that it stands in the shadow of light-curving synchrotron. The Berkeley Lab Guest House can make that claim – not to mention the cyclotron right up the hill. It’s also the only hotel where guests can see the Campanile from above. And as an added feature, on certain nights they might be rewarded (or not, depending on their musical taste and wake-up time) with free audio from a performance at the Greek Theatre just down the hill. Not too many people outside of the scientific world seem to know about the Guest House, which opened a year ago on the steep grounds of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, up above campus. More>

Lawrence Berkeley Lab to help map universe

Berkeley astronomers have won approval for a telescope project that will reach back in time more than 10 billion years to probe the role of mysterious dark energy in speeding the universe's early expansion. The telescopic venture will provide new information that will allow scientists to map the entire universe in greater detail than ever before. Astronomer David Schlegel of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory said it will involve 35 science institutions around the globe and will result in the biggest map of the universe ever created. More>

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Scientists Find New Way to Utilize Solar Energy

Americans may be one step closer to driving zero-emission cars, as a new Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory report published this month sheds light on new methods for harnessing solar energy. Lab scientists have discovered a low-cost, zero-emission method of effectively utilizing the sun's energy to extract hydrogen from water, according to a paper published Jan. 20 in Science Magazine's website. This hydrogen could then be used for fuel cells. More>