Friday, April 29, 2011

Solar PV Boosts the Sales Price of California Homes

There's strong evidence that homes with solar PV systems sell for a higher sales price in California, according to a Department of Energy (DOE) Lawrence Berkeley National Lab report."Average sales price premiums appear to be comparable with the average investment homeowners made to install PV systems," says Ben Hoen, lead researcher on the study and a Principal Research Associate at Berkeley Lab. More>

Keasling Featured in NOVA’s ‘Power Surge’ Program

Watch the full episode. See more NOVA.

Can emerging technology defeat global warming? The United States has invested tens of billions of dollars in clean energy projects as our leaders try to save our crumbling economy and our poisoned planet in one bold, green stroke. Are we finally on the brink of a green-energy “power surge,” or is it all a case of too little, too late? NOVA focuses on the latest and greatest innovations, including the biofuels work of Jay Keasling and the Joint Bioenergy Institute (JBEI), featured in chapter five of the program.

DOE Expert Sees Growth in China's GHG Emissions Stopping in 2 Decades -- if Everything Goes Right

China's energy use should flatten out sometime around 2030, with a similar leveling off of its greenhouse gas emissions, a federal researcher said yesterday. Mark Levine, director of the China Energy Group at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, said his research bucks the mainstream view that China's energy appetite is swelling indefinitely. Instead, as Levine and others argue in a report released yesterday, China will reach "saturation" around 2030 -- it simply won't have to make appliances, roads and raw materials at the pace it needs to right now. More>

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Arthur Rosenfeld wins energy prize

Arthur H. Rosenfeld, a UC Berkeley physicist whose passion for energy efficiency led him to take a leading role in developing tough new building standards and other green technologies, has won half of a million-dollar Russian award called the Global Energy International Prize. As a physicist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Rosenfeld, now 84, was an early member of a lab team headed by UC Berkeley physicist Luis Alvarez that investigated subnuclear particles. The team's work earned Alvarez the 1968 Nobel Prize for physics. By 1973, however, the oil crisis impelled Rosenfeld to switch his research to the exploration of new technologies that could reduce America's increasing dependence on oil. More>

Monday, April 25, 2011

'Sleeping' red-eyed thieves stealing your energy

Many unused televisions and video game consoles sit quietly in American homes with a red-eyed glare similar to that of the homicidal computer HAL in the science fiction film "2001: A Space Odyssey." Despite being turned off, their collective energy vampirism drains the equivalent of entire power plants in the United States. Electronics on standby make up 5 percent to 10 percent of energy consumption in U.S. homes, according to the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. That translates into the energy equivalent of 43 to 86 power plants, if each plant produces 300 megawatts, based on Nadel's calculations. More>

IBM Takes Pi to the Billionth Decimal Digit

Blue Gene/P, an IBM supercomputer designed to continuously run at 1petaFLOPS, has found the billionth decimal digit in pi, according to a report by The Australian IT. The calculation has long been considered impossible to complete; some have estimated that it would have taken a single CPU 1,500 years. But IBM's Blue Gene/P solved to the billionth decimal digit in just a few months, working with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and IBM Australia. More>

The dark matter of disease

In the early 2000s, geneticist Len Pennacchio was at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California studying coronary artery disease (CAD) and was faced with a conundrum: Despite the fact that CAD was a known heritable disorder, he and his colleagues could not identify any gene that significantly contributed to CAD risk. "It's the number one killer in Western society, yet the genetic explanations have largely remained elusive," he said. More>

Friday, April 22, 2011

Biotech firm looks to clean oil out of laundry detergent

The year anniversary of the BP oil spill this week reminds us of a couple of uncomfortable realities. Drilling for oil is an inherently dirty business. It's hard to do and getting harder. It's expensive. You throw in the squeeze the global economy feels when prices do what they're doing right now, and that's plenty reason to go looking for alternatives. And not just alternatives to oil as fuel. If a product hasn't been made with oil, it was certainly transported with oil. And without petroleum lubricants, the entire country would simply grind to a halt from friction, said David Fridley of Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. More>

Study Finds Solar Panels Increase Home Values

All those homeowners who have been installing residential solar panels over the last decade may find it was a more practical decision than they thought. The electricity generated may have cost more than that coming from the local power company (half of which, nationwide, comes from burning coal), but if they choose to sell their homes, the price premium they will get for the solar system should let them recoup much of their original capital investment. That is the conclusion of three researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, who looked at home sales — both homes with photovoltaic systems and homes without — in California over an eight-and-a-half-year period ending in mid-2009. The abstract of their study states, “the analysis finds strong evidence that California homes with PV systems have sold for a premium over comparable homes without PV systems.” More>

UC Berkeley, Lawrence Berkeley Lab Start Synthetic Biology Institute

A new institute formed by UC Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory will work to engineer cells and biological systems to tap discoveries in health, energy and new materials, among other targets. Agilent Technologies Inc. is the first corporate partner of the Synthetic Biology Institute. UC Berkeley did not say how much Santa Clara-based Agilent (NYSE: A) will pay, but it said the company made a multiyear, multimillion-dollar commitment. Led by UC Berkeley’s College of Engineering and College of Chemistry, the instititute will work to develop inexpensive drugs for treating diseases, methods for producing transportation biofuels from plants, microbes that target tumors, water purification, environmental cleanup and functional new materials. More>

Monday, April 18, 2011

A year after BP oil spill, fate of gulf ecosystem remains murky

The 86-day Deepwater Horizon gusher sent nearly 200 million gallons of oil, tens of millions of gallons of natural gas and 1.8 million gallons of poorly studied chemical dispersants into the northern Gulf of Mexico. And the fate of much of it remains murky. Natural oil-munching bacteria then swarmed the plumes, according to research published in the journal Science in August by Terry Hazen of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Three weeks after the well was capped in July, Hazen and his crew no longer found signs of deep oil or gas as they crisscrossed the gulf. More>

One year after spill, where's the oil?

One year ago this week, an oil-rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico touched off a deep-sea leak amounting to 2.5 million gallons of Louisiana light crude every day for months. In all, nearly 207 million gallons (4.9 million barrels) of oil are thought to have gushed from the leak, along with huge volumes of methane. So what's happened to all those petrochemicals over the past year? The answer is surprisingly complex and contentious. Most researchers also agree that the spill was a catastrophe, no matter how the percentages for those various categories add up. "This was an ecological disaster, no doubt about it," Terry Hazen, a microbial ecologist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, told me. More>

Berkeley Lab Researcher Reflects on Gulf Oil Spill

Friday, April 15, 2011

Gulf’s Complexity and Resilience Seen in Studies of Oil Spill

In the year since the wellhead beneath the Deepwater Horizon rig began spewing rust-colored crude into the northern Gulf of Mexico, scientists have been working frantically to figure out what environmental harm really came of the largest oil spill in American history. Still, there has been some independent scientific work done in the gulf, and it has produced some good news. Because the spill occurred at very high pressure a mile beneath the ocean’s surface, some of the oil was reduced to tiny droplets that remained suspended thousands of feet deep in a fine mist. Terry C. Hazen, who leads the ecology department at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, took 170 samples from around the Deepwater Horizon between July 27 and Aug. 26 last year, just weeks after the wellhead was capped. More>

Body's Immune Protein Fights Breast Cancer

The body’s cancer-fighting defenses include an immune protein that seems able to distinguish between normal and malignant breast cells. When confronted with a malignant cell, the protein instructs it to self-destruct, but leaves normal cells unaffected, scientists find. This quality suggests that the protein, interleukin-25, has potential as a breast cancer treatment, says study coauthor Saori Furuta, a molecular biologist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, in California. The report appears in the April 13 Science Translational Medicine. More>

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Marijuana Growing Gobbles Electricity, Study Finds

A new study estimates that indoor pot-growing operations in the United States burn about $5 billion worth of electricity annually, or roughly 1 percent of national power consumption. That’s enough electricity to power two million average homes. The electricity use of the typical grow operation approaches 200 watts per square foot, on par with the power usage of a modern computer data center, Evan Mills, a staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and author of the study, said in a statement. (The study was completed in his free time and without federal funds, Dr. Mills added.) More>

Smart Thermostats Outwit Users

Programmable thermostats, which now make up about half the U.S. sales of all thermostats, could be more trouble for some than they're worth. A study led by Alan Meier, a senior scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, concluded that in many cases, these Energy Star-labeled thermostats are making it hard to save energy. The reason is many people don't know how to use them. Programmable thermostats allow users to automatically set them at lower temperatures when they're asleep or not at home. But many people aren't taking the extra step required to make the energy savings possible, according to the study. More>

Friday, April 8, 2011

Building Energy Efficiency Is a Hard Market to Crack

Energy efficiency retrofits are considered the “low-hanging fruit” of cleantech, but not low enough because the market hasn’t exactly taken off. Until now, the bulk of energy retrofit projects in the commercial sector take place in public facilities, Peter Larsen of Berkeley Lab said. Public agencies tend to have buildings with outdated wiring and other equipment that could use modernization, and they have the money to do it. Private businesses, however, are more tight-fisted with their money and tend to carry out smaller retrofit projects and expect a much quicker payback to please their shareholders, Larsen said. More>

Q&A With Richard Muller: A Physicist and His Surprising Climate Data

Richard Muller of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California has gained a solid scientific reputation for his work in astrophysics and particle physics. He's waded into policy debates over nuclear weapons and terrorism as a member of the secretive JASON panel. And his introductory course, Physics for Future Presidents, is popular among undergraduates at the University of California, Berkeley. More>

'No Home Run Yet' for ARPA-E, but Chief Says 'Motivated' Team's on Track

In February, Chu made Majumdar the acting undersecretary for energy, giving him oversight of some of DOE's most prominent programs and perhaps hinting at Chu's plans for the wider agency. But it is still unclear whether Majumdar will take the position permanently; DOE has been silent on the issue, and Majumdar will only say that he leaves the decision to Chu and President Obama. In the meantime, Majumdar has taken on both jobs with enthusiasm, joking that he sometimes sleeps four or five hours a night. He also manages to fit in trips every few weeks to Berkeley, where his wife and two teenage daughters still live. That kind of cheerful dedication suited him well at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, where he was the director for the Environmental Energy and Technologies Division for about three years. Ashok Gadgil, who was Majumdar's deputy and now heads the division, said Majumdar could often be seen talking with employees next to a whiteboard filled with formulas. More>

Research Insights: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

Q: What are the core research areas at your laboratory? What are the prospects for federal funding for these areas through FY 2012? Describe any opportunities for collaborations or partnerships with other government labs, academia, or industry to advance this research.

Paul Alivisatos, Director, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Berkeley Lab is an incubator for ideas, innovations, and products that help society and explain how the universe works. The Lab specializes in research in renewable energy sources such as biofuels and artificial photosynthesis; energy efficiency at home, at work, and around the world; the ability to observe, probe, and assemble materials atom by atom; climate change research, environmental science, and the growing connections between them; the chemistry and physics of matter and force in the universe—from the infinite to the infinitesimal; computational science and advanced networking to enable discovery and remote collaborations; and biological sciences for human health and energy research. More>

Monday, April 4, 2011

Building Better Batteries for Electric Cars

Today’s electric car batteries no longer resemble Volta’s container, but they work on the same basic principles. And two centuries of gradual improvements in the overall chemistry, design and materials have led to the lithium-based battery that relies on a lithium ion to shuttle back and forth from the anode and cathode. Simply put, the lithium-ion battery offers a higher energy density than other previous battery systems, according to Venkat Srinivasan, manager of the Battery for Automotive Transportation Technologies Program, an Energy Department-supported program managed by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley. Compared with the nickel-metal hydride battery used in the Toyota Prius, for example, a lithium-ion battery of the same weight and volume would increase energy density two to three times, said Dr. Srinivasan. More>

Potassium Iodide Sales Spike Following Quake

When Gene Bernardi asked her doctor two weeks ago if he would prescribe her potassium iodide, he laughed. Bernardi, a Berkeley resident, said she wanted a way to protect against radioactive iodine, but her doctor advised against taking the medicine. However, Bernardi, like many in the city, was still concerned about radiation in the Bay Area - from the plume of radioactive particles released by Japan's nuclear reactors that were damaged in the March 11 earthquake and subsequent tsunami - although officials maintain that levels of radiation are very low and harmless. Kai Vetter, UC Berkeley associate professor-in-residence of nuclear engineering,who installed a monitor on the roof of Etcheverry Hall, said that even at the highest levels measured, a person would have to breathe that air for 2,000 years to be exposed to the same amount of radiation that one would experience from a cross-country flight. More>

Friday, April 1, 2011

As Fukushima fallout circles the globe, nuclear sleuths sift it for clues

Fallout from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant has landed on 30 exquisitely sensitive detectors on desolate Arctic islands, on the tops of tall buildings and in other windy locales across the Northern Hemisphere, according to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization, which maintains those sensors. Sniffing the air like silent sentinels, the 63 shack-like stations (with 17 more planned) are capturing tiny radioactive particles in filters much like those on a home furnace. Analysis of that dust is a key step in an intricate process of nuclear sleuthing: The dust’s distinctive chemical signature can show scientists whether the particles blew into the air from a bomb, a damaged nuclear reactor or used uranium fuel. It can even point to the extent of damage suffered by a fission reactor. Tracing global wind patterns back then pinpoints where the emissions originated. “It’s nuclear forensics,” said Berkeley Lab's Kai Vetter, who built his own radiation detector atop a campus building after the Fukushima crisis began. More>

Gigantic concrete pumps will be airlifted from US to Japan to help respond to nuclear crisis Washington Post

Two gigantic concrete pumps — described as the largest such equipment in the world — will soon be on their way to join the machinery being used to pour water on damaged reactors in Japan’s nuclear crisis, company officials said Thursday. The machines are now being retrofitted in North Charleston, S.C., and Sante Fe Springs, Calif. That will allow them to spray water instead of concrete on the nuclear reactors, said Kelly Blickle, a spokeswoman at Putzmeister America Inc. in Sturtevant, Wis. The German firm manufactured the equipment. But if a decision is made to encase a reactor in concrete — similar to a method used in the 1986 Chernobyl disaster — the machines would be capable of doing that as well, Blickle said. The situation in Japan is different than in Chernobyl, where concrete was used to encase the facility, said Berkeley Lab's Ed Morse. More>

Food radiation fears move to forefront

"Radiation can be a scary word, but I think it's important to remember that actually, we live surrounded by radiation every single day," said Blair Thompson of the Washington Dairy Products Commission. In fact some of our most common food -- potatoes, carrots, bananas, Brazil nuts all contain radioactive potassium. The radioactive iodine measured in milk can be more dangerous because it concentrates in the thyroid. Still, the amounts measured are 5,000 times lower than those that can cause health damage, even in growing children. But for many fear remains -- and that can cause its own problems. "We actually see health damage -- not from the radiation but from the fear of the radiation," said Berkeley Lab's Tom McKone. "And it's very real!" More>