There’s a common misperception about some of the work done at Berkeley Lab, that it’s all “basic,” still too early for anyone to benefit from. The reality is that much of the work done here is indeed ready for primetime.
What are we talking about here? Well, in many cases it’s the stuff that saves you money, but that’s not all.
One of the largest divisions at Berkeley Lab is the Environmental Energy Technologies Division (EETD for short, and because we love our acronyms…).
This is an area of science that people can immediately relate to—how much can I save, after all, is a mantra that’s nearly universal.
For EETD researchers, their work spans a broad field of opportunities. Some of them work on ways to improve indoor light switches by making them “smart,” knowing when to power down when you’ve left the room, for instance. Other research focuses on smart windows; what we can do to allow light to come in, but not the heat that drives up our energy bills. There are other groups working on smart buildings, e.g. how to get entire buildings to better manage the power that’s needed inside. And that’s just a small portion of their work.
Developed at Berkeley Lab, these websites give you access to online energy-saving tools, which can give businesses, utility companies, and homeowner’s access to data to help manage their power usage.
Home Energy Saver is a residential calculator that provides customized estimates of energy use, energy bills, and CO2 emissions based on the user’s location and home construction. Kind of fun to work through it, inputting places where you once lived to compare costs.
EnergyIQ, on the other hand, is a web-based benchmarking tool used by energy managers, building owners, architects and engineers for non-residential buildings. They’re looking to improve energy efficiency, save money, and reduce carbon emissions. The software looks at energy, costs, greenhouse gas emissions, etc.
Researchers at the Lab recently created Application Programming Interfaces, or APIs, that allow software developers to create algorithms to interface with the data that already exists in the EnergyIQ and Home Energy Saver databases. That should make the data and its usefulness even more widely available and customizable to different audiences.
Then there’s the system that does double-duty—one that removes Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), like formaldehyde, while cutting energy costs.
Designed to be inexpensive, and more efficient, scientists at the Lab developed a catalyst to improve indoor air quality and reduce ventilation energy needs. The catalyst, a manganese oxide (MnOx), can be made inexpensively from commercially available chemicals. It essentially turns several volatile organics—most notably formaldehyde and acetaldehyde—to carbon dioxide and water. The material can be applied with off-the-shelf hardware to a particle filter, which you could then place in a heating, ventilation, or air conditioning (HVAC) system to reduce VOCs in indoor air. This research is ready to be commercialized, so hopefully we’ll see it on store shelves in the next few years.
The Residential Integrated Ventilation Energy Controller (RIVEC) is another product that reduces energy while doing good elsewhere.
Iain Walker and his colleagues developed a dynamic control system for whole-house ventilation fans. The system reduces the energy spent on a home’s ventilation by 18-44%. How? RIVEC controls the operation of the whole-house ventilation system to minimize energy use while maintaining indoor air quality.
The RIVEC receives info from other exhaust fans like bathrooms, kitchens, and clothing dryers. When these fans are on, the RIVEC turns down—or off—the whole-house fan until it’s needed again. On top of that, an algorithm in the system slows or stops the whole-house fan at peak hours for heating or air-conditioning, when outdoor pollutant levels are high, or if the home is unoccupied. This further reduces energy waste while maintaining air quality.
There’s no question that when it comes to saving dollars and cents, having some “sense” around also helps!
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Note: These technologies, and others like them, are available from Berkeley Lab’s TechTransfer office.