NREL to Cut Emissions 75% by 2009

The Environmental Protection Agency’s National Renewable Energy Lab is at the forefront of change in the nation’s energy resources sector. Its R&D and public-private partnership programs run the gamut of emerging new renewable energy and clean technology, enabling the crucial transition from “bleeding edge” to “leading edge” to take place. Its outreach efforts, meanwhile, are catalysts for the adoption of comprehensive, long-term climate change strategies in both the private and public sectors.
On Tuesday at the EPA’s Climate Leaders meeting in Boulder, Colo., NREL committed itself to cutting its greenhouse gas emissions 75% between 2005 and 2009. Two new renewable energy projects are expected to go a good way towards achieving its goal: a five-acre solar cell array will provide some 7% of the Lab’s electricity needs while a biomass combustion plant using forest thinnings as fuel stock will replace 75% of the natural gas currently used to heat the Lab’s research buildings.
The initiative also entails purchasing Renewable Energy Certificates, which will be purchased to offset the indirect emissions generated as a result of using electricity from non-renewable sources, as well as from Lab operations such as employee commuting and business travel.

From Drawing Board to Real World
“NREL places tremendous importance on the need to maintain a sustainable environment in our own workplace. We believe that our Laboratory should use minimal resources while receiving the maximum value from those resources we do use by balancing environmental, economic, and human impacts,” Bob Westby, manager of NREL’s Federal Energy Management Program and Sustainable NREL lead, said in a media release.
Partnering with a diverse range of private sector companies and investors the Dept. of Energy and NREL are playing a pivotal role in the research, development and commercialization of a diversity of promising alternative energy and clean technologies.
“Our office houses a Commercialization Team, which is focused on helping technology move from DoE’s National Laboratories to the market place. DoE recently announced its ‚ÄòEntrepreneur in Residence Program’, which will bring private investor into the National Labs to help devise strategies for full commercialization. This team also convened a ‚ÄòVenture Capital Showcase’ this past summer, wherein venture capital firms attended briefings on DOE technologies that are ready and available for license,” elaborated DoE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy spokesperson Kevin Brosnahan.
Through the government-industry Climate Leaders program the EPA works with partners to develop comprehensive climate change strategies. Partners employ a quality management system to carry out a corporate-wide inventory of their GHG emissions and commit to reduce them. Aggressive goals are set and annual progress reports are submitted to the EPA, thereby establishing a credible record of accomplishment. They may also be recognized by the EPA as corporate environmental leaders.

An independent journalist, researcher and writer, my work roams across the nexus where ecology, technology, political economy and sociology intersect and overlap. The lifelong quest for knowledge of the world and self -- not to mention gainful employment -- has led me near and far afield, from Europe, across the Asia-Pacific, Middle East and Africa and back home to the Americas. LinkedIn: andrew burger Google+: Andrew B Email:

3 responses

  1. Is this a bad joke? In case no one noticed, this:
    “a biomass combustion plant using forest thinnings as fuel stock will replace 75% of the natural gas currently used”
    translates into non-Governmentspeak as “We are going to burn trees on a massive scale.”
    This is the NREL’s idea of “emerging new renewable energy technology”? In case no one told them, trees are only very slowly renewable, and burning them will not only increase output of greenhouse gases, but will also eliminate the real offset provided by leaving mature trees where they are to absorb CO2. They should be planting trees, not burning them. Not to mention that burning trees for fuel is only leading edge technology if you travel back in time to the Neanderthal’s heyday.
    I guess the tree used to illustrate this story is put there so we could say goodbye. Why aren’t they building a biogas plant using agricultural waste or something similar? Even sticking with the natural gas they’re using would make more sense.
    Are people really buying this claim of 75% greenhouse gas reduction? The only real reduction I see from the information they’ve given is a piddling 7% from the solar array. That will likely be eliminated as soon as they start cutting down trees and burning them.
    Purchasing certificates won’t really do anything but create the illusion that they don’t have to do anything substantive.
    This has got to be the most outrageously backward, deceitful, and downright destructive excuse for an energy policy I’ve ever seen. I guess that’s just par for the course under the Bush/Cheney empire.

  2. babysnake,
    As much as you would like to believe that biomass energy conversion technologies are dirty….you are uneducated in your claims.
    #1) Biomass conversion is not burning. Most take place at 800 – 1000C in a controled oxygen environment and the emissions are smaller then any other fuels.
    #2)The decomposition of “forest thinnings”, which if you live in Colorado like I do means beetle kill trees, releases the exact same amount of carbon emissions as using it for fuel. That is why biomass converion is considered renewable because it does not add carbon to the atmosphere, it maintains it.
    I am curious to listen to your plans…..using agricultural waste is still very viable and NREL is looking into that, but they are NOT cutting down healthy trees. If you knew more about Colorado and the problems with beetle infestations, draught, and just the fact that trees die you could relate.
    What would you suggest for the future? Solar is very viable in Colorado, but do you even know what 7% is, how can you call it “piddling”? It could be a 500 kW array,which is huge. Please research your claims before making rash statements about one of the top high level laboratories in the world working toward a better future.
    What are you doing to better the future?

  3. pdq1966,
    First of all, the article doesn’t say “conversion,” which might leave room for other methodologies but includes combustion. It says “combustion,” which is, by definition, burning. And, you state it happens at 800-1000C as if wood won’t burn at those temps. No. And, even the simplest wood burning stove is a controlled oxygen environment. That means nothing.
    Secondly, a dead tree that decomposes naturally in a forest is an integral part of the forest ecosystem. The process happens, not all at once, but slowly over years or decades, a rate at which natural systems can easily absorb what carbon is released. In the meantime, the tree is providing homes and nutrients for myriad organisms. Much of the carbon from the dead tree is cycled through living organisms and/or becomes soil humus, thus remaining in a solid state and never being released into the atmosphere, so it does not release the same amount of carbon as burning.
    Third,I don’t live in Colorado, but I lived for years in Oregon and Washington and know all too well what a “thinned” forest looks like. Compared to a healthy forest, it is a dry, dead place. The heavy equipment used to extract even dead trees causes all kinds of damage to soil, remaining forest, and adjacent waterways. Taking dead trees out instead of leaving them to decompose on the forest floor contributes to drought by taking away fibers and humus which absorb water and help to retain it in the soil. Taking live trees contributes even more to drought because they retain and cycle water in the local environment, and the roots anchor the soil which holds more water. Besides, there is nothing that says only dead trees will be used, and I think it highly unlikely that that would be the case.
    Fourth, 7% is piddling when placed against a claim of 75% reduction.
    Fifth, no matter what terms you try to couch it in or how you try to spin it, there is nothing cutting edge about biomass combustion. It is one of the oldest technologies in existence. If the NREL wants to claim to be promoting technologies that will have a real impact on climate change, they need to stop tweaking methods of burning carbon based fuels, because those are always going to release CO2 (along with whatever other substances are bound in the fuel) faster than any natural phenomenon other than maybe a forest fire or volcano eruption; and, those things are not referred to as natural disasters for nothing.
    What is truly needed is technologies that don’t depend on carbon-based fuels. If you insist on burning anything, try hydrogen which is truly carbon neutral. And before you get off on a tangent about how water electrolysis is impractical, there are more efficient ways of extracting H2 from water than conventional electrolysis, some of which are commercially available now. Also, there is a technology invented by Dr. Geraldine Botte that extracts H2 from ammonia with N2 as the only byproduct. That has been commercially licensed. Of course there is solar, wind, microhydro, etc.; but, why ask me? That’s their job at NREL, to research alternatives, not to keep us stuck in the stone age. Why aren’t they doing more to develop real alternatives that will have a significant impact on reduction of greenhouse gases?
    Last but not least, what am I doing? Among other things, I have devoted hundreds of hours of volunteer time educating people on species and ecosystem conservation. I support, promote, and sometimes participate in organic agriculture, and I very shortly will begin earning a second degree in Sustainable Living so that I can devote the rest of my life to bettering the future.
    What about you?

Leave a Reply