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Cool Roofs and Coral Reefs

By Dan Krotz

At Berkeley Lab, sustainability and environmental research means tackling problems that affect our planet -- and our lives -- through innovative team science. It started in the 1970s, when the Lab began to pioneer energy efficiency technologies that have wrung a fortune in savings from our homes and industry. Now, in addition to world-renowned energy efficiency research, interdisciplinary teams of Lab scientists are learning how to preserve our environment for future generations.

Berkeley Lab energy videos

A modest proposal to cool the planet by cooling the neighborhood. Berkeley Lab scientists and energy efficiency guru Art Rosenfeld -- a California Energy Commissioner and former Berkeley Lab scientist -- have proposed a “Cool World” plan that would use white roofs, and solar-reflective roofs of other colors, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help delay atmospheric heating effects. Think globally: If all the world’s roofs and pavement used cool materials, the reduction in carbon dioxide emissions would be equivalent to taking the world’s 600 million cars off the road for 18 years.

Measuring greenhouse gas emissions from a Cessna. Berkeley Lab scientist Marc Fischer recently took to the air to improve estimates of California’s greenhouse gas emissions. Working with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of California, he flew in a Cessna aircraft equipped with instruments to measure multiple greenhouse gas species above the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento Valley areas. The Airborne Greenhouse Gas Emissions Survey project is developing methods that are expected to prove important for verifying emissions reductions mandated by California's assembly bill AB 32.

Energy research images

Cleaning up underground contaminants, the smart way. Think Spring cleaning is difficult? Try cleaning up a toxic compound that is stubbornly moving through underground layers of clay and sand, interacting with microbes and minerals along the way. It’s one of the toughest jobs in environmental remediation — with only spotty success so far.

That could change. Berkeley Lab scientists are pioneering a new approach to cleaning up underground contaminants that takes into account everything from the interactions of microscopic proteins to the characteristics of kilometer-scale field sites. The project will also inform other efforts, such as carbon sequestration, that require a broad understanding of subsurface processes in order to be successful.

A pollution-control tip from nature. Deep inside a flooded mine in Wisconsin, scientists from several institutions including Berkeley Lab have discovered a world in which bacteria emit proteins that sweep up metal nanoparticles into immobile clumps. Their finding may lead to innovative ways to remediate subsurface metal toxins.

Rainforests hold clues for more efficient biofuel production. Berkeley Lab scientists have spent the past few years canvassing a rainforest in Puerto Rico to learn more about the microbial communities that live in its soil, which rank among the most efficient biomass break-down engines on Earth. Harnessing their power could lead to improved ways of converting plant material into biofuels.

Earth science images

Berkeley Lab-developed DNA array sheds light on coral disease. The answer to what’s killing the world’s coral reefs may be found in a tiny chip that fits in the palm of your hand. Scientists at Berkeley Lab and the University of California, Merced are using an innovative DNA array developed at Berkeley Lab to catalog the microbes that live among coral in the tropical waters off the coast of Puerto Rico. They found that as coral becomes diseased, the microbial population it supports grows much more diverse.

Helping India fight climate change. Last year, Berkeley Lab and the University of California announced a joint research and development program in which researchers will work with the government and private sector of India to develop paths toward reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases while maintaining sustained economic growth.

A chemical-free bioremediation technique. Bioremediation is Mother Nature’s way of cleaning up after herself. This process, in which microbes restore a contaminated environment to its original condition, has also been used by humans for thousands of years.

Even today, however, human-engineered bioremediation can be a slippery balancing act, where the addition of just the right amount of organic or inorganic chemicals stimulates a given microbe population to consume just the right amount of contaminant. Adding too much or too little can result in problems. For at least one common contaminant of drinking water and groundwater, the curtain may be coming down at last on this delicate chemical balancing act. Berkeley researchers have developed a chemical-free bioremediation technique for removing perchlorate from water.

The green push pins indicate Berkeley Lab energy and environmental research. View Berkeley Lab Science Around the World in a larger map

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