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Updated 1 December, 2003

Research and Current Activities
Reducing Emissions from Energy End-Use and Infrastructure


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November 2003

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NREL, Williamson, Robb
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Philip Merrill Environmental Center
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Philip Merrill Environmental Center demonstrates energy-efficient design. The Center uses two-thirds less energy than a typical office building. One-third of the building's energy is derived from renewable sources.

One of the major opportunities to reduce emissions from energy end-use and reverse America's growing dependence on foreign oil is to transform our Nation's fossil fuel dependent economy to a clean hydrogen economy. In a significant step toward this goal, President Bush established the FreedomCAR partnership with major U.S. automakers and the Hydrogen Fuel Initiative to help facilitate the commercialization of hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicles by 2015.

Other opportunities to reduce emissions exist in almost every segment of the economy where there are vast technical possibilities to improve energy end-use efficiency. For example, "superconducting" materials can almost eliminate the loss of electricity flowing through typical transmission lines. Also, energy storage technologies such as batteries, flywheel storage, superconducting magnetic storage, supercapacitors, and others, can improve the efficiency and reliability of the electric utility system by reducing the requirements for spinning reserves to meet peak power demand. Therefore, we achieve better use of baseload generation and enable greater use of intermittent renewable energy technologies.

Upper photo: (c)PictureNet/CORBIS. Lower photo: NOAA/DMSP
Transmission towers

The August 2003 blackout (satellite photo) in parts of Northeastern U.S. underscored the importance of the National Energy Policy's recommendations to modernize the national electric grid. A modernized grid would improve reliability and facilitate the adoption of advanced technologies that improve efficiency and provide power from distributed sources.

View of Northeastern USA Blackout, August 14, 2003, at 9:03 pm

With an expanding global economy, accompanied by advancing technology, the next couple of decades will likely see significant efficiency gains in most industrialized countries and potentially greater improvements in transition economies. Improving energy end-use will reduce energy consumption and associated emissions and reduce vulnerability to supply disruptions, price spikes and threats to electricity infrastructure. Technology innovation in transmission and distribution, including such areas as high-temperature superconductivity, has the potential to help alleviate these problems. It can create a more reliable, robust electric grid with greater efficiency, relibility and security.


FreedomCar logo

"FreedomCAR isn't an automobile, it's a new approach to powering the cars of the future... The gas-guzzler will be a thing of the past."

Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham January 9, 2002

Photo by General Motors Corporation

HyWire fuel cell vehicle

General Motors recently introduced its new HyWire fuel cell vehicle, the first drive-by-wire fuel ell vehicle prototype. In the HyWire, the driver operates the vehicle via an electronic control unit rather than a steering wheel and pedals.

The C-A-R in FreedomCAR stands for Cooperative Automotive Research. DOE is leading this ambitious, cost-shared, government-industry R&D partnership with the U.S. Council of Automotive Research, a cooperative research organization formed by Ford Motor Company, General Motors Corporation, and the DaimlerChrysler Corporation. FreedomCAR's goal is the development of cars and trucks that are:

  • cheaper to operate;
  • pollution-free;
  • competitively priced; and
  • free from oil

Emissions from transportation will decline significantly as such cars and trucks replace those in today's fleet. DOE and its partners are pursuing R&D in fuel cells, hydrogen production and storage, and safety.

Photo by NREL, Stiveson, Matt
5kW Fuel Cell Manufactured by PlugPower (large cell), 25 watt Fuel Cell (three cell stack) Manufactured by H2Economy (smaller silver cell), 30 watt Cell Manufactured by Avista Labs, NREL, Stiveson, Matt
A fuel cell works like a battery but does not require recharging. Instead, it uses hydrogen or hydrogen-rich fuels to produce electricity.

Fuel cell vehicles represent a radical departure from vehicles with conventional internal combustion engines. Automobiles powered by pure hydrogen fuel cells emit no pollution and no CO2. The only exhaust is pure water. Fuel cell vehicles can be fueled with pure hydrogen gas stored onboard in high-pressure tanks or other storage systems. They also can be fueled with hydrogen-rich fuels-such as methanol, natural gas, or even gasoline- that are converted into hydrogen gas by an onboard device called a "reformer." Before fuel cell vehicles make it to local auto dealerships, significant R&D is required to reduce cost and improve performance. Furthermore, effective ways must be found to produce and store hydrogen and other fuels.

In addition to the President's FreedomCAR Initiative, a number of other promising climate change technologies are being pursued, including advanced heavy-duty vehicle technologies, zero energy homes and commercial buildings, solid-state lighting, and superconductivity.

Advanced Heavy-Duty Vehicle Technologies

The Department of Transportation (DOT) supports heavy-duty vehicle technology R&D ranging from locomotives to large trucks to inter-city buses. Some of the most exciting work involves fuel cell transit buses, which run on set routes, refuel at a limited number of locations, and are maintained by expert technicians, making them ideal for testing new technology.

Photo by NREL, SunLine Transit Agency
A Prototype Hydrogen Fuel Cell Bus (by ISE Research, Thor Industries and UTC Fuel Cells) at SunLine Transit Agency, NREL, SunLine Transit Agency
With support from DOE and DOT's Federal Transit Administration (FTA), a 30-foot fuel cell hybrid bus combining several cutting-edge technologies was developed. The bus is currently in revenue service operation.

A recent DOT and DOE collaboration proved the concept of a viable fuel cell bus. DOT has extended its efforts and plans to have 13 buses in demonstration projects nationwide by the end of 2004. These efforts are helping to lay the foundation for the commercial viability of heavy-duty vehicle fuel cells and their supporting infrastructure.

Zero Energy Homes & Commercial Buildings

Photo by NREL, James, George
Energy Efficient Housing at the Civano Development in Tucson, Arizona, NREL, James, George
The 820-acre Civano neighborhood near Tucson, Arizona was designed to promote economic growth and ecological harmony. Civano is minimizing the use of natural resources, in part by using renewable energy and creating building designs that are energy efficient. All the homes in the community use less than 50 percent of the energy of a conventionally built home.

DOE's Zero Energy Homes (ZEH) concept is bringing a new approach to U.S. homebuilders. ZEH combines revolutionary, energy-efficient construction techniques and appliances with commercially available renewable energy technologies such as solar-water heating and solar electricity. The current goal is to enable new homes to perform at least 50 percent more efficiently than homes built to current minimum efficiency standards, but the longer-term goal is to construct net "zero-energy" building systems.

Solid-State Lighting

Photo by Sandia National Laboratories, Randy Montoya
CLOSEUP VIEW OF A LEDS substrate, Sandia National Laboratories, Randy Montoya
Unlike conventional lighting, solid-state lighting creates light without producing heat. A semi-conducting material such as a light-emitting diode (LEDs) converts electricity directly into light and is extremely energy efficient. DOE's Sandia National Laboratory, a leader in solid-state lighting, hosts a web site with comprehensive information on LEDs.

DOE's solid state lighting research may produce dramatic changes in lighting technology that will fundamentally alter the way we view artificial light. Lighting currently accounts for about 20 percent of U.S. electricity consumption. The most widely used sources of artificial light are incandescent and fluorescent lamps. Solid-state lighting is a new technology that has the potential to be 10 times more energy efficient than incandescent lighting. Accordingly, this technology could revolutionize the illumination of homes, offices, and public spaces.


Superconductivity has the potential to revolutionize our electric transmission systems in the same way fiber optics revolutionized the communications industry. Unlike conventional wires made of materials such as copper, superconducting wires made of advanced materials have the ability to carry large electrical current without resistance losses. High Temperature Superconductors (HTS) conduct electricity with extremely high efficiency. When an electrical conductor is cooled sufficiently, electrical resistance disappears, which allows a very large electrical current to flow through it.

Photo by Los Alamos National Laboratory
High Temperature Superconductor YBCO TAPE, Los Alamos National Laboratory DOE is at the forefront of worldwide efforts to develop new processes for manufacturing high quality, high temperature superconducting materials. Researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory have developed superconducting tape shown above that carries high electrical currents that are 200 times greater than copper wire.


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