Department of Energy Controls Greenhouse Gas with a Turn of the Wrench - Energy Minute for June 20, 2013

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Department of Energy Controls Greenhouse Gas with a Turn of the Wrench - Energy Minute for June 20, 2013

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Thursday, June 20, 2013 - 10:45am

CONTENT: Press Release

Sometimes it seems as if all the good news about energy efficiency is based on great big ideas such as newly invented technologies, innovative management practices, and visionary strategies. But what if I told you that the equivalent of 1.1 million tons of carbon dioxide, like taking 200,000 cars off the road, has been prevented from escaping into the atmosphere over the last three years by the turns of a wrench? That’s right, 35,000 pounds of sulfur hexafluoride, the most potent greenhouse gas in existence—23,900 times more potent than carbon dioxide—has been kept from adding to climate change by tightening valves, replacing worn gaskets, and performing other, simple maintenance at one organization’s vast range of facilities. Where did this basic energy efficiency initiative take place?

At the U.S. Department of Energy, according to The New York Times. An executive order by the administration early in its first term directed federal agencies to add up the greenhouse gases their operations generated, and then to reduce those totals. The DOE’s review revealed large amounts of gas leaks in its many operations, from power generating stations to automobile fleets. The leaks made up one-seventh of the 4.4 million tons of greenhouse gases that were found, the equal of 770,000 tons of carbon dioxide. More than 90 per cent of the leaks were of sulfur hexafluoride, or SF6 as it is known. Now, SF6 is a very useful gas, common in the department’s laboratories that use a lot of electricity for energy experiments.

It’s an excellent insulator, shielding electrical lines and equipment and dampening sparks. But it’s also a major threat to the atmosphere when it escapes confinement. That’s why DOE engineers came up with a simple but complex fix: checking miles of pipes, seals, valves, gauges, and connectors, many of them old and worn, and looking to plug pinhole cracks that sprayed molecules of SF6 in an invisible stream. To judge by the impressive numbers so far, the DOE engineers are very good at this work. Let’s hope that more such unspectacular but effective efforts show up in future energy efficiency headlines.

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Keywords: 3bl Media | Alternative Energy | Department of Energy | Energy | Energy Minute | The New York Times | greenhouse gas

CONTENT: Press Release