Net Zero Labs

Through the Net Zero Labs (NZL) pilot program, NREL is eliminating its carbon footprint to model how other organizations can successfully transition to net-zero emissions and carbon neutrality.

This U.S. Department of Energy initiative tasks NREL and three other national laboratories with developing and deploying clean energy technologies and approaches within their own facilities—amplifying their energy-efficiency efforts and creating solutions that organizations can replicate. Through NZL, NREL is moving the United States closer to its goal of reducing emissions by 50% by 2030, having 100% clean electricity by 2035, and achieving a net-zero economy by 2050.

NREL's Net-Zero Goals

NREL will demonstrate its commitment to a net-zero future by:

  • Decarbonizing its Flatirons Campus by 2023
  • Decarbonizing its Golden campus by 2026
  • Engaging with utilities, energy service companies, technology companies, and other private industry partners to integrate new technologies.

Learn about NREL's other sustainability initiatives.

Leading by Example

NREL’s campuses are research instruments that demonstrate living laboratories, and those facilities have some of the highest energy demands in the country. Although NREL already has several sustainable and net-zero buildings on its Colorado campuses, our team aspires to full net-zero energy status. If we can achieve net-zero emissions and carbon neutrality in these complex, energy-intensive facilities, we can do the same within others across the country.

The NZL pilot will provide a path forward for organizations with large emissions footprints as well as a springboard for innovation to achieve decarbonization. It will also launch partnerships critical to the net-zero transition and the communities it will serve.

Timeline

April 2022: NREL released its Net Zero Labs Pilot Roadmap.

Fiscal Year 2022: The NZL pilot program launches at NREL, the National Energy Technology Laboratory, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and Idaho National Laboratory.

Fiscal Year 2023: The U.S. Department of Energy will expand the NZL program to all 17 national laboratories.

Our Progress

This infographic shows NREL's Fiscal Year 2020 greenhouse gas emission performance. We demonstrate leadership in greenhouse gas management by maximizing the use of energy efficiency practices and on-site renewable power. NREL continuously pursues new technologies and strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with our operations.

This infographic shows NRELs FY 2020 greenhouse gas (GHG) emission performance status. NREL reports on Scope 1, 2 and 3 GHG emissions. Scope 1, direct emissions, accounts for 10% of the GHG emissions, including 2,383 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent of natural gas in heating facilities and experiments; 386 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in fluorinated gases and refrigerants; 194 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in fleet and equipment; 13 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in onsite wastewater; and 10 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in dry ice use in laboratories. Scope 2, purchased energy, accounts for 70% and is associated with purchased electricity, comparable to 20,578 metric tons of carbon dioxide. That’s equivalent to enough barrels of oil to stack Pikes Peak 9.5 times. Scope 2 also includes 37 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent from the biomass renewable fuel heat plant. Scope 3, indirect emissions, accounts for 20% and is associated with employee commuting, business air travel, transmission and distribution losses from the power grid, solid waste disposal, and contracted wastewater for the campuses. NREL had 29,403 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, which would take a forest 5 times the size of Golden, Colorado, one year to sequester that amount of carbon dioxide.

Terminology

Net-zero energy: On an annual basis, overall performance has greatly reduced energy needs through efficiency gains such that the balance of energy for vehicles, thermal, and electrical energy within the site boundary is met by renewable energy.

Net-zero emissions: On an annual basis, eliminate or offset all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions (measured in MTCO2e) including both direct Scope 1 emissions and indirect Scope 2 and 3 emissions to achieve carbon neutrality.

24/7 carbon-free energy: Excluding carbon offsets, all energy consumed for operations are at all times of day from 100% emission-free sources.