NREL Keeps Getting Greener

Three NREL Labs Recognized With ‘Green’ Certification

April 25, 2024 | By Caleigh Avramis | Contact media relations

A person working in a lab.
NREL research technician Ryan Ness performs analysis of biofuel samples in the Integrated Biorefinery Research Facility. Photo by Dennis Schroeder, NREL 

Three National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) labs were awarded "green" certifications by My Green Lab late last year. This certification was achieved by following an extensive online evaluation of their procedures, equipment, operations, and waste. My Green Lab Certification is recognized by the United Nations Race to Zero campaign as the benchmark for sustainable research operations. 

This program aids organizations to meet their sustainability goals by reducing cost and preserving resources from laboratory research. It provides scientifically based techniques for long-lasting improvements that will ensure a carbon-free future and significant medical and technological advancements. The certification serves as an example for other laboratories aiming to implement sustainability into their organizations.

“This was our first pilot of the My Green Labs program, and we learned a lot about how to approach sustainability within the labs at NREL and make sustainability accessible for researchers,” said Suzy DiMont, NREL energy and sustainability manager.

The following three NREL labs received their certifications for demonstrating exemplary efforts to create a more environmentally conscious workspace. 

Integrated Biorefinery Research Facility (IBRF) 215: Gold Level Certified

A logo with the text my green lab certified gold

Research technician Ryan Ness currently works with a team that is running the NREL Research Gasifier (NRG), which converts biomass feedstocks into a blend of hydrogen and carbon monoxide called syngas, in the Field Test Laboratory Building (FTLB). At the time of the My Green Labs certification, Ness was a designated area representative in IBRF 215.  

The IBRF-215 team was chosen for participation in the My Green Lab certification program because of their role as a multiuser space. Over the years, this lab has hosted various research projects and equipment, which made it a quality candidate for evaluating diverse research needs and goals.

Ness and his team continuously showed a cooperative effort to ensure sustainability in the workplace. They took steps to reduce electricity use and heating and cooling costs through improved resource conservation.

“This credit from the My Green Lab certification was an important step toward promoting a culture of resource conservation and energy efficiency within lab spaces at NREL,” Ness said.

Additionally, he described this journey as a challenging but necessary practice to encourage and enforce in the laboratory. When this lab received the My Green Lab certification feedback, it opened opportunities for improvement.

The team implemented an inventory of chemicals and removed any unused or expired items, which was part of a laboratory-wide effort to increase awareness of the rates of chemical usage. They also optimized energy consumption by utilizing a new autoclave in an adjacent lab space, which saves more energy over time.

“Analysis promotes discussion, and discussion leads to improvements in behaviors and practices through learning, communication, and collaboration. I would like to encourage NREL leadership to continue to engage with this program, which I see as fundamentally linked to both larger sustainability goals and best practices,” Ness said. 

Overall, Ness said these methods support the larger sustainability objectives of NREL and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for energy efficiency in industry and buildings. My Green Lab further supports cost savings, reliability, community resilience, environmental stewardship, and human health through clean air, water, and land. 

Field Test Laboratory Building (FTLB) 213-01: Silver Level Certified

Logo with text certified my green labs silver

Arnav Deshpande, a biochemistry postdoctoral researcher, works in the algae laboratory at FTLB 213-01. His research focuses on using metabolomics and carbon tracking to guide algal strain engineering and cultivation in applications such as aviation fuels. Additionally, he works on algae cultivation toward achieving improved carbon capture and storage by investigating water chemistry to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in algae cultivation.

This lab’s research is focused on developing sustainable technology and energy crops, which begins with implementing sustainable practices, Deshpande said. Their commitment to sustainability made FTLB 213-01 a quality candidate for My Green Labs accreditation. 

“This certification recognizes that we consciously strive to keep sustainability in mind when adopting lab practices and designing experiments, while also inspiring other labs to work towards building sustainable practices towards reducing consumption in research,” Deshpande said. 

Their goal was cultivated after receiving feedback from My Green Lab. The team rinsed out sampling tubes for reuse with large-scale experiments. For a single experiment in their reactor, reusing the tubes saved as many as 50 plastic tubes over a week. Combined with the reactor operating for 40 weeks/year, that is 2,000 plastic tubes saved in a year. 

“The process of this program encouraged me to think more about how my work in the laboratory affects consumption and creates waste and if there is a way to reduce this without impacting research outcomes,” Deshpande said. “NREL is working towards sustainable energy goals, and it all starts with adopting sustainable practices at the laboratory to make a change.”

Field Test Laboratory Building (FTLB) 204: Silver Level Certified

A logo with the text my green lab certified silver.

Research technician Rianna Martinez works with the FTLB 204 team to research, calibrate and maintain instruments, and test different analytics on samples. This lab was interested in finding ways to make their present daily operations more ecologically friendly. During the My Green Lab certification process, they met frequently to discuss methods of sustainability and had laboratory users do surveys about their green status.

“I decided on three things to improve: lowering hood sashes, turning off lights at night, and informing the users of how to make a green purchase,” Martinez said. “It is rewarding to know that some of the changes made can have a positive impact.” 

They were able to implement more energy-efficient practices by taking the step of adjusting their work practices for the best ecological outcome. When receiving feedback from My Green Lab, a key success was closing hood sashes when they are not used to conserve more energy. Overall, this team continuously worked toward NREL’s goal of maintaining an eco-friendly work environment.  

“NREL is all about sustainability, and you can think about it in any way that works for you. If you are only concerned with loss of money, then looking into ways to be greener will help with that,” Martinez said. “If you are interested in being environmentally friendly, the same work leads to positive outcomes, which fits well with NREL’s sustainability goals.”

NREL strives for sustainability through maximizing the effective use of all resources, reducing waste, and acting as a driving force for social, economic, and environmental responsibility.

Learn more about sustainability at NREL.

Tags: Bioenergy