Breakthroughs

ETA Breakthroughs

To celebrate ETA’s 50th Anniversary, we’ve rolled out ETA breakthroughs. These landmark achievements — by no means a comprehensive list and in no particular order — offer a tour of some of the many game-changing technologies and innovations developed by ETA researchers at Berkeley Lab over the years.

For a deeper dive into ETA's history, visit eta.lbl.gov/history

Appliance Energy-Efficiency = Huge Savings

A typical U.S. household saves over $300 each year (cumulatively over $1 trillion) thanks to Berkeley Lab scientists who helped to develop the federal government’s energy-efficiency appliances standards. And those ENERGY STAR labels that help you choose efficient appliances? The Lab helped implement those, too.

Optimizing Batteries from Basic Principles

In 1963, Lab scientist John Newman demonstrated a technique for simultaneously solving a set of mass balance equations, creating a powerful framework to model electrochemical performance from fundamental properties of charge, diffusion, and mass transfer. This technique, widely used today, enables materials researchers at the Lab and worldwide to develop new battery chemistries and materials, including next-gen solid state and sodium ion batteries, and has contributed to the optimization of every battery produced, in applications from cell phones to cars to microgrids.

Keeping it Cool

As the world heats up, Berkeley Lab is helping to cool things down by analyzing the cost and performance of materials that cool cars, pavements, roofs and walls. Cooler cities mean less air conditioning and cleaner air. Think globally: If all the world’s roofs and pavement used cool materials, the reduction in carbon dioxide emissions would be equivalent to taking 600 million cars off the road for 18 years.

A Breath of Fresh Air

Our researchers are experts at Indoor Air Quality, identifying for the first time that thirdhand smoke—the noxious residue that clings to surfaces long after the secondhand smoke from a cigarette has cleared out—causes significant genetic damage in human cells and increases lung cancer risk in animal models. We also inform policymakers with independent data on vaping and other aerosol contaminants.

LED Lightbulbs
Rebooted Indoor Lighting

Berkeley Lab’s early fluorescent ballast research resulted in lamp efficiency and dimming controls breakthroughs, and sparked development of smart lighting controls now being applied to emerging light-emitting diode (LED) technologies. Lab scientists also pioneered work on daylighting and the effects of the light spectrum on visual performance and perception—work that supports improved occupant performance and significant energy savings worldwide.

The Dawn of Lithium Batteries

In the 1950’s, electrochemical engineering pioneer Charles Tobias discovered the solubility of a lithium salt into an organic electrolyte and the deposition of lithium metal, leading to the birth of the lithium ion battery and the global electrical vehicle industry. Lab researchers have continued to grow this legacy by building better batteries through discoveries in ceramic-protected lithium electrodes and next-gen compact and low-cost rechargeable energy storage. 

Given Buildings an Energy Makeover

Berkeley Lab wrote the book, or program rather, when it comes to wringing every penny out of a building’s energy use. Software developed at the Lab is used worldwide to audit a structure’s energy consumption. If you’ve set foot in the San Francisco Airport, Willis Tower, or the Nestle Headquarters in Switzerland, you’ve experienced energy savings thanks to Berkeley Lab.

Helped Bring Energy Efficiency to China

Since 1988, Berkeley Lab scientists have worked to make China, the world’s largest energy consumer, as energy efficient as possible. Energy labels and appliance standards, developed with considerable support from Berkeley Lab, will reduce carbon dioxide emissions in China by about 9.1 gigatonnes of CO2 (GtCO2) between 2009 and 2030. The Lab has also helped improve energy efficiency in China’s residential and commercial buildings and in energy-intensive manufacturing industries.

Created the World’s Largest Materials Properties Database

The Materials Project, an open-access online database, provides the largest collection of materials properties to scientists from every corner of the globe. Since its launch in 2010, it has grown exponentially, currently providing data more than a million times a day to more than 160,000 users, and has enabled the development of energy storage materials, among other applications.

Turned Windows into Energy Savers

Americans save billions of dollars in energy bills each year thanks to a Berkeley Lab-developed window coating that prevents heat from entering in the summer and escaping in the winter. More than half of all windows sold each year have this coating.

Helped Establish Air Conditioning with Less Energy Worldwide

Berkeley Lab’s analysis helped the U.S. Department of Energy establish the strongest efficiency standard in U.S. history, covering rooftop air conditioners and furnaces (28 years after Berkeley Lab supported America’s first-ever national appliance efficiency standards for refrigerators, see #9 on the list). In parallel, after identifying that improving cooling efficiency would double the 0.5 degree climate benefit of the refrigerant transition under the Kigali Amendment in 2016, Berkeley Lab’s international energy scientists provided technical support for substantial revisions of cooling efficiency standards in many countries including China, India, Brazil and Indonesia.

Evaluating Buildings — Before They’re Built

Berkeley Lab’s FLEXLAB®, which opened in 2012 as the world’s first advanced integrated building and grid technologies testbed, lets researchers evaluate the performance of building systems, alone or in combination with others. Research includes energy saving lighting and HVAC, building integrated PV, using buildings and EVs to lower peak energy costs, clean air strategies and occupant comfort, but that only scratches the surface. It’s proven so successful, the Lab is now advising others on how to build similar facilities.

Made Buildings Responsive to the Grid

Berkeley Lab-led work developed the Open Automated Demand Response (OpenADR) communication system, an open standard that lets electricity providers send signals about price and grid needs directly to customers over the Internet, helping to facilitate clean, reliable energy use. As a result of the effort started in the early 2000s, it is now the most widely used open standard for such communications around the world, and essential for modernizing our electricity grid.