Berkeley Lab Awarded Two New Centers to Counter Climate Change

September 29, 2023

The Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) will host two new centers dedicated to advancing clean energy technology and combating climate change. The awards are part of DOE’s Energy Earthshots Initiative that launched in 2021 with the goal of speeding up technological breakthroughs and lowering costs.

DOE has so far launched seven Earthshots spanning clean energy and carbon reduction technologies. The Berkeley Lab programs announced today will address two of them: the Hydrogen Shot and the Carbon Negative Shot. Each of the new Energy Earthshot Research Centers will receive $19 million over the next four years.

The Hydrogen Shot aims to reduce the cost of hydrogen to $1 per kilogram of hydrogen (H2) in one decade. Switching from fossil fuels to clean hydrogen will reduce the emissions that cause climate change and local air pollution, and lowering hydrogen’s cost will open the door to use in new areas – including long-duration energy storage, manufacturing, and heavy-duty trucks and buses. But lowering future emissions is not enough to combat greenhouse gases already warming our atmosphere and exacerbating extreme weather events. The Carbon Negative Shot aims to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it at large scales for less than $100 per metric ton.

“Our Energy Earthshots are game-changing endeavors to unleash the technologies of the clean energy transition and make them accessible, affordable, and abundant,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm. “The Energy Earthshot Research Centers and the related work happening on college campuses around the country will be instrumental in developing the clean energy and decarbonization solutions we need to establish a 100% clean grid and beat climate change.”

Hydrogen Shot: Center for Ionomer-based Water Electrolysis (CIWE)

Berkeley Lab’s Center for Ionomer-based Water Electrolysis (CIWE) will investigate how to improve efficiency and drive down the cost of a process to make hydrogen: “water-splitting electrolysis.”

This kind of electrolysis runs electricity through electrodes to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. The setups for this process often incorporate materials called “ionomers” – polymers that move charged particles (ions) and speed up the reactions that produce hydrogen. But the way these ionomers interact with other electrolyzer components isn’t yet well understood, and even subtle changes can cause big swings in how the materials and the electrolyzer behave.

CIWE researchers will use both physical systems and virtual “digital twins” to study these materials and their interfaces. With these approaches, they can closely examine the chemistry, structure, and reactions, greatly expanding the amount of available data for these complex interactions. With that information in hand, researchers aim to develop, optimize, and test new materials and processes in real-world devices.

“Our goal is to understand what’s happening at the small scale so we can create durable, efficient, and cost-effective hydrogen technologies,” said Adam Weber, the director of CIWE. “If we can boost the use of clean hydrogen, we can slow down climate change and dramatically improve air quality.”

Partners in the center are Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Colorado School of Mines, Texas Tech University, University of Oregon, UC Berkeley, UC Irvine, and UC Merced.

Carbon Negative Shot: RESTOR-C: Center for Restoration of Soil Carbon by Precision Biological Strategies

Berkeley Lab’s RESTOR-C will cultivate ways for plants and microbes to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and stably store it for more than 100 years in the soil.

The multi-disciplinary team will span biology, ecology, chemistry, and computer sciences. Researchers will study how carbon is fixed by plants and channeled into the soil, and test plant- and microbe-based strategies at field sites in California and New Mexico. Finally, the center will evaluate how to spread and scale the approaches to additional locations and crops.

“We know that the soil is a vast potential reservoir to store carbon pulled out of our warming atmosphere by plants,” said Susannah Tringe, the director of RESTOR-C. “With the right method, we can potentially accumulate carbon in agricultural lands across the United States and move toward a carbon negative future.”

Partners in the center are Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico State University, UC Berkeley, UC San Diego, and California State University Monterey Bay.

This article originally appeared at the Berkeley Lab News Center.


Lauren Biron