U.S. energy secretary inaugurates Berkeley Lab research building

Roy Kaltschmidt/Berkeley Lab/Courtesy

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U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz cut the inaugural ribbon Thursday on a new facility in Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory built to house innovative partnerships between energy research labs.

The 43,000-square-foot facility, which cost approximately $54 million and was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, will bring together researchers in renewable energy production and storage. The building also includes labs from the life sciences division, which conducts research on radiation, neuroscience, environmental remediation, structural and cell biology and other fields.

Moniz said the facility would help ensure the United States’ role as a leader in scientific development.

“The General Purpose Laboratory will help … combat climate change and support economic growth by driving innovation across the clean energy landscape,” Moniz said in a statement.

berkeleylab2Venkat Srinivasan, deputy director of the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research, whose battery lab will be moving into the facility, said these lab spaces are easily customizable, allowing researchers to quickly adapt spaces to fit changing project requirements.

“You put a bunch of scientists and engineers together and they start interacting, and you have products coming out of the other end,” Srinivasan said. “They have very different skill sets, and so very new products … are the result.”

Srinivasan’s lab works to both refine existing energy storage systems and develop new battery technologies that will allow consumers more energy options.

“Imagine putting a solar panel and battery on your roof and cutting PG&E totally. … Today’s batteries aren’t going to cut it. We’re working on the next battery technology,” he said.

The facility includes office space for about 130 researchers and 33 labs. The building is located near advanced research facilities such as a supercomputing center, allowing scientists to more easily investigate materials at the nanoscale.

Frances Houle, a department head at the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis, which conducts solar-fuel research, said her lab’s new shared space with the battery lab will allow researchers to combine their projects, converting sunlight into chemical fuels that are then used, stored and transported.

The building is also part of the lab’s ongoing seismic retrofit upgrade and represents a commitment to green building practices. It includes sensors that power-down equipment and adjust temperature controls depending on whether a particular space is occupied.

Stan Lew, a principal at RMW Architecture and Interiors, a firm that designed the facility, said the building was certified by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program for its green building practices.

“This has been a long time coming for Berkeley Lab,” Lew said. “(Sustainable building practices) started several decades ago. It is a renewal of the national lab to get ready for the future, and I think Berkeley represents it well.”

Contact Isaac Smith at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @IsaacGSmith.