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Sustainable research, operations and community

Staff Sustainability Ideas: Direct from the Source

Employees are our greatest resource, and usually have the best suggestions for improvement. The Sustainability Pay$ Program funds staff-generated ideas for innovative projects to make deep and long-lasting improvements to sustainability at PNNL, particularly in the areas of energy and water consumption, pollution prevention and material purchasing.

In January 2014, a total of 17 staff responded to the call for proposals to Sustainability Pays. Sustainability Program staff reviewed every proposal and awarded nearly $60,000 to those with the best return on investment potential and to those demonstrating a clear and measurable impact on PNNL's Triple Bottom Line performance.

The Sustainability Program would like to thank all for participating. Congratulations to the winners for demonstrating the Laboratory's core value, "impact," by fostering positive change in the world to make it safer, cleaner and more prosperous.

And the winners are:

  • Hardeep Mehta, for the procurement and installation of Smart Instrument Power Manage Units on Nuclear Magnetic Resonance to monitor and shut down idling powers.
    Expected to reduce approximately 150,000 kilo Watts per hour (kWhr) per year from 6 controllers.
  • Kathleen Judd, for piloting a Sustainable Laboratory Operations Initiative with the goal of engaging laboratory users in sustainable lab operations assessments and implementing technologies, policies, and behaviors that reduce the environmental impacts from operating PNNL's laboratories, while maintaining safety and mission effectiveness.
    Savings from the pilot in 3 buildings are estimated to be $1k to $2K per month.
  • Mike Russcher, for conducting pilot scale pump controller installation to reduce roughing pumps duty cycles time.
    Expected to avoid 47,00 kWhr per year per pump.

Going Paperless Saves Time and Money

Going paperless saved PNNL's Office of Audit Services the cost--and space--used for paper records storage, as well as the time and effort required to retrieve audit files when needed. By reviewing their files, the staff learned that keeping certain paper and electronic non-record information was not required and that backing up e-records with paper was unnecessary, since carefully scanned copies are as good as paper if they are retained in PNNL's Total Records Information Management (TRIM) system.

Historically, the Office of Audit Services kept their extensive collection of paper records in a basement office. The new director, Kevin Ensign, reviewed the file system and clarified which records were being kept, how long they should be kept, and whether paper records could be converted to electronic files. To improve the efficiency of the system, the Audit Services staff

  • Discarded non-record paper being retained unnecessarily
  • Deleted non-record e-files that were no longer required or needed, reducing the size of the database and making it easier to retrieve essential e-files
  • Updated their File Plan to indicate that they have begun retaining records electronically in TRIM. (Electronic records are an alternative to paper, but only if they are retained in TRIM, or if there is an approved variance.)

"These improvements have led to time savings and greater efficiency for our staff," according to Ensign.


Sustainability Superhero: Ralph Wescott Gets Creative

Ralph Wescott

Meet our latest superhero, Ralph Wescott of PNNL's IT department. Ralph has applied his creativity to help resolve the paradox between PNNL's need for computing power to conduct research that transforms the world and the large amount of energy consumed to operate and keep it cool.

According to Ralph, Data Centers typically use as much or more energy removing heat from that room than is generated by those computers in the first place. Focusing on minimizing the cost of cooling has created some environments at PNNL where only 1/10th the typical energy is needed to remove the heat. Not only does that save money in electricity costs, but it exceeds the goal set by DOE of 4/10th.

Not all Data Centers are created equal, says Ralph, so creativity comes into play by applying energy "best practices" to where and how it makes the most sense to each space.

The Computational Sciences Facility (CSF) was pre-designed to use an aquifer to save energy, which is natural for "rear-door coolers," but the Information Sciences Building 2 (ISB2) is an older design with a shallow, raised floor and low ceiling. It's located in a basement. We started the process of overcoming these limitations in ISB2 back in 2005 by moving cables overhead, creating hot/cold aisles and water-side economizer air conditioners, a seven-year journey taken on weekends and holidays.

Along the way we instrumented the space to measure our efficiency progress and are now employing more esoteric practices such as using the same durable, see-through plastic commonly found in cold storage to segregate the cool intake air from the hot exhaust air, which raises the efficiency of the room AC.

PNNL has been systematically consolidating small server rooms across the campus into the now more energy efficient data centers and in FY13, approximately 61% of the less efficient computer rooms were emptied and repurposed.

PNNL is considered a leader in the nation in data center energy efficiency, and this is due, in large part, to Ralph's mastery and perseverance. It's no wonder that Ralph's expertise is sought-after and he is continually invited to speak about his craft in national forums.


In Celebration of National Telework Week

Mace Family photo

March 3-7, 2014 A letter from PNNL Business Systems employee, Shannon Mace

Last Wednesday it dawned on me that on the days I am able to telework, I gain nearly two hours of productivity in my day. How did I do that? I didn't have a 35-45 minute, one-way drive from home to work and back again (can you say fuel bill savings). What did I gain?

From a work perspective with our deployment of Lync and solid remote access to PNNL, working at home is not any different from physically sitting in my office on campus. I feel like I am much more productive because there are not nearly as many interruptions, and I have found very few tasks that I can't work on from home.

What really lead me to realize what I gain from teleworking was that on Wednesday night, I said "time for bed," and my family looked at me like I was crazy. They informed me it was only 7 p.m. So I thought about my day and realized it was a lot less hectic and I had time to sit down and enjoy the evening.

The level of stress in our household is definitely down because we aren't rushing to cram the evening tasks into a small timeframe so everyone can be in bed by 8:30 p.m., which means that I actually went to bed early—and that doesn't happen very often!

Telework Week March 3-7, 2014

Total Number of Pledges: 629
Total Amount Saved during Telework Week: $22,688
Tons of Pollutants Saved during Telework Week: 14.4
Total Amount Saved by Pledges Teleworking for a Year: $1,134,393


PNNL Science Transforms the World: Algae to
Bio-Crude in Less Than 60 Seconds

Algae to Bio-Crude in Less than 60 Seconds video screenshot

Engineers have created a chemical process that produces useful crude oil just minutes after engineers pour in harvested algae—a verdant green paste with the consistency of pea soup. The research has been licensed by Genifuel Corp. [Video 1:58]


STEM Education: Intern Interview by EMSL Director

Intern interview video screenshot

As part of her iDirector video series, Allison Campbell, director of the Environmental and Molecular Sciences Laboratory (EMSL) at PNNL recently spoke with PNNL intern Niraj Suresh, a senior at Hanford High School.[Video 6:22]