NIST addresses climate change in impactful ways, from measurements and modeling of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to research and tools to build more resilient communities and alternative energy infrastructure. NIST programs advance research and measurements for energy efficiency and sustainability, as well as standards, frameworks and other resources for enabling metrology.
NIST provides key tools to mitigate and adapt to climate change in the form of:
In accomplishing its mission NIST relies on key partnerships with the public and private sector. NIST’s efforts to address climate change fall into several categories:
Working with several federal partners, NIST laboratories have a long history of supporting the measurements needed for climate and GHG monitoring and forecasting. NIST measurement science helps decision makers understand the magnitude of climate change and identify the most strategic opportunities for mitigation.
Rigorous traceability of measurements to the International System of Units (SI) and other international standards is essential for detecting and quantifying small changes in the Earth’s climate over long time scales. To chart increases in atmospheric GHG concentrations, NIST, other national metrology institutes, NOAA and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) provide the high-accuracy standards and measurements underpinning foundational benchmarks, such as primary gas concentration standards or high-accuracy laboratory measurements of molecular parameters that are key to satellite carbon measurements. NIST also performs SI-traceable measurements of global warming potentials, develops and demonstrates remote sensing methods to determine GHG sources and sinks, and calibrates satellite sensors and in situ measurements to validate climate data records.
Accurate and standardized ground- and satellite-based greenhouse gas monitoring technologies are needed to support emission mitigation efforts. NIST works on a variety of GHG measurement approaches and techniques, such as frequency-comb spectroscopy and differential absorption lidar, that are required to identify and quantify the specific sources and sinks of greenhouse gas emissions.
The Greenhouse Gas Measurements Program is developing technologies to measure atmospheric emissions directly based on satellite, aircraft and surface observations. The program also operates three Urban Test Beds in collaboration with NOAA and NASA to develop measurement tools for cities and metropolitan areas.
Accurate climate data is critical for setting realistic and effective emission limits and other climate targets. NIST maintains a Greenhouse Gas Resource Registry that allows for the registration of greenhouse gas resources, bridging the gap between available data resources and the end users. NIST's unique carbon nanotube detectors in NASA’s satellite sensors improve the accuracy of outgoing radiation from Earth, providing insight into how the Earth’s atmosphere responds to changes in solar output. NIST also develops technology for satellite calibration standards for monitoring of the land, oceans, atmosphere and the Sun’s radiation. Finally, NIST’s research, reference materials and in situ ocean color metrology provide the foundation for understanding the ocean's carbon cycle, tracking ocean acidification, and enabling quantification of ocean carbon dioxide removal.
The nation will need to update its infrastructure with low-carbon solutions to continue to meet society’s everyday needs while minimizing the impact of energy production and consumption on the climate. NIST’s expertise in measurements and its key role in promoting innovation will enable significant improvements in the nation’s infrastructure needed to support a low-carbon economy.
NIST supports innovation that can increase energy efficiency and advance clean energy solutions for buildings, which account for nearly 40% of all U.S. energy use and around 50% of greenhouse gas emissions. Some examples of activities and programs include:
NIST has active research to help industry transition away from hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants. The NIST REFPROP database is used by industry to evaluate new refrigerants and design new systems. Also, the NIST Standard Reference Database CYCLE_D provides performance estimates of various refrigerants and blends when used in refrigeration systems.
The NIST Smart Grid Testbed and Smart Grid Program allow for experimentation on a range of topics such as interoperability, communications, power quality, cybersecurity, and more. NIST work in distributed energy resources, such as photovoltaics and batteries, provides manufacturers and system developers critical information and data to improve their products and processes. Research in the Photovoltaic Characterization Laboratory develops methodologies to accurately measure cell output. Neutron measurements at the NIST Center for Neutron Research help identify new materials for batteries, and the Measurements, Standards, and Data for Energy Conversion Materials project supports the development, production and reliability of thermoelectric materials and devices. NIST also has ongoing work in alternative fuels, such as hydrogen.
Even with the transition to renewable energy sources, CDR and CCUS are critical technologies for mitigating climate change. Direct air capture (DAC), a new engineering-based CDR approach, is still in the foundational stages of technology development, and NIST is characterizing materials, such as solid sorbents and membranes, to enable discovery and optimization of materials for scalable DAC. As industry is looking for ways to obtain value from CO2, NIST is working in several areas to realize the economic potential of CO2. In building materials, NIST is working with cement manufacturers to quantify carbon that can be sequestered in cement and concrete. In CO2 conversion to fuels and chemicals, NIST is elucidating reaction intermediates in catalytic systems, investigating CO2 electroreduction mechanisms, and exploring low-temperature CO2 conversion methods.
Advanced manufacturing technologies such as additive manufacturing, lightweighting, process intensification and sustainable manufacturing reduce global energy demand by replacing complex parts with lighter alternatives and increasing the efficiency of manufacturing processes and supply chain logistics. The Circular Economy program and Manufacturing in a Circular Economy project aim to help industry transition away from a linear economic model toward one in which materials repeatedly cycle within the economy. Discovery of new and advanced materials is also a critical step in reducing GHG emissions.
Scientists believe that changes in the climate will lead to increased numbers and severity of natural disasters. Since its founding, NIST has supported the safety, interoperability and resilience of the nation’s infrastructure to such disasters through innovation in performance and resilience of the built environment.
NIST has both a leadership and a research role in the congressionally mandated National Windstorm Impact Reduction Program, which brings together multiple agencies to coordinate the government’s approach to disaster events. NIST is expert in studies that lead to improved design and codes for the built environment. For example, the Joplin, Missouri, tornado investigation led to recommendations for building codes, standards and practices to make buildings and emergency operations across the U.S. more resilient. The Hurricane Maria investigation is still underway.
The Community Resilience program provides planning tools, such as NIST Economic Decision Guide Software (EDGe$), to measure costs and benefits of resilience investments to support community-level decisions. It also offers guidelines, such as NIST Community Resilience Planning Guide for Buildings and Infrastructure Systems, which prepares communities for anticipated hazards, and helps them adapt to changing conditions and withstand and recover rapidly from disruptions due to natural and human-made hazards. NIST also operates the Center for Risk-Based Community Resilience Planning. The center performed a longitudinal study of the effects of flooding in Lumberton, North Carolina — a first application of a combined engineering-social science field study protocol.
The Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) national network serves as an integral part of enhancing community resilience by supporting small and medium-sized manufacturers. MEP centers can conduct assessments to determine manufacturers’ needs in preparing for disaster-related events as well as for restoring operations and serving as enablers of recovery after disasters.
Fires within communities surrounded by natural areas are the most dangerous and costliest fires in North America. NIST-led research and post-fire investigations, such as the one for the Camp Fire that burned for 18 days in California in 2018, are providing the scientific basis for reducing a WUI community’s fire risk. NIST also operates the National Fire Research Laboratory — a unique experimental facility dedicated to understanding fire behavior and structural response to fire.
Smart connected systems and infrastructure have a significant impact on people’s lives, and must be designed for resilience against faults, attacks and increasing climate-change disruptions. Smart connected systems incorporate Internet of Things (IoT) and cyber-physical systems (CPS). NIST is supporting the resilience and trustworthiness of these systems through the Universal CPS Environment for Federation (UCEF) platform. UCEF is being developed to support NIST’s smart cities and communities program, which includes the Global City Teams Challenge.
Advanced communication networks are required to support interconnected infrastructures and ensure effective and timely responses to natural disasters. NIST is leading research efforts to develop a dedicated, nationwide LTE broadband network (FirstNet) and is supporting development of resilient systems for first responders.
In addition to the efforts outlined above, NIST has crosscutting efforts in life-cycle assessment led by its Applied Economics Office. This work addresses the carbon impact of a range of industry sectors, including buildings, utilities and material manufacturing. Examples of the tools that have been developed include the Building Industry Reporting and Design for Sustainability (BIRDS) and Building for Environmental and Economic Sustainability (BEES) packages to assess the carbon footprint of buildings and their component materials.