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Blue sky. Green grass. Wind mill. To the right: solar panels

Climate

Overview

NIST laboratories generate the measurements and research to address climate change in impactful areas from climate measurements and modeling of greenhouse gas emissions to research and tools to build more resilient communities and alternative energy infrastructure. NIST programs advance research and measurements for energy efficiency, including solid state lighting and refrigerants, as well as standards, frameworks and other resources for the manufacturing, construction, and automotive sectors.

The NIST laboratories provide key outputs in support of addressing climate change in the form of:  

  • New measurement methods and performance measures, 
  • Reference materials and data, 
  • Unique facilities and testbeds, and
  • Guides and other resources for communities and researchers 
  • In accomplishing its mission NIST relies on key partnerships with the public and private sector. 

NIST’s efforts to address climate change fall in several categories:
 

NIST plays a critical role in ensuring that the world can properly measure the concentrations and emissions of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere along with their impact on global temperature. From fundamental calibrations of sensors placed on satellites to measures of regional emissions via networks of sensors, NIST measurement approaches are helping decision makers understand the magnitude of the challenges and to identify opportunities for mitigations. Sample activities include: 

Calibrations of earth observing sensors and satellites

To best characterize changes in concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and temperature changes, a range of earth-based and satellite-based sensors are utilized. The accuracy and stability of these sensors is critical, and NIST provides the basic measurements and reference materials to determine the accuracy of estimates of atmospheric temperatures, solar radiation, and greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere.

Emissions measurements

NIST has advanced the measurement of emissions and management of greenhouse gases through its development of test methods to measure emissions from the flues of industrial facilities like power plants and the detection of leaks from other sources of greenhouse gases such as natural gas facilities and pipelines. It is also active in identifying replacements for the refrigerants that have been identified as being large sources of greenhouse gas emissions.

Urban Dome

Many GHG emissions come from small and distributed sources in urban areas such as vehicles, landfills, or individual buildings which makes the measurement of emissions from urban areas challenging. The NIST Greenhouse Gas Measurements Program is developing technologies to measure emissions directly based on atmospheric observations from satellites, aircraft, and sensors on the Earth’s surface. By combining atmospheric observations with computer modeling, scientists will be able to provide stakeholders with more complete emissions estimates in these regions. 

Scientists believe that changes in the climate will lead to increased numbers and severity of natural disasters. Since its founding, NIST has supported safety, interoperability, and resilience of the Nation’s infrastructure to such disasters. NIST develops new measurement techniques and disseminates reference materials and data that support innovation in performance and resilience of the built environment. 

Disaster and Failure Studies

NIST has both a lead and a research role in two congressionally-mandated interagency programs related to resilience: the National Windstorm Impact Reduction Program and the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program. These programs, which bring together NIST, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the National Science Foundation, and other federal agencies, seek to increase the Nation’s resilience. By coordinating the government’s approach, NIST helps direct the federal research agenda and move knowledge gained to real-world practice. NIST is expert in studies of disaster events, which can lead to improved design and codes of the built environment. Economic tools like the NIST Economic Decision Guide Software measure costs and benefits of resilience investments to support community-level decisions.

Building Codes

NIST works with first responders, local governments, and the construction industry to develop standards and codes to improve resilience. For example, based on its study of the EF-5 tornado in Joplin, MO in 2011, NIST recommended a number of far-reaching building code changes to the American Society of Civil Engineers and the International Code Council. NIST also recently held a workshop to assess how building codes may need to change given concerns of increased weather events arising from climate change.

Wildland-Urban Interface Fires

Fires within communities surrounded by natural areas are the most dangerous and costliest fires in North America. Growing at a staggering 4,000 acres per day, these Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI) communities are rapidly becoming the nation’s single largest fire concern. NIST’s activities in Fire Research, including investigations of events such as the Camp Fire in California and experiments at the National Fire Research Laboratory, inform communities and standards organizations on mitigating the hazards from these ever-increasing events.

Public Safety Communications

Responses to natural disasters depend upon robust communications, and NIST is leading the development of standards and associated research, development and testing to provide the public safety community access to the most effective communications technologies. To this end, NIST is leading efforts to develop a dedicated, nationwide LTE broadband network (FirstNet).

To minimize impact on the climate, the nation will need to update its infrastructure to enable low carbon solutions to meet our everyday needs. NIST expertise in infrastructure, measurements, and promoting innovation will enable the dramatic improvement in the nation’s infrastructure to support a low-carbon economy. 

Smart Grid

Decarbonization of the energy sector will mean an increased reliance on electric power and inclusion of more renewable energy generation on the electric grid. NIST delivers the research, technology, and standards contributions necessary to modernize the electric grid and integrate distributed energy resources and technologies. The NIST interoperability framework, now on its fourth revision, describes new approaches to realizing the full potential of modern energy technologies through interoperability-focused standards activities that can revolutionize power system operations, cybersecurity, and business models. Basic measurements of electric power and frequency on the grid build on NIST’s core capabilities in fundamental metrology to ensure a reliable electricity system for a low-carbon society.

Buildings

NIST supports innovation that can increase energy efficiency and advance clean energy solutions in the building sector, which accounts for over 30% of greenhouse gas emissions. The NIST Net-Zero Energy, High-Performance Buildings Program develops and deploys advances in measurement science to move the nation towards net-zero energy buildings while maintaining healthy indoor environments in a cost-effective manner. NIST’s Embedded Intelligence in Buildings Program creates the measurement science to improve building operations to achieve lower operating costs, energy efficiency, and occupant comfort through the use of intelligent building systems. 

Water

A changing climate is stressing water systems around the world, highlighting the challenges in providing fresh water to an ever-growing population. NIST research helps to assess the quality of water, from remote sensing of water color to advanced chemical and biological measurement techniques to ensuring our water infrastructure can handle the needs of the 21st century and beyond. Emerging work by NIST to update knowledge and standards for plumbing in buildings addresses the need to more efficiently use water while maintaining and improving water quality.

The nation will need to embrace new technologies to reduce the impact of carbon in the environment while improving our quality of life. NIST’s role in enhancing innovation leads to the new products and approaches that provide the services we expect while decreasing the risk of climate change.

Energy Technologies (PV, Hydrogen, Batteries, Lighting)

NIST develops basic measures to provide insight into the capabilities of advanced energy technologies and performance measures to help consumers understand their expected performance. Solid state lighting, advanced appliances, photovoltaics, batteries, and hydrogen generation and storage are topics of relevance to increasing energy efficiency and decreasing the carbon intensity of the nation’s energy system. Imaging of battery and fuel cell operation clarifies basic operating principles that increase their reliability. Measures of lighting performance against the nation’s standards have enabled leaps in performance of products with a fraction of the energy consumption of incandescent bulbs. Movement towards the use of hydrogen as a fuel source will depend upon basic materials science as conducted at NIST to store and transport the fuel.

Carbon Capture and Sequestration

NIST is conducting the basic measurement science to enable carbon capture and sequestration. Imaging conducted at the NIST Center for Neutron Research enables assessment of the capabilities of rocks to store CO2, and novel materials for removing CO2 from the air are being investigated to help reduce concentrations of GHG already in the atmosphere.

Materials

Many approaches to reducing greenhouse gas emissions will rely on advanced materials. For example, the NIST Automotive Lightweighting facility generates data and models for lightweight vehicle components that dramatically increase fuel efficiency. Polymer materials can be used for fuel cells and photovoltaics, and advanced composites are critical in technologies such as wind turbines. NIST’s assessment methods and materials exploration tools allow confident use of such materials to reduce our carbon footprint.

The Research

Projects & Programs

Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Transport

The capabilities of the NIST National Fire Research Laboratory (NFRL) will be extended to provide a test bed for performance evaluation of instruments and test

News

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