Employees directly impact decrease in laboratory’s greenhouse gas emissions

By Dejan Ristic, Pressure/Energy Systems Engineer-Group Leader, FMS

One of Argonne’s key sustainability goals is to better the environment by reducing certain types of greenhouse gas emissions by at least 13 percent by fiscal year 2020, compared to fiscal year 2008. In fiscal year 2008, these greenhouse gas emissions were equivalent to almost 30,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “in the United States, approximately four metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent (almost 9,000 pounds) per person per year (about 17 percent of total U.S. emissions) are emitted from people’s homes.” A 13 percent decrease will be like eliminating 975 individual people’s yearly greenhouse gas emissions.

The gas sources Argonne must reduce are known as “scope-three” emissions (after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency definition.) So what are scope-three greenhouse gases and how is Argonne working to reduce them? Scope-three gases are made up of carbon monoxide (CO), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), and perfluorocompounds (PFCs). A significant portion of Argonne’s Scope 3 greenhouse gases are generated by employees’ commutes to and from work, travel around Argonne’s 1,500 acre site, air and ground business travel, and electric power transmission and distribution. Because individual employees’ daily transportation habits have a direct and immediate impact on the reduction of greenhouse gases, Argonne encourages its employees to carpool and bike to work.

In an effort to forge a “greener” lifestyle, Environmental Engineer Peter Lynch, rides his bike to work year-round: “I like the exercise and it feels good to know that I’m making a difference every day. My family has been able to cut back to one car, too. That’s made a huge difference in our spending, especially since gas prices have gone up.”

Biking into work isn’t an option limited to city-dwellers alone. More and more people are biking to work in our suburban communities. Naperville resident Dave Jacqué uses a combination of residential streets and off-street bike paths for a safe and scenic commute to Argonne: “I ride to work once or twice a week and I’ve been timing myself to see if I can beat my own record. It’s a great way to start and finish my day. It’s relaxing and I feel like I’ve accomplished something.”

Argonne has implemented the Bike Share program on its campus to enable employees’ reduction of transportation emissions during the work day. Bicycles are available outside buildings and employees are encouraged to bike their way from building to building rather than driving. Argonne has bike paths on site to help keep bicyclists safe and comfortable. Wooded walking paths are also available for those who prefer to hoof it. Buildings are generally no further than a 10-minute walk apart from each another.

Argonne has also purchased a fleet of electric vehicles in order to reduce the lab’s emissions. Charging stations, including a solar-powered electric vehicle charging station, have been installed at several locations around the campus in order to develop the “green” fleet’s growing infrastructure needs.

Scope-three greenhouse gas emissions can also be reduced by making simple alterations to one’s driving habits:

  • Reducing the amount of time the car is in idle. Two minutes of idling burns the same amount of gas as it takes to drive one mile. According to research done at Argonne, idling wastes about 0.3 gallon per hour and each gallon of burned fuel emits about 20 pounds of CO2.
  • Maintaining proper tire pressure improves fuel economy by three to four percent. The listing for the recommended pressure for a vehicle’s tires is usually located inside the driver’s side door jamb. To help and encourage employees to do this, Argonne has installed a free-of-charge air compressor station at Building 46.
  • Removing excess weight from the vehicle increases fuel economy by one to two percent for every 100 pounds removed from the vehicle.
  • Reducing heavy acceleration and heavy braking while driving. By accelerating and braking more smoothly, a vehicle’s fuel efficiency can improve by up to five percent.
  • When using your car for short trips, errands should be grouped to minimize multiple cold starts. A cold start is when a vehicle is started after the engine has cooled to atmospheric temperature. Cold starts produce larger amounts of air pollutants.

Posted Sept. 6, 2011