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Built with Recovery Act dollars, new structures serve science

With major funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has built new lab space for battery researchers and scientists who investigate “metamaterials,” upgraded an aging transformer bank that supplied electricity to the entire site and constructed a modern facility to support thousands of scientists who visit the Laboratory each year to conduct cutting-edge experiments on all manner of matter.

The new, energy-efficient $35-million Advanced Light Source User Support Building project, built with the help of $14.7 million in funding from the Recovery Act, is set to open this month, three months ahead of schedule. Along with five other general construction projects at Berkeley Lab funded by another $16.3 million in Recovery Act awards from the Department of Energy, these projects—all completed on time and within budget—have created many jobs and will serve to advance national priorities in science and energy research.

The Advanced Light Source (ALS), one of the world’s brightest sources of ultraviolet and soft x-ray beams, is used by scientists to examine the structure of materials on the atomic and molecular level. About 2,000 researchers visit the ALS annually, resulting in more than 500 publications a year in scholarly journals. The x-ray beams of the ALS have been used for breakthroughs in everything from understanding the Ebola virus to discovering new materials to be used as a catalyst in fuel cells.

Advanced Light Source User Support Building (Photo by Roy Kaltschmidt/Berkeley Lab Public Affairs

Berkeley Lab's new Advanced Light Source User Support Building, funded partly by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, will be used by visiting scientists who conduct cutting-edge experiments in everything from biology to semiconductors. (Photo by Roy Kaltschmidt/Berkeley Lab Public Affairs)

However, ALS users, who stay anywhere from a few days to many months to complete their experiments, had been housed in offices in a World War II-era building. “Now they’re going in a state-of-the-art building that’s seismically safe and properly cooled and heated,” says Steve Rossi, the ALS Project and Facility Management Group Leader.

Located adjacent to the ALS, the User Support Building has office and lab space for about 80 researchers, as well as conference rooms and experiment assembly spaces. “The main purpose of this building is to provide urgently needed staging space for ALS experiments and urgently needed office space for users of the ALS,” says project director Joe Harkins. “They can actually roll experiments between the two buildings; there’s a large high-bay staging space and an overhead crane two stories high to manipulate experiments.”

What’s more, the Recovery Act funds accelerated completion of the project, allowing occupants to start moving in September, three months ahead of schedule and saving $500,000.

The User Support Building has a number of “green” features that should garner it a LEED gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, according to Harkins. For example, it was designed to capture natural light, thus reducing lighting loads. Additionally, every window has a sensor that, when the window is opened, sends a signal to turn off the ventilation system. The building has been extensively metered, allowing for monitoring and verification of energy usage. Plus, it has a heat recovery system, which will take the large amount of heat generated by computer servers in the server room and use it to heat water, thus relieving the load on the boilers.

More than 10 percent of the building material is recycled content and 75 percent of construction waste was recycled. Even the toilets are eco-friendly: a dual-flush option on the handle allows for greater water savings. Overall, the building has been designed to be 56 percent more efficient than a normal, baseline building, Harkins says.

Batteries and Metamaterials

Separately, Recovery Act funding allowed for extensive upgrades to laboratory space in two buildings. The Building 62 project, awarded $2.9 million, created office space and 10 new laboratories for researchers in Berkeley Lab’s battery group, known as one of the top research programs in the country for batteries and fuel cells for vehicle applications. Occupancy began in May.

“The funding for the battery program at Berkeley Lab has expanded considerably in the past few years under the leadership of John Newman,” said battery researcher Nitash Balsara. “The new battery labs in Building 62 provide the program with the space for developing and characterizing the next generation of rechargeable batteries for applications ranging from electric vehicles to storage of renewable energy.”

The Building 66 project, with $4.0 million in Recovery Act funding, upgraded 4,500 square feet of lab space with state-of-the-art equipment and acoustical panels to enable use of high-powered microscopes capable of imaging individual atoms and their properties and interactions. The labs will be used for the research of a new type of artificial materials, known as metamaterials, which enable the realization of novel physical properties that are unattainable from natural materials. Metamaterials have shown unprecedented characteristics such as negative index, super-lensing and optical magnetism, and promise to create entirely new prospects for manipulating light.

“The lab will study some new physical phenomena originating from optical metamaterials, such as the physics of indefinite metamaterials and the dynamic characters of reconfigurable chiral metamaterials that couldn’t be explored previously,” said scientist Xiang Zhang. “We believe that the discoveries will have profound impacts on a wide range of applications such as fundamental understanding of light-matter interaction, high-resolution imaging and solar energy conversion with high efficiency.”

Other Infrastructure Projects

Together, these three construction projects, along with three smaller ones, resulted in about 175 jobs being created or retained. The jobs were the result of both services rendered at Berkeley Lab as well as materials procured. The three other infrastructure projects—funded wholly by $9.4 million in Recovery Act grants and mostly completed—are:

  • Advanced Light Source—three aging air-handling units that had vibration problems, negatively impacting the scientific studies, were replaced with higher capacity and higher efficiency units
  • Building 2—mechanical system upgrades and improvements to the building envelope, essential for the stability and resolution of experiments, were completed
  • Grizzly Substation—an aged and failing transformer bank at the Grizzly Substation, which serves the entire Berkeley Lab, was replaced with a modern, high-energy efficient transformer; in the next phase, to be completed in 2011, a new switching station will be added.

“We had a 50-year-old transformer in there that was showing signs of deterioration. We’d been keeping an eye on it for the last few years,” says project director Greg Norman. “The ARRA money enabled the Lab to complete that project to provide a safe and reliable source of electricity for the entire laboratory for the next 40 to 50 years.”

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory provides solutions to the world’s most urgent scientific challenges including clean energy, climate change, human health, and a better understanding of matter and force in the universe. Berkeley Lab is a world leader in improving our lives and knowledge of the world around us through innovative science, advanced computing and technology that makes a difference. Berkeley Lab is a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) national laboratory. It conducts unclassified scientific research and is managed by the University of California for the DOE Office of Science. Visit our website.

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