The US Department of Energy’s campaign to identify and stop gas leaks at its offices and national labs scattered around the nation has helped the agency cut an equivalent of 1.1 million tons of carbon dioxide in three years.
The cuts in fugitive emissions, which are inadvertently released through valve leaks or breaks, are the equivalent of eliminating polluting emissions from 200,000 passenger vehicles every year, according to the DOE.
The anti-leak effort, led by Josh Silverman (pictured), director of the department’s office of sustainability support, has been particularly successful in reducing sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), the most potent greenhouse gas in existence, the New York Times reports.
The crusade against gas leaks was borne out of an executive order from President Obama’s first term that directed all federal agencies to calculate the amount of greenhouse gases their operations generated and then reduce those totals.
The agency’s Fugitive Emissions Working Group, a network of scientists, engineers and technicians led by Silverman, examined the operations at the agency’s 20 national laboratories, production facilities, power marketing administrations and National Nuclear Security Administration facilities and identified huge gaps in air pollution controls.
The group discovered gas leaks made up nearly one-seventh of the total 4.4 million tons of GHGs they found, an equivalent of about 770,00 tons of carbon dioxide, according to the New York Times.
The FEWG went about tightening or replacing valves and gaskets to address the leaks. The agency’s national labs were largely responsible for releases of SF6, which is often used in electric insulation to shield high-voltage lines and equipment and as a tracer gas for evaluating fume hood performance.
Silverman and the group reduced the use of SF6 by fixing valves and getting labs to change their practices. For example, Brookhaven National Laboratory is testing high-efficiency low flow hoods with nitrous oxide to minimize releases of SF6, according to the DOE.
Silverman was named one of 31 finalists for this year’s eight Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals for his emissions reduction efforts.