Think your home's electric bill is high?
Consider this: Researchers at the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility in Newport News run up monthly power bills of more than a half-million dollars - some $7 million a year.
But smashing atoms just got a little cheaper. Looking to save money for taxpayers, employees of the Department of Energy lab have figured out a way to save about $1,000 a day in electricity costs.
It's a little more complicated than adding insulation, caulking or double-hung windows.
To accelerate electrons for its nuclear physics experiments, the lab uses liquid helium to cool a superconducting metal to between minus 452 and minus 456 degrees Fahrenheit.
It's done with a huge refrigeration system that runs all day, every day. The system's helium compressors were designed to work most efficiently at maximum cooling capacity - even at times when full capacity wasn't needed.
The solution: Figure out a way to automatically turn down the compressors during cycles when researchers don't need full power.
With a little reconfiguring, the lab's Cryogenics Group, headed by Dana Arenius, did just that. Electricity costs have been slashed by about $33,000 a month, or nearly $400,000 a year - an annual savings of more than 5 percent.
The cycle - dubbed the Ganni Cycle after the lab's cryogenics whiz Rao Ganni - has a patent pending.
In these days of ris ing energy costs, the lab wants to do its part to conserve, said Linda Ware, a Jefferson Lab spokeswoman.
"We're concerned about energy consumption, and we want to do whatever we can to save tax dollars," Ware said. "Any savings on that bill can be given back to science."
Besides saving on power bills, the process has reduced maintenance needs. The lab has shared its discovery with other Department of Energy facilities, including the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, N.Y., and the Oak Ridge National Lab in Tennessee.
The Jefferson Lab's continuous electron beam accelerator enables researchers to smash atoms, breaking the nucleus into smaller pieces known as quarks. By doing so, scientists hope to get a better understanding of the nature of matter.
Submitted: Wednesday, August 30, 2006 - 12:00am