Leading a departmental working group, Silverman identified huge gaps in air pollution controls at DOE facilities and initiated steps to prevent the discharge of these emissions. This included conducting maintenance and repairs to reduce leaks, and deploying technologies to capture and reuse these gases.
The impact has been significant. DOE officials said they have halted the release of about one million metric tons of greenhouse gas since 2009, the equivalent of eliminating polluting emissions from 200,000 passenger vehicles every year.
“Josh Silverman launched DOE’s first-ever inventory of sulfur hexafluoride emissions, quantifying an alarmingly large and previously unknown rate,” said Andrew Lawrence, director of the DOE’s Office of Environmental Protection and Safety Analysis. “The results are dramatic. DOE cut these emissions by more than 60 percent since the first inventory, avoiding the release of over a million tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
“Silverman’s vision and leadership enabled DOE to uncover a large and previously unrecognized source of greenhouse gas emissions and turn it into a climate change success story,” said Lawrence.
One pound of sulfur hexafluoride, an inorganic, colorless and odorless gas, is equivalent to 11 tons of carbon dioxide, itself a major contributor to global warming. Sulfur hexafluoride is used in industrial electrical facilities and in a variety of high-energy scientific equipment, such as particle accelerators and electron microscopes.
Part of Silverman’s initiative involved not only halting the release of the greenhouse gas by identifying and stopping the leakage, but recycling it. For example, the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois is capturing the gas and reusing it in electron microscopes, accelerators and other high-energy equipment.
Daniel Kreeger, executive director of the Association of Climate Change Officers, said Silverman is “a change agent.” He said Silverman “went against the grain of years of operational practice,” but at the same time has “shown that meaningful change does not necessarily require new technology or a complete overhaul of a system.”
Silverman said the huge release of sulfur hexafluoride from DOE facilities was an “invisible environmental problem” that required immediate attention. “When we realized the size of the problem, I knew there was something we could do about it,” he said.
In addition to curbing the dangerous emissions at DOE facilities, Silverman has been engaged in electronics stewardship and green purchasing.