Cutting carbon, blocking blooms

June 2023
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Besides bioplastics research, the LANL Biofuels and Bioproducts team is studying carbon neutrality and applying machine learning to climate change-exacerbated algal blooms.

The lab spearheads a DOE project that will bring carbon neutrality to New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana under the Intermountain West Energy Sustainability and Transitions (I-WEST) initiative. The region is ideally located to become carbon-neutral and economically sustainable because of its natural gas wells and siting for solar, geothermal and wind energy.

As part of I-WEST, the LANL biofuels team used its computational resources to locate existing biomass resources. The effort could significantly reduce CO2 emissions by using these resources, such as crop or forest residues, municipal waste, gas from landfills, leftover wood manufacturing products, or even algae that could be grown in poor quality water to make biogas or biofuels, replacing fossil fuel energy.

In another new project, LANL’s Babetta Marrone and colleagues use machine learning and artificial intelligence to unite data pertaining to harmful algal blooms. Algae help sustain marine life in fresh- and salt-water ecosystems but can also bloom in large numbers and become problematic. These growths, which produce green scum layers, not only look bad, but can make the water toxic to humans and fish. Researchers also believe algal blooms will become more common as climate change progresses.

The project will identify the factors, such as temperature and nutrient availability, combined with genomics data, that could predict the blooms’ occurrences and toxicity. The team focuses on Lake Erie, where harmful blooms happen each year.

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About the Author

Wudan Yan is a Seattle-based freelance science writer.

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