LANL researchers Jenna Shambach, left, and Sarah Lamcaj, examine algae culture and count cells in experiments to see if algae can become a viable biofuel. Photo: Andy Stiny, The New Mexican.

Andy Stiny writes for the Santa Fe New Mexican that molecular biologist Amanda Barry and a team of algae researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory’s (LANL) Bio-energy and Biome Sciences group are trying to determine whether one particular strain of algae can be produced at low cost and in short periods of time so that it could economically compete with fossil fuels.

“We are really trying to examine the unique traits of a particular algae that have the potential to be grown for algae biofuels, to see if we can exploit any of these traits to improve growth or improve oil production from algae,” she says.

The long game, she said, is finding a new domestic source of renewable biofuels and bioproducts. By doing that, “we reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, enhance the energy independence of the United States, secure energy solutions for clean energy, mitigate the impacts of global energy demand growth, and contribute to job creation in a new domestic industry.”

In her work at the lab, Dr. Barry is being assisted by three LANL student researchers: Anna Finck, of Las Vegas, N.M., and Jenna Schambach and Sara Lamcaj, both from New Jersey. Ms. Schambach said one thing she has learned from their experiments is that the strain of algae they are working with “can utilize different plants” for a food source for growth.

Their work so far has been in small containers but is currently being transferred to a greenhouse down the hall, where “we have some mini-ponds that mimic what it would be like outdoors at larger scale,” Dr. Barry said.

In the future, LANL will look for an industrial partner already growing algae outdoors “to work with them to see if this would help their process in actually boosting growth and boosting the products they are looking for,” she said.

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