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Argonne National Laboratory


Argonne Impacts State by State

Argonne’s collaborations in Alaska and across the United States have led to groundbreaking discoveries and development of new technologies that help meet the nation’s needs for sustainable energy, economic prosperity, and security.

Argonne and NREL study shows the potential of pumped storage hydropower in Alaska 

Argonne partnered with the DOE’s NREL to identify potential sites for pumped storage hydropower projects in Alaska. Scientists identified about 1,800 sites in the state. (Image by Shutterstock/Mirvav.)

Alaska, the nation’s largest state by area, is warming faster than any other U.S. state, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Alaska gets roughly 30% of its power from renewable energy, including wind, solar and water. To integrate those zero-carbon energy sources into the electric grid on a larger scale, scientists are seeking cost-effective ways to store energy to provide constant power when solar and wind are scarce.  

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory led a study to determine the potential of pumped storage hydropower as a way to integrate more wind and solar into the energy grid to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions driving climate change. Argonne partnered with the DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) for the project funded by DOE’s Water Power Technologies Office. 

The study showed that about 1,800 sites in Alaska are suitable for the development of closed-loop pumped storage hydropower projects. Pumped storage hydropower technology generates electricity when water is released from an upper reservoir through turbines into a lower reservoir. At night, when electricity is cheaper and abundant, the turbines are reversed to pump water back up into the elevated upper reservoir. Power is stored and released when needed. 

Along with reducing carbon emissions, renewable energy can lower the cost of electricity driven by the high cost of delivering diesel fuel to Alaska’s remote areas. 

Argonne spearheaded a 2021 DOE-sponsored guidebook on how to value pumped storage hydropower projects. 

Argonne’s data stations in Alaska help reveal impact of plant communities on the movement of energy in the Arctic

Graminoid-dominated tundra with dwarf shrubs growing in national park Kytalyk, in the Siberian Arctic. The blurred areas in the image are created by heat haze, which occurs when various surfaces heat up differently and hence create turbulence in the air. (Image by Gabriela Schaepman-Strub/University.)

Since 1979, the Arctic has warmed nearly four times faster than the Earth as a whole due to climate change. Global warming can substantially impact how energy moves between the land and atmosphere, affecting regional and global weather patterns. A recent study from Argonne and 62 institutions revealed that plant communities, which are often simplified in climate models, have a substantial impact on how energy is exchanged between the land and atmosphere during the Arctic summer.

The Arctic exhibits extensive diversity in plant communities, ranging from peat bogs to lichen-covered barrens to grasslands. The study found that vegetation type was a better predictor of energy exchange than temperature, snow cover and cloud cover. In addition, plant communities differed greatly in their warming and cooling effects.

The study relied on energy exchange measurements from 64 stations, including two of Argonne’s stations in Alaska. It’s extremely difficult to gather measurements in the Arctic, partly because of harsh weather conditions and the limited time period to collect data. While more stations and measurements are still needed, this study, which was published in Nature Communications, highlights the importance of incorporating vegetation types into Earth system models to better understand the impacts of climate change

Argonne: Pivotal discovery shows more CO2 emissions from permafrost soils than previously thought

A recent study found that carbon dioxide emissions from decomposition in Alaska’s permafrost soil are occurring much more quickly than once thought, with consequences for global warming. (Image by Shutterstock/R. Vickers.)

Permafrost, the perennially frozen subsoil in Earth’s northernmost regions, covers about 15% of land from the Arctic Ocean coastline through much of Alaska, northern Canada and northern Eurasia. A multi-institution study led by Woodwell Climate Research Center in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, and including the DOE’s Argonne discovered that with rising global temperatures, the decomposition of organic matter in permafrost soil during winter can be substantially greater than previously thought.

The new numbers show that permafrost region soils release much more CO2 over the entire year than plants use during the summer. Scientists also found that the CO2 released by permafrost soil during winter could increase 41% by 2100 if greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase.

The study, which includes data gathered from more than 100 sites in Alaska by several institutions in addition to Argonne, was published in Nature Climate Change. The team’s findings highlight the need for more research on the permafrost region’s CO2 emissions, and demonstrate the significant impact these emissions could have on the greenhouse effect and global warming.