By Aaron Ruiz - August 22, 2023

UC Santa Barbara recently received $1 million in new funding intended to accelerate climate innovation and entrepreneurship developments on campus. This funding comes after the UC system announced $15 million in grants, part of a historic partnership between UC and the state of California to address the climate crisis and create innovative strategies for drought, wildfire and other impacts of a warming planet. This has allowed for the Climate Innovation Fellows to be created by the California NanoSystems Institute (CNSI), an integrated research facility for science and innovation at Elings Hall that is managing UCSB’s grant.

The cohort is currently made up of just 4 postdoctoral researchers, each with their own specialty and research focusing on climate solutions and innovation. These fellows will be equipped with year-round customized support, receiving focused resources and training.

Dr. Hyunggon Park’s research addresses California’s water needs as climate change continues

to worsen the state’s already exhausted supply systems. Dr. Park will continue to work towards increasing the dependability of local water supplies through desalination systems, in order to provide long-term, drought-proof sources. “I am excited to develop and apply cutting-edge techniques to advance renewable energy technologies and passive water desalination,” Dr. Park adds. These systems are typically energy intensive, but passive thermal desalination processes address this challenge by using sunlight as heat for distillation. “I look forward to collaborating with experts from different fields and backgrounds to explore new avenues for developing sustainable and resilient infrastructure.” Dr. Park hopes to use his opportunity as a Climate Innovation Fellow to continue refining a novel, passive, salt-rejecting desalination system that can operate continuously for 7 days with no decay in efficacy.

Dr. Lauren Smith researches seaweed aquaculture, and its potential as the lowest impact, highest carbon mitigation of any food source. With kelp being the fastest growing aquaculture sector in California, seaweed is set to play a critical role in climate adaptation within the state. “I am most excited about leveraging my phycology (seaweed) background into an applied context,” Dr. Smith adds, explaining that her research is specifically targeting seaweed’s susceptibility to marine heatwaves, which are occurring with increased frequency. To combat this, Dr. Smith will be testing a novel technique to thermally shock juvenile kelp to increase resistance to marine heatwaves and create a more stable crop to take advantage of both the food and carbon mitigation properties of this important species. “This is an opportunity to work on a project at the cross section of research and industry that is proactive about climate change challenges facing aquaculture,” Dr. Smith finishes.

Dr. Guillermo Terrén Serrano addresses the unpredictability and uncertainty of clean energy sources to increase the reliability of power grid systems. Because power grid operators rely on forecasts to determine the unit commitment and operating reserve requirements, errors in both energy demand and clean energy forecasts can create a mismatch between supply and demand and decrease the reliability of the electricity system. As a Climate Innovation Fellow, Dr. Terrén Serrano will be optimizing novel forecasting models capable of accommodating the variability of clean energy sources, to foster more reliable and accurate energy delivery.

Our last fellow, Dr. Talia Evans, researches large-scale carbon dioxide removals (CDR), specifically biomass burials in the ocean that have occurred regularly in the Earth’s history. Dr. Evans is committed to assisting California in meeting state targets for the 2045 carbon neutrality goal, ensuring CDR approaches are highly efficient, low impact, and analogous to natural processes. During her time as a Climate Innovation Fellow, Dr. Evans will be testing novel processes to bury and monitor agricultural waste in ocean anoxic basins, areas in the ocean with low to no oxygen.  These low to no oxygen environments preserve biomass for longer periods and minimizes habitat disturbance to economically vital animals, such as fish and shellfish, that do not inhabit anoxic environments.

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