Neutrons—Making Sustainable Biofuels

July 2, 2018

Postdoctoral researcher Cory Knoot prepares a sample of blue-green algae for a neutron scattering experiment on the Bio-SANS instrument at ORNL’s High Flux Isotope Reactor. [Credit: Kelley Smith, Oak Ridge National Laboratory]

Scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory use neutrons to understand the importance of hydrocarbon production to the biology of blue-green algae so that new strains can be engineered to produce biofuels sustainably. Neutron scattering makes it possible to non-destructively see inside living algae at real world temperatures and in real time.

“No one has used neutron scattering to test the hypothesized role hydrocarbons in modulating membrane structure in algae,” said Cory Knoot of Washington University in St. Louis. “Understanding why alkanes are important to cyanobacterial health could make it easier to engineer new strains of the algae that can sustainably produce alkanes as biofuels.”

Knoot used the lab’s Biological Small-Angle Neutron Scattering, or Bio-SANS, instrument, which is designed and optimized to analyze the structure, function, and dynamics of complex biological systems.