When tackling a multigenerational, multifaceted scientific challenge like climate change mitigation, it’s easy to become overwhelmed with the scale of the problem. For Dr. Sarah Baker, Group Leader for the Materials for Energy and Climate Security group in LLNL’s Materials Science Division, the nature of her team’s work that helps chip away at one of the biggest challenges of our time helps create a sense of shared purpose and progress. As she says, “it’s the energy you get from planning with a brilliant, energetic team passionate about solving the problem together.” By understanding what technology needs to be developed today in anticipation of widespread future adoption, Baker and her team are developing a framework for climate technologies that can scale and mature rapidly for real-world impact.
After completing her PhD in Materials Chemistry at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, Baker saw firsthand how “benchtop science” can quickly translate to real-world applications. During her first postdoctoral appointment at UC Santa Barbara, she explored the hemostatic efficacy of layered clays on blood clotting. The resulting product ended up being adopted by the U.S. Military and became a frontline product used by first responders, law enforcement, and hospitals across the country. The experience of impacting lives with bench-scale discovery had a lasting effect on Baker, and she is strongly driven to translate LLNL’s transformative work in carbon capture and utilization to commercial deployment.
Engineering the Carbon Economy, led by Roger Aines, is a Director’s Initiative at LLNL aimed at creating the science, technology, and collaborations to support global-scale CO2 removal. As lead author of Getting to Neutral: Options for Negative Carbon Emissions in California, Baker outlined the negative emissions practices and technologies that are available for California to achieve carbon neutrality by 2045. One of the key findings of the report was the promise of using plants, or waste biomass, that have already captured stored carbon as a means of cleaning up the atmosphere. “For California, converting biomass to fuels and sequestering some of the carbon underground can also be a major player in helping our state reach carbon neutrality.” Baker and the report team were recognized with a Department of Energy Secretary’s Achievement Award in 2021, a prestigious honor.
Looking to the future, Baker keeps transformative, scalable technologies top-of-mind. “How can we think ahead 10, 20, or 30 years and have the technologies and workforce ready for decarbonization and negative emissions when we're going to need them? And really, that means we need to make the needed bench-scale innovations and start building and deploying now,” says Baker. “And we need to be able to go faster than we have ever gone before.”
Developing a framework for transformative, scalable climate technologies to support CO2 removal