Student Science

Intel ISEF 2013 Finalist Profile

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Algae: A Blooming Fuel Source

Mitchell Gillin
Madeleine Guyant

Governor's School at Innovation Park, Manassas, VA

The purpose of this experiment was to analyze local algae strains in Prince William County, Virginia, for their viability as a source of biofuel, as determined by the percentage of dried biomass composed of lipids. By testing algae strains in the species combinations in which they naturally occur, as opposed to testing a strain specifically engineered as a fuel source, multiple problems can be solved simultaneously. The process used in this experiment would remove algae from areas where harmful blooms occur, provide a source of biofuel, and have a positive effect on water quality. In this experiment, algae samples from three locations, Quantico Creek, Lefty Hamilton Pond, and the Potomac River, were tested. It was hypothesized that the sample from Lefty Hamilton Pond would be the most viable due to the higher percentage of planktonic algae present compared to the other samples, although the biomass was primarily filamentous. The procedure was broken down into four main steps: collecting the samples, performing identification and water quality analysis, preparing the algae, and lipid extraction/transterification. Results showed that the hypothesis was correct. The algae sample from Lefty Hamilton Pond had a lipid yield of 12.3%, while the samples from Quantico Creek and the Potomac River yielded 8.9% and 7.82% respectively. However, while the sample with the highest lipid percentage is the most optimal fuel source of those tested, it is not a high enough percentage to make the process cost effective or viable when compared to strains that are currently being used for fuel. Using the methods from this experiment, algae samples that are primarily planktonic should be tested in order to develop a process that is environmentally sound as well as cost effective.

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