Given all the negatives surrounding fossil fuels it’s not surprising that so many researchers are pursuing alternative sources of energy to power homes, cars and industry.
Count Jared Trask, 17 and Kaitlyn Stockley, 16 among them. They’re Grade 11 students at Holy Spirit High School in Conception Bay South, near St. John’s in Newfoundland, and they processed bio-fuel from algae — the scummy green substance found wherever there is water.
“We collected a local algae from a nearby spring,” says Jared, “and we grew the algae for 69 days using the ambient heat from the fireplace in my house.”
Compared to the tropical environments of other algae research this qualifies as “cold” growing.
Dr. Kelly Hawboldt, a Professor of Process Engineering at Memorial University the pair’s co-mentor, says cold growth of locally-obtained algae and the extraction methods made this a groundbreaking project.
After they grew the algae, they removed the water by centrifuge and then extracted the oil. One extraction method involved using high frequency sound waves to break down the cell walls of the algae and release the oil. The other was to extract it chemically using hexane.
Though the amount of oil they produced was small, it was an important first step. “They wanted to find out if they could grow native algae in cold temperatures, if they could extract some oil and what the qualities of the oil would be,” said Dr. Hawboldt.
Says their other mentor, Dr. Bob Helleur, a Professor of Chemistry at Memorial U.: “Their experimental design is ready to be used by other people to test other algae to see if the amount of oil can be brought up to commercially-viable levels.”
For Kaitlyn the possibility is an exciting and satisfying one.
“Both Jared and I feel that it is important to Newfoundland and Labrador that we showed that bio-fuels can be extracted from native algae in an ecologically-sound way.”