Though their research on turning algae into an environmentally-friendly source of diesel fuel has been ongoing, a team of University researchers’ funding has been extended with a new $2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.
Headed by professors in conjunction with the University of Pennsylvania, the group has been working to develop a cheaper fuel, according to research leader Brad Cardinale, professor in the School for Environment and Sustainability.
“We’re trying to grow algal biofuels in a way that’s more sustainable, that we produce more energy but do so without creating a lot of environmental pollution or genetically modified species that might be a problem,” Cardinale said.
The research team is composed of environmental sustainability professors, as well as chemical and automotive engineers to the process of how these fuels will be created and utilized in the modern world. Cardinale said though other groups are researching this issue, different factors make their project unique.
“There’s two things that are unique about our project,” Cardinale said. “We are one of two, maybe three, universities in the world that have experts from the biologists from the chemical engineers to the automotive engineers that all work together in a unified sequence to grow algae in literally an open pond to putting it in an engine to determine whether or not we’ve designed them properly.”
The project initially began back in 2016 with funding from MCubed, an organization that gives funding to various research projects and ideas. This initial project led to a $2.5 million dollar grant from the National Science Foundation, and eventually allowed for the recent Department of Energy grant. Cardinale said he attributes much of the success of the project to the MCubed group.
“(The research team) would have never worked together, never even talked, I mean we’re not even on the same campus, and if it wasn’t for the MCubed getting us together for some preliminary data, we’d never have gotten $4.5 million in grants,” he said.
With the intent of working on an environmentally-conscious source of fuel, Andre Boehman, mechanical engineering professor and research team leader, said the recent reports by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reminded him of what the team is working for.
“Now we have a chance to make significant strides to improve sustainability transportation, and that's really one of our major goals, is to make the transportation sector more sustainable,” Boehman said. “Since this weekend when the latest U.N. report from the climate change panel came out, things are accelerating it seems. The models which have said, ‘Oh, you’re overpredicting,’ these dire predictions, things are actually worse, and they are getting worse faster, we have to act.”
LSA freshman Madi Foster said she is glad to see the school taking steps towards global sustainability.
“I feel like, overall, everyone should be doing more research. This is nice, but I feel like it’s a stepping stone,” Foster said. “Obviously our earth is getting worse from our inaction, but I think it's good that we’re making these steps because it will lead to more action and eventually turn back climate change instead of making things worse.”
With the new funding, the team hopes to have this version of the project begin at the start of 2019, according to Boehman.
“The big thing is getting swift and effective launch of the project, and one of the things we’re working on right now is completing necessary paperwork for the launch of the project,” Boehman said. “We hope the project will officially be in place by Jan. 1.”