Students make a splash in algae

College students pioneer algae research.
By Erin Voegele | April 25, 2012

Today’s students represent the next generation of algae entrepreneurs, researchers and professionals. As the academic year comes to a close, several college students have been recognized for their work with algae.

On Earth Day weekend, the U.S. named two teams that participated in the 8th Annual National Sustainable Design Expo on the National Mall in Washington D.C. as Honorable Mention winners. The teams were competing in the People, Prosperity and Planet (P3) competition. The algae teams that received honorable mentions were representing Clarkson University and Drexel University.

The project submitted by Clarkson University students focused on studying the feasibility of using waste heat and leachate from a solid waste management facility to produce algae-based biofuels. The Drexel University team submitted a project that included the design of a pilot-scale bioreactor for the local landfill that uses algae to produce biofuels from landfill leachate and gas.

Alternatively, a student from Buena Vista University is making a splash with her research into using algae to purify water and produce liquid biofuels. Kimberly Perez, a junior at the school, recently presented her work at the Iowa Academy of Science annual meeting. She will also be presenting her research at BVU’s Scholars Day later this month and at the International Conference of Algal Biomass, Biofuels and Bioproducts in June.

According to information released by BVU, Perez was inspired to conduct this type of research while doing missionary work in Guatemala, where she became aware that there was a lack of clean drinking water. She theorized that underdeveloped countries didn’t purify water due to excessive costs, and set out to develop a process by which money could actually be made through the cleaning of water. The result was research to see if it would be possible to clean polluted water with algae, and then convert that algae into biodiesel.

Members of private industry are helping to spur additional academic interest in algae. In early April, Maine-based Fluid Imaging Technologies announced the launch of a new scholarship program for students. The program offers students up to $1,000 year, for up to four consecutive years. The program, named the FLowCAM Collaboration Scholarship Program, was developed to facilitate research to advance knowledge of algae cells, for the production of biofuels, as well as for inclusion in functional foods, beverages and nutraceuticals. More information on the program, can be found on the company’s website at