Biology and Chemistry Undergraduates Researching
How to Convert Algae, Vegetable Oil into Biofuels
Kim McDonald | December 14, 2009
In the Division of Biological Sciences, eight undergraduates are involved in research projects to turn algae into biofuels. “Our division is committed to helping our students understand how their coursework and research experiences relate directly to the needs of the biotechnology industry,” said Steve Kay, dean of the division and one of five biology professors currently working on algal biofuel research projects that have a connection to the San Diego Center for Algae Biotechnology, a local consortium of companies and research institutions seeking to make production of algal biofuels an economic reality. “We have several new programs in place that specifically connect our undergraduate students to our local biotechnology community.”
About 20 undergraduates are turning waste vegetable oil into biodiesel for use in a local farmer’s tractor through a UC San Diego student organization called the Biofuels Action and Awareness Network (http://biodiesel.ucsd.edu/). Robert “Skip” Pomeroy, a chemistry lecturer who advises the student group, which works every Saturday in his on-campus chemistry laboratory, said the students recently completed a five-gallon biodiesel reactor from which they are learning the chemistry involved in producing biodiesel from waste vegetable oil. They’re also learning how to convert some of the waste byproducts of biodiesel production into useful solvents for paints and antifreeze.
Starting in January, Pomeroy said he and the students plan to involve about 15 local high schools in their program, which is sponsored by the Motorola Corporation. The UC San Diego students will teach high school students how to make similar biodiesel reactors for their chemistry classes. Interested teachers at local high schools can contact Pomeroy for more information at email@example.com.
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