Teen’s algae-biofuel experiment wins science fest


Teen’s Algae-Biofuel Experiment Wins Science Fest
The winner of the $100,000 Intel Science Talent Search is Sarah Volz, a Colorado public high-school senior who developed a way to increase oil yields from algae, a potential alternative to fossil fuels.

Algae's potential as a fuel source is so great, it's nicknamed "green crude."Photograph by Paul Zahl
Algae’s potential as a fuel source is so great, it’s nicknamed “green crude.”
Photograph by Paul Zahl

Discussion Ideas:

  • Watch this 2:30-minute video on algal fuel, how it is cultivated, and why it is an important potential fuel source in the United States. Based on the description of the experiment in the NBCNews article above, what part of the cultivation process do students think Sarah’s work addresses? (Her experiments focused on targeting lipid-rich algae cells, a process explained at about 1:10 minutes into the video clip.)
  • The video does not address any drawbacks to developing algae as a fuel source. Read the relevant part of our encyclopedic entry on biomass energy. What are some obstacles to developing algae as a fuel source? (It is an expensive process, especially the start-up costs associated with building an algae ‘refinery.’)
  • Almost all industrial producers of algal fuel are in developed nations. Can students suggest some reasons why? (It’s expensive, and the process requires a tech-based infrastructure (including education and economic incentives) that most developing nations do not have.)
  • Do students think the United States should invest in developing algal fuel as an complementary or alternative to fossil fuels? Why? If yes, do they think the financial investment should come from the government (through taxes and other revenue) or from private investment? Why? (Currently, both the Department of Energy (government) and private industry (such as Chevron) are investing in experimental algal fuel technology.)
  • Algae is just one source of biomass energy. What are some other sources of biomass energy? (Trees, food crops such as corn and soy, and municipal waste—garbage—are some leading sources of biomass energy.)

Note: We’re experimenting with a new feature here on the NG Education Blog. “Current Event Connection” posts will connect educators with news stories and relevant discussion ideas featuring content from the NG Education website. 


3 thoughts on “Teen’s algae-biofuel experiment wins science fest

  1. Reassuring educational article on Algae bio-fuel experiment. Hopefully this progresses quickly and becomes a reality. I guess, we must be careful not to exhaust the planets’ resources as we dicover them and begin to make use/abuse of the benefits to our ever growing capacity to consume more than ou neighbour. .

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