Algae have significant potential as a clean, renewable, and economical fuel source, and the St. Louis region is recognized as a leading center for algal biofuels research. This summer, area residents of all ages can contributes to the region’s reputation through Backyard Biofuels, a quest to find the ideal algal species that will help lead our nation to energy independence. To kick off the algae collecting season, the Saint Louis Science Center and the Center for Advanced Biofuel Systems at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center are hosting the 2nd annual Algaepalooza on Saturday, May 7, 2011 from 10am to 4pm in the Life Science Lab at the Saint Louis Science Center. Algaepalooza is the first opportunity in 2011 for citizens to pick up algae-collecting kits as part of the Backyard Biofuels citizen science research project.
At Algaepalooza, visitors will have the opportunity to talk with the research scientists behind the project and learn why algae have the potential to be a sustainable source of fuel used to power cars, trucks and jet airplanes. As well as how to identify various types of algae and participate in hands-on experiments and activities like painting with algae and make algae ball necklaces.
Last year, 1,000 families and individuals were given collection kits, and approximately 170 samples were cultured in the Life Science Lab to isolate individual algae species that produce oil. More than 100 of those isolated strains were sent to the Enterprise Rent-A-Car Institute for Renewable Fuels at the Danforth Plant Science Center, where they were tested for how much oil could be made and used for biofuel production. Those that showed promise are undergoing additional tests.
“Ten samples from last year’s algae gave high readings of oil production. Such encouraging results wouldn’t be possible without the help of citizen scientists.” said Matthew Stevens, senior lab technician at the Danforth Plant Science Center who conducts the research for the Backyard Biofuels program. “This year we have a goal to identify an algae species that boast better oil productivity than last year.”
Many algae naturally produce and store lipids which can be extracted and converted into fuel. The process for harvesting their oil content has been established by scientists, and now it only needs to be perfected. While most studies of algae have occurred with lab-grown strains, most wild algae have been ignored mainly due to the time required to collect and analyze them. Each species has the potential to produce just the right amount and kind of oil to make it useful, but its potential will remain unknown until it can be isolated and analyzed.
This year participants have the option of mailing their collection kits back to the Science Center instead of having to return them in person. This will allow for more out-of-town visitors to participate in the program. Participants can track the analytical progress of their sample on the website, backyardbiofuels.org. Collection kits will be available throughout the summer and into the fall at the Life Science Lab.
“We had a large number of kits turned in last year with many samples from the area,” said Cindy H. Encarnación, Ph.D., Director of Life Sciences. “This year, we’d like to see more samples from across Missouri and other parts of the country. The more different types of algae we can test, the more likely we are to identify really high oil-producers.”
Although popularized as a nuisance to swimming pool owners, algae offer several advantages for sustainable biofuel production over common food-crop plants. They can be grown using much less water, fertilizer and chemicals than conventional crops. They produce more oil per area than almost any plant, and are not a major food source. Algae can be grown using gray water from treatment plants and can capture carbon dioxide from coal burning power plants or other CO2 sources thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Backyard Biofuels (backyardbiofuels.org) is a collaborative project of the Saint Louis Science Center and the Center for Advanced Biofuel Systems at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center. It is supported through grants from the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy.
Saint Louis Science Center
The Saint Louis Science Center (slsc.org) is one of the top five science centers in the United States, serving 1.2 million visitors annually. Recently named one of the Top 10 Science Centers for Families by Parents magazine and one of America’s most visited museums by Forbes Traveler Magazine, – the only museum in Missouri to be named to either list – the Saint Louis Science Center complex includes a four-story OMNIMAXÒ Theater, the air-supported EXPLORADOME and the James S. McDonnell Planetarium. Its mission is to ignite and sustain lifelong science and technology learning.
Media contact at the Saint Louis Science Center: Beth McClure, Director of Communications, Saint Louis Science Center 314.289.1455, 314.267.9916, bmcclure[.]slsc.org
The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center
Founded in 1998, the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center is a not-for-profit research institute with a mission to improve the human condition through plant science. Research at the Danforth Center will feed the hungry and improve human health, preserve and renew the environment, and enhance the St. Louis region and Missouri as a world center for plant science. The Center’s work is funded through competitive grants and contract revenue from many sources, including the National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Energy, National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Agency for International Development and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center invites you to visit its new website, danforthcenter.org, featuring interactive information on the Center’s scientists, news and research, including the Enterprise Rent-A-Car Institute for Renewable Fuels, the Center for Advanced Biofuel Research, and the National Alliance for Advanced Biofuels and Bioproducts. Public education outreach, RSS feeds and the brand-new “Roots & Shoots” blog help keep visitors up to date with Center’s current operations and areas of research.
Media contact: Karla Goldstein, (314) 587-1231, kgoldstein[.]danforthcenter.org.