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Biotech Science

Teen's Biofuel Invention Turns Algae Into Fuel 113

Posted by samzenpus
from the muck-in-the-truck dept.
Lasrick writes "Evie Sobczak won a trip to Jet Propulsion Lab for her biofuel invention: 'For a fifth-grade science fair, Evie Sobczak found that the acid in fruit could power clocks; she connected a cut-up orange to a clock with wire and watched it tick. In seventh grade, she generated power by engineering paddles that could harness wind. And in eighth grade, she started a project that eventually would become her passion: She wanted to grow algae and turn it into biofuel.'"
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Teen's Biofuel Invention Turns Algae Into Fuel

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  • by gestalt_n_pepper (991155) on Monday June 17, 2013 @05:08PM (#44033701)

    to be a significant power sources without either destroying foodcrops or natural ecologicies, or get more than about 5% efficiency - less than a solar panel.

    Makes for a cute story though, as do all these biofuel stories. Keeps everyone hopeful, despite the complete silliness.

    • by Synerg1y (2169962)

      Think of it as... an alternative to solar panels for those that don't get a lot of sun.

      • Sun? What the fuck is that?

        Signed,
        a Canadian.

        • by Mashiki (184564)

          Sun? What the fuck is that?

          Signed,
          a Canadian.

          Hah damned if that isn't true, though people in Southern Ontario have had a pretty decent spring, and looking okay into summer. My sister out in Grande Cache, AB has had 3 weeks of straight rain. Today was supposed to be sunny, instead it was overcast.

          • Sure it's all fine and dandy, right up until the point where the algae becomes sentient, and then you are trapped in the basement with a 400 lb blob of algae looking at you as it's next meal.

            • by Mashiki (184564)

              Sure it's all fine and dandy, right up until the point where the algae becomes sentient, and then you are trapped in the basement with a 400 lb blob of algae looking at you as it's next meal.

              Well we've all seen those before, that's what mutates and moves into public office.

    • by slashdime (818069)
      It's time for you to grow old and die. Why don't you spend the rest of your years writing to all the science fairs held around the world warning them that all the projects students submit have been done before?

      Just because so far we have not does not mean that others will not learn something along the way to lead to new discovery. Don't you DARE presume that your limits are future generations' as well.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        Look, kid. I'm not trying to discourage this young woman. I *do* get irritated at repetitive, innumerate media stories which appear to be designed to quell a gullible populace rather than inform anyone about just what kind of an energy-deficit shitstorm is coming down in the pike at a much more rapid clip than I expected.

        Don't you DARE presume that your limits are future generations' as well.
        I'm pretty sure the laws of physics won't change in the medium term. :) There are answers, by the way. Thorium nuclea

        • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 17, 2013 @07:58PM (#44035061)

          You, sir, are an ass.

          Algae can be grown in a desert, using raw sewage as input. Zero farmland is used up.

          Also, deserts can be filled with solar power to molten salt plants, a proven technology that generates electricity 24 hours a day.

          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            But at least I have some education and can think things through. Did it occur to you that desert ecologies are worth preserving too? To think of them as wastelands suited only for humans is rather impressive arrogance.

            Yes, you can use solar power to store the heat in salt. It's spiffy. It's great for local, small scale applications if you have the money. There's not enough desert to make it a practical alternative to current industrial scale power generation. Line losses getting it from point A to point B m

            • by adolf (21054)

              As a retort to your first paragraph:

              Yes, desert ecosystems are worth something.

              So are all of the ecosystems that thrive on developed arable land, and forests, and swamps and marshes, and coastlines, and shorelines, and shallow water, and deep water, and brackish water, and...

              Every sperm is sacred [wikipedia.org].

              So what? Either we're more important than an existing ecosystem, or we're not, or we continue to burn fossil fuels and poison all of the ecosystems at the same time.

              As a retort to your second paragraph:

              There are

            • Line losses getting it from point A to point B make it not worth doing on a large scale unless you live near, or in the desert

              The main problem with molten salt solar (and most other solar and wind renewables) is that every Wh of energy relies on man-made structures for collection and storage with associated on-going maintenance and operating costs which cuts into how large this can cost-effectively scale up to and how much of a transmission loss can be afforded at a given retail price point.

              Long distances work well for (very) large hydro projects: Hydro-Quebec has ~16GW of production at James Bay, ~800km from the nearest major cit

          • by delt0r (999393)
            turns out there is a shortage of raw sewage in the desert.
          • Algae can be grown in a desert, using raw sewage as input. Zero farmland is used up.

            Also, deserts can be filled with solar power to molten salt plants, a proven technology that generates electricity 24 hours a day.

            WIllfully ignoring any sense of an existing desert ecology in the process.

    • by strugk (2792143)
      5% is still much more [wikipedia.org] [wikipedia.org] then most natural biomass achieve. Scalling up is also not always necesary. PV systems or wind turbines will never be the size of a nuclear power plant, but still they collectivly can be influential.
    • to be a significant power sources without either destroying foodcrops or natural ecologicies

      Plenty of cropland is already used for biofuel. If we can do so more efficiently, then more area will be available for food and/or nature.

      or get more than about 5% efficiency - less than a solar panel.

      Comparing biofuels to solar panels in area efficiency is silly. Solar panels cost hundreds of dollars per sq meter. Cropland does not. The important metric is not watts/area but watts/dollar. Also biofuels are liquid and can be used as transportation fuel in affordable vehicles. Solar electricity cannot.

      Keeps everyone hopeful, despite the complete silliness.

      TFA is completely devoid of any technical information, so I don

      • by evilviper (135110)

        Solar panels cost hundreds of dollars per sq meter. Cropland does not

        Cropland doesn't generate electricity... And solar-thermal is much cheaper than PV panels, with the "panels" being simple mirrors. And it doesn't need anything as expensive as cropland... desert land is ideal.

        Also biofuels are liquid and can be used as transportation fuel in affordable vehicles. Solar electricity cannot.

        Yeah, that's something to worry about, once our electrical grid is 100% renewable (and not a moment before).

        And you'r

        • And solar-thermal is much cheaper than PV panels, with the "panels" being simple mirrors.

          Nope. Proposed solar-thermal projects in both California and Spain have been cancelled and replaced with PV. The price of PV panels has fallen dramatically in recent years.

    • by Fuzzums (250400)

      If supply doesn't go up, demand has to go down.
      Let's say 3.5 billion people is more than enough.

      To get there, I suggest a product made by the Soylent corporation.

      But seriously. Reducing the world population would solve SO many problems.

      • But seriously. Reducing the world population would solve SO many problems.

        Well, maybe we could solve the population and fuel problem together? My next science fair project will be turning humans into bio-fuel.

        Oh, but all you Slashdot know-it-alls will tell me that it's already been done . . .

    • Chris, she's a kid. I'm happy for her and her proud parents. You fux are like the assholes that jeered the kid from San Antonio for singing the national anthem while wearing a mariachi costum. Wtf.
  • by fustakrakich (1673220) on Monday June 17, 2013 @05:19PM (#44033809) Journal

    One more invention, and she would have been disqualified [slashdot.org] from any further participation

  • Crap article. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by NeutronCowboy (896098) on Monday June 17, 2013 @05:24PM (#44033859)

    And by that, I mean both the Tamba Bay and the Slashdot article. There is nothing anywhere about how she got the biodiesel from algae, which at this point is the only interesting thing about the experiment. It mentions photoautotrophic cultivation, which just means that the algae use light to grow, which is a big no-shit-Sherlock. It mentions osmotic sonication, which is a fancy word for using sound waves and osmotic principles to get the detergent into the cell innards. Google searches turn up no indication of how the experiment was set up, what the actual results or anything of interest. The best thing I got was a list of who else won what other categories at the fair.

    So we have two utterly known principles being applied to biodiesel generation from algae, and somehow this makes news as a breakthrough. Yawn.

    Which leads me to my second rant: the insistence of news organizations to hail science fair winners as geniuses who solved a problem no one else could (I'm specifically looking at the stories about the kid arranging solar cells in a tree shape). It completely oversells the experiment, turns the kid into something they're not, and covers up the actual interesting item: that you can do cool science in your home that goes beyond baking powder volcanoes. It could even be science that is relevant to an existing topic of interest to actual scientists, which should put the kids on a good trajectory to actually solving the problem. But no, instead we are presented with kid geniuses who solve world hunger, and I get to fend off all kinds of dumb questions and comments about science, the state of technology and why we're not listening more to kids.

    Now get off my lawn.

    • was disappointed when I couldn't find out anything about what she actually did that was interesting other than recreate existing processes

    • by RichMan (8097)

      I am still waiting for the wifi kills seeds follow up. Seems like that should have taken about 3 days for a proper lab to replicate. Heck every 4th grader in america (and their parents) should be working on replicating it. (Think of the lawsuits possible)
      .

    • by mattack2 (1165421)

      that you can do cool science in your home that goes beyond baking powder volcanoes.

      Surely you mean baking soda volcanoes, right?

      I originally meant this as a joke, but baking powder is apparently just a superset of baking soda... but to get the volcano to erupt on Marcia at just the right time, you need to have separate vinegar & baking soda... right?

    • When the only comment scored 5 claims the article is crap. I guess we can trust the wisdom of crowd and skip the paper.
    • by fermion (181285)
      As in any science, the interesting thing is the process and data collected, not the end result. A young person is not generally going to post-graduate level work and actually create new knowledge. Unfortunately the press, which only understands endpoint and not the work it took to get there, is just rah rah rah around interesting people.

      In fact such transformation from algae to various energy products has been. Four years ago Dow partnered to do exactly this, and a year later it broke up the partnershi

      • by slim (1652)

        Presumably if you burned the product locally, you could recover almost all of the water and nutrients. Water is obviously necessary to provide the hydrogen in hydrocarbons, but you get water back when you burn it in oxygen. Solid macronutrients like potassium and phosphorous don't go anywhere; they're in the ash/residue/smoke.

    • by Kagato (116051)

      I googled for her paper on the project. http://algaetooil.weebly.com/ [weebly.com]

      It's actually quite promising and her experiments are specifically geared at finding economical processes that scale. The first section of her experiments deal with increasing yields of the algae. Both in terms of the mass and the lipids that would convert to fuel. Basically she found that you could use Neon gas to filter natural light and controlling CO2 at various stages get a 20% bump over natural light.

      The next steps

    • by cgimusic (2788705)
      I am getting kind of sick of these science fair winners being hailed as scientific heroes with amazing discoveries on Slashdot. There was an article a while back about how students who produced hydrogen from water with electrolysis and then fed that hydrogen back into a generator to produce energy had managed to make an unlimited source of electricity. It was a cool experiment but anyone with a rudimentary understanding of science can tell you it does not produce any electricity. The problem seems to be tha
  • by RichMan (8097) on Monday June 17, 2013 @05:25PM (#44033883)

    Wood is a form of biofuel.
    See what I did there?

    Does "biofuel" still seem like a mysterious magical term.

    • by amiga3D (567632)

      It's a buzzword. The media eat that shit up.

    • by Sique (173459)
      Not exactly, biofuel refers mostly to gas or gasoil replacements. Except some very large diesel engines, which you can fuel with sawdust, it's not very easy to power a gas or gasoil engine with wood.
      • by Molochi (555357)

        An AC posted this first but wood gas was (widely during WW2) and still is easily substituted for gasoline (with a severe loss of HP). It's a good part of any zombie apocalypse survival plan, but not a good part of a save the planet plan.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wood_gas [wikipedia.org]

    • by slim (1652)

      Who said it was mysterious or magical? Everyone knows wood is a biofuel.

      How does that devalue biofuels, or take away from the achievement of creating more useful and efficient burnable crops?

    • Wood is a form of biofuel.
      See what I did there?

      Does "biofuel" still seem like a mysterious magical term.

      Good point!

      I was thinking of posting, "Wait a second.. Question: How much of Earth's breathable oxygen is transformed via algae? Will her next invention be something that generates power from water, transforming it into acid?"

  • Some weeks ago there was a story in /. about students who discovered that there might be something going or nearby WiFi hotspots that impact the growth of cress. What is the status of that project today? Have they conducted additional experiments?
  • she connected a cut-up orange to a clock with wire and watched it tick

    A Clock Work with Orange? :)

  • 100 fat stupid big-mouth know-it-all towering assholes criticize working invention in a nasal smartass tone of voice while ramming another mom-prepared hot pocket into their distended fat neckbeard-encrusted sneering faces.

    The only thing that makes threads like this tolerable is the certain knowledge that nobody will ever take any of you seriously about anything.

  • What, can she (or her parents) actually read or something? Amazing! Seriously, nothing revolutionary here, all of these were invented by someone else.

    "I call it a Wind-mill!"
    "I call it biome-diesel"

    next:

    "I call it a photo-panel!"

  • There is nothing "invented" here. Its not like she woke up and thought that algae could be used to make fuel.

    Companies have been researching this for decades, and the issue comes back down to the effort to grow algae often consumer more energy then what they produce. The real challenge is not that algae can product hydrocarbons for fuel, its about how to do it at the same or better efficiency then getting oil out of the ground.

    Its a nice puff piece, but ignorant "science" reporters think this kid is brill

  • Seriously are you freakin' kidding me? Yes... Yes.. YES everyone's child is a freaking super-genius. Right. Oh... and gads... this one can actualy READ [howstuffworks.com] by the 8th grade. How wonderfully miraculous.

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