The expo is considered the most prestigious national student research program in the sustainability area of research.
For their project, the students, from the departments of biology and engineering technology, explained how they converted solar energy and waste CO2 (for example, carbon dioxide that is released in power plants by burning fossil fuels) into an array of biofuels through the sequential use of microorganisms in bioreactors.
First, the team used microalgae in a photobioreactor to produce oil using CO2, water and light as an energy source. Produced oil was converted into biodiesel. Next, glycerol, a byproduct of biodiesel production, was used as a substrate for making H2 and ethanol by immobilized bacteria in a bioreactor. Finally, students tested one of the produced biofuels, hydrogen, in a fuel cell to run a small motor.
Dr. Sergei Markov and Dr. Joseph Schiller, both associate professors of biology, worked with the student team on the project and accompanied them on the trip to Washington, D.C.