Algae could provide an endless source of biofuel, however current production methods tend to be costly and time-intensive – first you have to grow the algae, and then you extract oily lipids and convert them into fuel. Enter Gregory Martin, a brilliant 14-year-old who has found a way to boost the amount of lipids in algae by over 500%! Gregory’s method uses fewer steps than other techniques, and it could lead to much higher biofuel yields.
“The purpose of this experiment is to explore the possibility of naturally depleting the nitrogen of algae’s media to boost its lipid yields,” said Gregory. “This is an improvement of the normal methods that involve harvesting the algae and physically transferring it into a nitrogen depleted environment. With my technique it should be possible to bypass the transferring step and grow the culture in a single media. This reduces the labor and material costs of growing algae for its lipid.”
Natural nitrogen depletion is a process where nitrogen is depleted naturally through the algae’s consumption. This method allows the algae to stay in one media while consuming the nitrogen, eventually depleting it. This process is an improvement over normal methods because it improves lipid content – and thus the amount of biofuel that can be produced. These higher lipid yields are expected because nitrogen depletion has already been proven to increase the lipid in algae – and this is an improved way of doing it.
Gregory tested a sample of Chlorella vulgaris using his method and the results are astonishing. Two trials of 10 cultures each were grown in a vitamin-enriched BBM media with starting levels of nitrogen at 100%, 80%, 70%, 60%, 50%, 40%, 30%, 20%, 10%, and 0%, with the 100% being the control. The hypothesis was that by using natural nitrogen depletion it would be possible to increase the amount of lipid per cell 30% over the control culture. By day 7 of the first trial, the 0% culture had a 300% higher yield than the control culture. By day 10 of the second trial, the 0% culture was 500% higher than the control. These results were clearly much higher than projected.
Gregory’s project is a finalist in the 2014 Google Science Fair – good luck to him and the other finalists!
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