Electronic Waste Produces Algae for Biofuel : Discovery News


Old computer parts serve as a reservoir to cultivate algae.

The algae can be used to make biodiesel .

If just 6.5 percent of Americans had one, we could replace petroleum with biodiesel.

Students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign created Bio-Grow, a device made from various computer parts that serves as a reservoir to cultivate algae.

The algae can then be used in biodiesel production, which could potentially replace petroleum in the future Kenney, along with undergraduate students Timothy Harvey, Elliot DeVries and Mark Schnitzer, and graduate student Saeidreza Shiftehfar was focused on finding a way to be green, and ended up winning second place in the International Electronic Waste Competition at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with their design.

Which is why the team chose to use old electronics to build the device called an algae bioreactor. It encourages photosynthesis, the chemical reaction that happens in plants, which uses sunlight to convert carbon dioxide into sugar.

The algae-growing tank was made from the side panels of an Apple G4 CPU tower, with PVC pipes and acrylic panels for structural support. The team used an Apple iMac CRT to emit the light and heat the algae needs to grow. The entire structure had to be sealed and housed within an outer cowell made of high-density foam, which provides stability as well as insulation.

A modified Dell Latitude CPX laptop was programmed to monitor and control the iMac CRT so that it would turn on a specific light spectrum at different intervals of time and adjust the temperature within the tank.

The tank also has a water pump, which aerates the algae and provides it with the maximum exposure to sunlight. A faucet allows the user to extract the algae.

The process of creating biofuel from algae is complex and expensive and to date remains in research labs. But the team hopes this project will bring biofuel down to the household level, which would drive up production and lower costs.

And algae growers would make money, too. Kenney said the algae could be sold for a dollar a gallon, and because algae grows so fast, it could be harvested every three days.

If this device becomes commonplace like the team is hoping, perhaps the vases that adorn end tables in homes across the nation will be replaced by an algae-growing tank which could produce gas for the cars of the future.