College receives grant for biofuel study

    The College of William and Mary received a $500,000 research grant from the U.S. Department of Energy Aug. 31 to further study the role of wild aquatic algae as both a source of energy and a water purifier.

    The project, which began over a year ago, aims to utilize the rapid growth and photosynthesis of algae on Lake Matoaka to create an environmentally friendly source of energy while cleaning the lake’s waters. The project will also help to slow the rate of eutrophication, the over fertilization of lakes with nutrients, in Lake Matoaka.

    “Algae were beginning to become recognized as a good source for energy,” physics professor and co-principal investigator of the algae project Bill Cooke said. “We thought that there should be some way to convert this fast-growing photosynthesis in a way that was friendly towards the environment.”

    The $500,000 grant from the Department of Energy is not the first the College has received for this project. In Sept. 2009, the Norwegian energy company Statoil donated $3 million in seed money to the Chesapeake Algae Project — a separate joint venture between the College and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.

    This particular grant, however, will help to address more detailed scientific-based questions.

    “We will be able to work on details we couldn’t otherwise without this money,” physics professor and Vice-Provost for Research Denis Manos said.

    The path to receiving such a large grant has been long, and began with government talks nearly a year ago.
    Other organizations and companies that have helped to fund this new algae biofuel research at Lake Matoka include the Chesapeake Algae Project and Statoil.

    “I think that our reputation as a research university will benefit immensely, because our research is part of an international program,” Manos said. “It automatically gives us some credibility with European and Asian research organizations when an international company says that what we’re doing [in Williamsburg] is worthwhile.”

    The new research project will collaborate efforts from faculty at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, faculty at the College and undergraduate and graduate students.

    “Anytime you are doing research in the sciences the majority of the research is being done by students,” Cooke said.

    Physics major Chip Delaschmitt ’11 worked on the project this summer and is continuing it now as his senior physics research project.

    “Working on the algae biofuel research has been a very positive experience for me,” Delaschmitt said. “It is the first time I’ve ever been able to utilize the skills I’ve learned at William and Mary.”

    Other undergraduate science majors, as well as graduate students, spent the summer working on the project with Delaschmitt, and many continue to work on the research throughout the school year.

    “This whole project really fits into the sense of what William and Mary is about — responsibility and research,” Cooke said. “There has always been a lot of top-quality research at William and Mary, this is not entirely new in that regard. This research grant is a really good recognition of the work we’re doing here.”


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