AlgaePalooza to kick off Backyard Biofuels project

By Erin Voegele | May 02, 2011

A program in St. Louis is offering citizens the opportunity to become involved with algae biofuel development by collecting algae samples that will be analyzed for oil content at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center. The second annual Backyard Biofuels Citizen Science Project will kick off May 7 with AlgaePalooza. The event will be held in the Life Science Lab at the St. Louis Science Center, and is co-hosted by the Center for Advanced Biofuel Systems at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center.

“AlgaePalooza is a kick-off event for the Backyard Biofuels project,” said Matthew Stevens, a senior laboratory technician in the Sayre lab at the Danforth Center. It involves lot of activities [in] algae and biofuels.” It is also the first opportunity for those who wish to participate in the Backyard Biofuels project to pick up their algae collection kits.

Members of the public who attend the AlgaePalooza will have the opportunity to talk with the research scientists behind the Backyard Biofuels Citizen Science Project and learn why algae has the potential to be a sustainable source of fuel used to power cars, trucks and airplanes. Attendees will also learn how to identify various types of algae and participate in hands-on experiments and activities like painting with algae and making algae ball necklaces. According to Stevens approximately 400 to 500 people participated in last year’s AlgaePalooza event. That number is expected to increase this year.

Those interested in participating in the Backyard Biofuels project who cannot attend AlgaePalooza can pick up algae collection kits throughout the spring and summer at either the Danforth Center or the St. Louis Science Center. In addition, Stevens notes his lab will be offering kits at various local events in St. Louis over the summer. While kits generally must be picked up in person, Stevens noted that sets of algae collection kits are sometimes mailed out to classrooms upon request.

Each algae kit contains everything you need to collect an algae sample, Stevens continued. “It has an instruction sheet, a data sheet to fill out, a glove to protect your hand, a stick for scraping samples from rocks [or other materials], a plastic pipette to collect liquids,” he said. “It also includes a tube with a unique label on it. You put your sample into the tube and send it to the Science Center.”

During last year’s program, approximately 1,000 kits were supplied to families and individuals, with a total of 170 algae samples submitted. That number is expected to increase this year as participants in this year’s project can mail in samples or drop them off in person.

Isolated algae samples are sent to the Enterprise Rent-A-Car Institute for Renewable Fuels at the Danforth Center, where they are evaluated for oil content. “This year we have a goal to identify an algae species that boast better oil productivity than last year,” Stevens said. 

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