Palos Verdes High School


By Nicholas Stich

Along with electric and hybrid vehicles, many also consider bio fuels as an alternative to petroleum and diesel. So, how do we know what bio fuel to use and how do we get it? A group of ambitious students, nestled in the back corner of a picturesque Palos Verdes High School, have been researching the possibilities of extracting oil from algae. Their drive is fueled by a curiosity to see if algae has the potential to sustain the hundreds of millions of vehicles currently running on fossil fuels.

Lead by parent mentors Bob Laity, Fred Brabham and Sveinn Thordarson, the Palos Verdes Bio Fuels Research Team is persistently growing different types of algae under different conditions to find the algae that will produce the most oil. Every Sunday, they meet and build filtration devices, measure CO2 for food, and check the Ph balance of the algae, in hopes to one day power their bio fuel research vehicle with algae oil.

For most, the idea of extracting oil from algae may seem to be an unlikely scenario. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the oil that fuels our current petroleum addiction was once algae. Millions of years ago, when the Earth was undergoing ecological changes, there was a massive algae bloom that spanned across Earth's oceans. Scientists believe, that during that time, the oceans may have appeared to be green from outer space.

In some ways, algae behaves a lot like we do. If the algae lives in an environment filled with food and nutrients it maintains a normal metabolism. If the algae enters an environment with little to no food, it stores what energy it can find in the form of oil within its cell walls. In the case of humans, we store fat that our body burns as energy.

Oil derived from algae has the potential to balance our energy needs. Unlike, ordinary bio fuels that need massive amounts of water and fertile soil to grow, such as corn and soy, algae farms can be built in arid deserts and recycle the water it uses. By growing algae as a bio fuel for our vast energy requirements, our dependence on foreign oil will drastically decrease.

Besides using algae oil to power our vehicles, it can also be implemented in the manufacturing of plastics and grid-based electricity. In a world of algae-based energy, the byproduct of the burnt fuel is actually food for the living, oil-producing algae. As power plants burn the algae oil, CO2 is released. That carbon dioxide can then be pumped into a nearby algae pond as food for the living algae, leaving us with less CO2 in the atmosphere.

The students and parent mentors of the Palos Verdes High School Bio Fuels Research Team strongly believe in the vast possibilities of algae oil. They keep their sights on the road ahead, moving toward a successful algae harvest in hopes of producing enough oil to power their Bio Fuels Research Vehicle. Once their vehicle is algae-fueled they’re headed to the Science Fairs.

To continue following the progress of the Palos Verdes High School Bio Fuel Research Team, please check in with iNDIGO-PROjECT and visit their section.