Microalgae project propels PhD students in competition

March 16, 2015

Sofia Chaudry and Ashiwin Vadiveloo

Sofia Chaudry and Ashiwin Vadiveloo

Two Murdoch University PhD candidates have reached the final round of an international competition thanks to their innovative project which aims to cost effectively produce biofuel from microalgae.

Sofia Chaudry and Ashiwin Vadiveloo have been shortlisted alongside four other teams for the BASF Asia-Pacific PhD Challenge, which tasks PhD candidates with solving the world’s future mobility challenges.

Ms Chaudry and Mr Vadiveloo will now attend the final at the BASF regional headquarters in Shanghai, China from March 24 to 25, where they will be the only team from Australia competing against other teams from the Asia Pacific region.

Mr Vadiveloo’s portion of the project involves maximising the productivity and growth of microalgae through the use of certain colours of the solar spectrum while diverting the remaining solar energy to photovoltaic devises that generate electricity to run the equipment needed to make biofuel.

Ms Chaudry is trying to design a process which repetitively extracts hydrocarbons from Botryococcus braunii – a species of microalgae – for her PhD. This process is known as milking and will make microalgae reusable.

They are being co-supervised by world-renowned experts in these fields – Professor Parisa Bahri and Dr David Parlevliet from the School of Engineering and Information Technology and also Dr Navid Moheimani from the Algae Research and Development Centre of the School of Veterinary and Life Sciences. Their work represents an ongoing interdisciplinary collaboration between the two Schools in an effort to further optimise the production of biofuel from microalgae.

“Currently making biofuel from microalgae on an industrial scale is expensive and not particularly efficient,” said Ms Chaudry.

“Our projects aim to address some of the efficiency issues involved with the process, such as only being able to use microalgae once for biofuel production and the way that only a small portion of solar energy is used for photosynthesis in the algae. We are trying to ensure all of the resources like fertilsers, energy from the sun and available land area, are being utilised effectively.”

Mr Vadiveloo added: “Microalgae-derived biofuels may provide a viable alternative to fossil fuels in the future and our projects aim to inform any future commercial venture.

“Sofia and I share some of the same supervisors and they suggested that we collaborate for this competition. We completed an online submission and have been interviewed by the BASF judges via Skype. It’s very exciting to be shortlisted as a finalist.

“We hope this will lead to research funding and further collaborations with industry.”

Ms Chaudry and Mr Vadiveloo will participate in two further rounds of competition at the finals – once with each other and once with a finalist from a different team.

The winners of the Challenge will travel to the BASF International Summer Course in Germany in August 2015 and the Global Science Symposium Shanghai in November 2015.

Founded in Germany in 1865, BASF is one of the world’s leading chemical companies. It is running the PhD competition as part of its 150th anniversary celebrations.

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