PhD students win international competition with microalgae project

March 26, 2015

Ashiwin Vadiveloo (left) and Sofia Chaudry with Dr Harald Lauke, President, Advanced Materials & Systems Research

Ashiwin Vadiveloo (left) and Sofia Chaudry with Dr Harald Lauke, President, Advanced Materials & Systems Research

Two Murdoch University PhD candidates have won the final of an international competition which tasked participants with tackling the world’s future mobility challenges.

Sofia Chaudry and Ashiwin Vadiveloo fought off competition from four other teams in the finals of the BASF Asia-Pacific PhD Challenge with presentations on their innovative PhD projects which aim to cost effectively produce biofuel from microalgae.

Ms Chaudry and Mr Vadiveloo were the only team from Australia in the finals, which took place at the BASF regional headquarters in Shanghai, China earlier this week.

Mr Vadiveloo’s PhD 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 devices that generate electricity to run the equipment needed to make biofuel.

Ms Chaudry is designing 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 were teamed together and mentored for the competition by their co-supervisors who are world-renowned experts in these fields – Professor Parisa Bahri and Dr David Parlevliet from the School of Engineering and Information Technology and 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.

Both projects are solely supported by Murdoch University and the ideas behind the projects were from the supervisors.

“Ashiwin, Sofia and all the supervisors have worked extremely hard and we are all thrilled about their success,” said Professor Bahri.

“We are now approaching different industries about taking these projects to the next stages of piloting and demonstration.”

Ms Chaudry explained that the current processes for making biofuel from microalgae on an industrial scale were expensive and not particularly efficient.

“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,” she said.

“We are trying to ensure all of the resources like fertilisers, 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 hope this will lead to research funding and further collaborations with industry.”

As competition winners, Ms Chaudry and Mr Vadiveloo will now 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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