DWU professor looks to create alternate fuel source with algae

[USA] Instead of getting frustrated by the high cost of gas, DeAnna Hatch decided to take matters into her own hands.

Hatch, who recently started her first semester as an adjunct professor at Dakota Wesleyan University, is working on developing an alternate source of gasoline using algae.

“It was one of those 3 o’clock in the morning, sort of light-bulby things … ” Hatch said. “I was just laying there thinking of the chemistry of gasoline and thinking, ‘You know, that chemistry is really not that difficult.’ And so I just imagined there could be a way to get there through plants of sort.”

So Hatch created her own business in 2006, called OrganoFuels Incorporated, focused on developing a process to create a biofuel with plants. She soon realized algae would be the best plant to use as a source, because it is fast-growing and the molecules are “small and easy to deal with.”

Although she’s been working on this research since 2006, it wasn’t until this semester that she decided to partner with Dakota Wesleyan.

“It was a mutual agreement,” Hatch said. “They needed people to do research with the students and I needed a place to do research, and so we decided it was kind of a win-win.”

Hatch, who holds a doctorate degree in pharmacognosy from the University of Mississippi, works about eight hours each week in the lab on campus. Pharmacognosy is the study of chemistry of plans and natural products, Hatch said. The rest of her work week is spent at Mitchell Technical Institute, where she is a grants administrator.

Unlike other DWU professors who have a team of students working on research, Hatch has one student, Amber Budmark.

Budmark, a sophomore biochemistry major with a minor in forensics, helps Hatch with “a little bit of everything” including sampling, organizing, processing and analysis.

Budmark hopes to get into forensics after graduation, but also attend graduate school. The work she’s doing with Hatch, she said, is really going to put her ahead of other students.

“I think the overall idea of what we’re going to accomplish at the end is really interesting,” Budmark said. “And I think it will really help the environment. We’re finding an alternate source for something.”

Hatch said the research has been slow to start because when she first began, she had to grow her own algae and then look at the chemistry. The time-consuming process added more steps than she wanted, delaying results.

Now, she’s just focused on the process, and has varying species of algae delivered. Hatch said she has 10 species she’s using to create the biofuel.

By the end of the year, Hatch hopes to have a product with a total cost per gallon — or at least an estimate. If she can have that benchmark number, Hatch can begin approaching investors, explaining the biofuel and the cost to produce it.

“This is very different than everything I’ve seen anyone else do. I feel like I’m really unique for what I’m doing,” Hatch said. “There’s not many people doing biogasolines. Most people are doing biodiesel or jet fuel.”

As a self-described entrepreneur, Hatch said she brings a different perspective and approach to undergraduate research at Dakota Wesleyan. Since she’s not a professor, her end goal is for profit, not publication.

This gives Budmark the opportunity to also learn the “business side of things,” Hatch said, exposing her to website development, grant writing and how to work with investors.

Working with Hatch, Budmark said this is giving her experience she wouldn’t get anywhere else, putting her a “step ahead” of other students at DWU and other competing universities.

“It’s a lot different in lab,” Budmark said. “You see the difference between starting materials and end product. You can refer back to your lecture.”

Hatch hopes to gain more students for her research next semester, and may already have one interested. But for now she has plenty of work for Budmark to complete, and she plans to help her improve her skills in the lab.

“When you’re in the lab, even when you’re sitting in the classroom, you’re learning the theory of things,” Hatch said. “It just comes together when you see it in real life. It just makes so much more sense when it’s applied to a tangible experience. So I think it solidifies the chemistry for the students and makes it more real and understandable.”

 

View original article at: DWU professor looks to create alternate fuel source with algae

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