Externship Report: Meshack Audu

The Externship Program is a research exchange program that allows New Mexico graduate students (with an existing assistantship) to spend a semester or summer doing research at a partnering New Mexico university or research facility. This report is from New Mexico State University student Meshack Audu (pictured center in the group photo) about his time as an extern at the Santa Fe Community College (SFCC).

My thesis is centered on the analysis of the bio-oil yield with respect to the growth conditions of the algae species. Algae can be grown in fresh, brackish, produced and dairy water. So my work is to take samples of the algae from each category and perform hydrothermal liquefaction with our 2-liter batch reactor and analyze the results. SFCC plays a huge role in my project since they are a primary supplier of the freshwater algae that I am using for my research. Plus, they have an amazing facility where I learned how to do cell counts and protein extraction.

Prior to the EPSCoR externship we have been getting different algae samples from different algae groups across the country and all we do is collect the sample and bake it in the two liter hydrothermal Liquefaction (HTL) batch reactor system. After the batch runs we collect the results such as the amount of bio oil (light +heavy) yield and the amount of biochar produced but then we really do not know how we could optimize our results. So during the externship at Santa Fe we were exposed to an amazing eco-friendly facility that actually grow algae. We learned that in order to increase the oil yield of the algae biomass, the algae during its growth phase would need to be stressed (basically food-deprived). We did cell counts and created a calibration curve that relates concentration versus population of the cells so that one can predict the population of cells at any given day once you know the concentration. We were also exposed to different harvesting methods that include a continuous flow centrifugation system and an ultrafiltration system; these systems also recycle the water back into the algae pond. Lastly we learned about aquaponics, a system where by fishes are been grown in a tank and the waste products with all the nutrients are sent to a micro farm where vegetables are grown. The farm usually have no soil so the plants directly absorbs the nutrients from the water and the cleaner water is recycled into the fish tank.

On behalf of the team I would like to acknowledge Stephen, Luke, Jonathan and Jeremiah for exposing us to their work at Santa Fe Community College and we currently receive algae samples from them to further our research. It has been a privilege to work as a team with them and share our experiences with them too, so a huge thank you to EPSCoR for making this happen.