Lone Star College
Lone Star College-Montgomery (LSC-M) students have been engaged in highly successful biotechnological research for the past five years. This research, which is centered on alternative energy and other sustainability-oriented biotechnologies, consists largely of college and high school science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) students engaged in experiments focused on utilizing algae and other microorganisms to generate valuable products and/or processes with applications in industries such as energy, nutraceuticals, agriculture, and water purification. The fundamental industrial approach to develop such technological advancements involves cultivating (i.e., growing) large quantities of microorganisms, harvesting and concentrating them, fractionating and extracting specific biochemical components from these biological sources and converting these components into useful products.
The undergraduate research at LSC-M has led to great success with the cultivation, harvesting and final algal product generation, but the fractionation/extraction step to oil production has proven to be more problematic. Most commercial scale industrial projects of this type face similar challenges. The biotechnology department at LSC-M has recently acquired technology to achieve the goal of successful oil extraction from algae that has been pursued by LSC faculty and students for the past several years. These individuals have made great strides in algae cultivation and harvesting, but oil extraction success has thus far been limited. The projects that the equipment that recent grants have enabled will remove the obstacles that have prevented the successful completion of this important goal. LSC-M research students take great pride and ownership in their lab-scale and pilot-scale “proof of concept” projects because they are acutely aware that advances made on campus could one day be implemented in much larger scale operations and therefore hold much promise in leading to national- or even global-level societal benefits.
The challenges being addressed by these passionate and highly motivated students are formidable, interdisciplinary and well-aligned with some of the most daunting problems currently facing humanity. As such, no individual student, professor, academic program, or even scientific discipline is properly equipped to resolve these difficulties; instead, significant collaboration is required. The focus of this algae-to-oil research platform is to utilize enabling technologies and to initiate inter-departmental and multi-campus partnerships that will allow students in different fields of study to work in teams, engage in high level critical thinking, and make contributions toward solving real world issues. The combination of soft and technical skills which are required to navigate toward technological breakthroughs or scientific discoveries are valuable in numerous high tech industries and are therefore greatly valued by the employers who hire Lone Star College System (LSCS) graduates.