Sustainable Biofuel to Combat Climate Change

I’m a supporter of on-the-ground work in academia and how student research programs across the United States are helping to solve our country’s environmental problems, often with assistance from the federal government.

That’s why I was delighted to visit with Dr. Sandeep Kumar and his team of graduate and undergraduate students at Old Dominion University Research Foundation in Norfolk, Virginia.  My visit was timely – EPA had just awarded the team a P3 grant for $15,000.

Garvin Old Dominion

EPA Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin with Dr. Sandeep Kumar’s research team at Old Dominion University laboratory.

The students – Jose Garcia, Sergiy Popov, Jonathan Ricci, Caleb Talbot and Paul Wilson — are working with Dr. Kumar on an alternative fuel that not only works but is environmentally sustainable.

We discussed the difficulties in producing sustainable biofuels. While many scientists are working on this issue, sustainability is one of the biggest stumbling blocks they face. We know there are other alternative biofuels available, but we also know there can be an environmental and economic price to pay to produce those fuels.

With sustainability as their key focus, these students are using a technique that could revolutionize our dependence on oil and minimize harmful emissions into the air – a biofuel produced from algae.

The algae being used by the research team is very similar to the kind that can turn a lake or a swimming pool green. Millions of dollars are spent each year to eradicate these algae. But in an ironic twist, those same algae have a beneficial use – they can be used to produce oils that can be refined into biofuels.

This is important research because every time we drive our cars, we produce greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.

Producing a biofuel from algae is not a new idea. But making it cost effective by using an environmentally sustainable process is, and that’s exactly what Old Dominion University is working hard to accomplish.

I left Old Dominion feeling hopeful about our future energy solutions. These young scientists are the current generation of environmental leaders. They are filled with enthusiasm and a commitment for creating innovative ideas that will help solve our nation’s most difficult environmental problems. And, as Regional Administrator, I’m proud that EPA is supporting their work through a P3 Grant. My message to the Old Dominion researchers is, “Keep up the good work!”

Shawn Garvin is EPA’s Regional Administrator for Region 3, overseeing the Agency’s operations in Delaware, D.C., Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia. Shawn’s career in intergovernmental affairs spans more than 20 years at the federal and local levels.