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Kimberly Hafner: Cellulosic Ethanol Stillage as a Cultivation Medium for Spirulina

November 5, 2019


Hi, my name is Kimberly Hafner and I’m a
fourth-year biological engineering student in the College of Engineering. In
the summer of 2014, I participated as an intern in the Bioenergy and
Sustainability School and I enjoyed my experience so much that I decided to
continue it by becoming a McNair Scholar. As a McNair Scholar, not only did I have
the opportunity to continue to pursue the research I loved, but I also had the
opportunity to mentor the 2015 BESS interns. My research over summer involved working with algae, specifically the strain called Spirulina. Spirulina, it is
a cyanobacterium, and it’s best known for being filamentous because it
facilitates the harvesting process of it and if you look under the microscope
what you can see is that it is a blue-green algae and just like its name
it is in a spiral form. And a great thing about this algae is that it thrives in alkaline environments, so I don’t have to worry about contamination with other
algae, for instance. And my project worked with Spirulina, and what it looked
into was seeing if I could grow Spirulina on this waste water known as
stillage. Stillage is a by-product or waste from ethanol production and
the idea was to use this waste as a cultivation medium for growing the
Spirulina. So the idea is to grow the Spirulina on the stillage and while it
grows on it what it’s doing is it’s removing and neutralizing the pollutants
of the stillage while simultaneously producing the biomass. And then you can
take that biomass and put it back into the cellulosic ethanol plant as
cellulosic feedstock. So then you create this very sustainable closed-loop system. And this was just a segment of the research I’ve done, and it’s been, it’s
been phenomenal just working in this lab, because of the independence that I have,
because unlike some other undergraduate school or lab experiences, this one
mostly focuses on independent work. Because I’m not under the supervision of
a graduate student, I have control of my own project, so in a sense it does
simulate the graduate school experience, which is something I want to do in the
near future.

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