The Bio-Grow. Call it recycling of a different kind if you will, but students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have created a way to cultivate algae for use in biodiesel production using old computer parts, reports Discovery News.
Typically dismantled, with recyclable parts like metal and plastic melted down for repurposing, electronics at their end of life have created a waste and recycling market unknown to previous generations.
Aware of the abundance of e-waste, these students chose to use the materials in a creative way of giving them new life.
Bio-Grow is an algae bioreactor device encourages photosynthesis, the chemical reaction that plants use to convert carbon dioxide into sugars.
The algae-growing tank was built from the side panels of an Apple G4 CPU tower, with PVC pipes acrylic panels used for structural support.
The team, consisting of students – Megan Kenney, Timothy Harvey, Elliot DeVries, Mark Schnitzer and Saeidreza Shiftehfar – used an Apple iMac CRT to emit the light and heat needed to grow the algae. The entire structure was sealed and housed in an outer shell made of high-density foam, providing stability and insulation.
A modified Dell Latitude CPX laptop was programmed and used to monitor and control the iMac CRT to turn on a specific light spectrum at different intervals and temperatures within the tank. A water pump is also used to aerate the algae and provide maximum sunlight exposure. A faucet is used to extract the algae.
The students hope that this design will bring a typically complex and expensive process of creating biofuel from algae to the household level, allowing individuals to drive algae production.
The team calculates that if a mere 6.5 percent of Americans had one of these in their homes, enough algae could be generated to replace petroleum with biodiesel.
“We are imagining this product will eventually become part of a larger system,” student Megan Harvey told Discovery News. “You won’t just have it in your house, you would take the algae to a biomass collection point, at which point it would be transported to a refinery.”