Biofuels have an enormous appeal – at least relative to petroleum – because they produce less climate change emissions and could be produced domestically, therefore reducing our dependence on foreign oil. The knock against biofuels is that they are too expensive to produce. (Even biodiesel made from waste vegetable oil can be found in some metropolitan areas, but it can cost about $1 a gallon more than conventional gasoline.)
Seventeen-year-old Sara Volz tried a different way of producing high-yield algae cells. She used a herbicide to kill the low-yield cells to create a community of cells that are higher producing. These cells then only can replicate from cells that produce more. Eventually, through successive cell iterations, she generated a community of very-high yield cells. The cost of her herbicide method is much lower than some of the other biofuel production strategies.
Volz set up her home lab under her bed with flasks and microscopes. Her interest in biofuels goes back to ninth grade due to her enthusiasm for biochemistry and alternative energy. For her efforts and insight, she won the Intel Science Talent Search and a $100,000 scholarship. The scholarship money will help her when she becomes an undergraduate at MIT soon.
In specific terms, producing biofuels like ethanol employ about 200,000 Americans according to a Cornell University document. About two billion dollars a year is saved by using ethanol, rather than importing foreign oil.
Using biofuels creates less air pollution, and contributes to climate change less. Biodiesel also is very hard to set on fire and is relatively non-toxic, compared to regular diesel, so spills are not as damaging to the environment.