James Madison University

ISAT Project Wins Innovation Award

By: Daniel Vieth
Posted: October 29, 2013

PHOTO: JMU Students

If there is one thing that James Madison University has no shortage of, it is innovative thinkers. With the talented faculty and the thousands of bright students who attend JMU, it is no surprise that research efforts can easily transform from a graded project into groundbreaking design.

One example is the Algae-Based Oil Extraction Research & Design project, a multi-year effort comprised of ISAT students and headed by Dr. Chris Bachmann. Bachmann and his team were recently recognized as creators of one of the top five projects in the 2012-13 James Madison Innovations’ Intellectual Property Incentive Program. With this recognition comes $2,000 in prize money designed to reward the process of innovation at JMU and spur learning.

James Madison Innovations (JMI) is a non-profit organization affiliated with JMU that manages intellectual property and helps commercialize innovations. JMI specializes in moving products to market by licensing the innovations to existing or newly launched companies. In an effort to encourage student and faculty creativity and entrepreneurship, the Intellectual Property Incentive Program was developed. A subcommittee of the JMI Board of Directors votes on the most innovative projects annually, taking into consideration such factors as academic, business, and commercialization potential. As a project that demonstrates potential in all of these areas, the Algae-Based Oil Extraction Project was named as one of the top five projects at JMU.

PHOTO: JMU Students

The goal of the Algae-Based Oil Extraction Project is to efficiently extract oil from salt-water algae. The project began last year, with ISAT graduate Caleb Talbot researching algae for his senior capstone project. Talbot’s main focus was to evaluate different methods of harvesting algae from seawater. His success led to the project’s recognition by JMI.

Though Talbot has since graduated, his project continues on under the guidance of Dr. Bachmann. The new Algae Oil Extraction team is comprised of eight ISAT students, ranging from sophomores to seniors. “We’ve got a long-term plan,” Bachmann explained, emphasizing the benefit of having a cycle of both graduating and incoming students combining their expertise toward this project.

The focus of the experiment has now shifted from “Is it possible?” to optimization of the process. Some students, including junior ISAT major Brandon Carter, are researching which strains of algae are the most efficient while taking into consideration cost, rate of growth, and oil yield. Others like senior ISAT major Sarah Gibson are fine tuning the complex technologies used to separate the oil from the algae in an effort to find the methods that are highest yielding and most environmentally friendly. Some students are looking into completely different uses for the technology, such as Britton Cocke’s senior capstone project exploring the possibility of using this system’s byproducts as animal feed.

PHOTO: JMU Students

For the Algae Oil Extraction team, the very process has been an innovation in itself. Due to setbacks, limitations, and the lack of resources for the project, the team has had to be  especially creative. “We don’t have the funds to do everything we want, but it hasn’t been entirely limiting,” Bachmann explained, “We’ve just had to be more clever and make use of all the resources we have on-hand.” By salvaging equipment, buying used parts, modifying technologies to do entirely new functions, and sometimes even using out-of-pocket student funds, the Algae Oil Extraction team has demonstrated both their ingenuity and their dedication to the project.

There is no doubt why the Algae-Based Oil Extraction Research & Design project was recognized as one of the top five in the JMI Property Incentive Program. Even more than the impressive technologies developed and maintained by the students and Dr. Bachmann, their enthusiasm and passion for the project clearly demonstrate the kind of dedication that James Madison Innovations is looking for in a team project.

The members of the current Algae-Based Oil Extraction Research & Design Project are:

  • Sarah Gibson - ISAT Senior
  • Kerianne Bertolino - ISAT Senior
  • Remy Biron - ISAT Senior
  • Britton Cocke - ISAT Senior
  • Brandon Carter - ISAT Junior
  • Vicky Foster - ISAT Sophomore
  • Alissa Good - ISAT Sophomore
  • Alex MacFarlane - ISAT Sophomore

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