Abigail Mechtenberg, Department of Physics and CSEND

Steven Wietstock, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry

The electricity problem in Uganda needs a solution.  As of June 2016 the Uganda Bureau of Statistics estimates that only 20% of the population have access to electricity and even this 20% of people have only unreliable electricity.  Oil and natural gas supplies are vulnerable as almost all of the stocks are imported from other countries and therefore prices are highly variable and almost impossible to pay. For example, US customers pay on average $0.10/kWh, but in Uganda they have $0.14/kWh for grid electricity and anywhere from $0.45 to $11/kWh using a diesel generator.  In order to provide energy to this population, other sources of feedstocks are being investigated – methane production from cassava root and biodiesel from other organic sources, including algae from local Crater Lakes and Lake Victoria.  Our study this summer will look at the potential of using algae from two different Ugandan sources – Crater Lakes and Lake Victoria – as biomass for the creation of biodiesel.  The algae will be cultured, purified and characterized for their potential use as energy feedstocks.  The oil obtained from the algae will be quantified and identified though analytical techniques including Gas Chromatography and GC/Mass Spectrometry.  Various growth conditions will be tested to determine the optimal yield of biodiesel from these algal sources. Potential REU students might have the possibility to travel with Professor Mechtenberg to Uganda during the summer to see their test results in action, but it depends on interest and availability of funds.