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SFCC receives $50K grant for algae PBR monitoring

May 14, 2014
AlgaeIndustryMagazine.com

At SFCC’s Center of Excellence in Biofuels, students learn how to cultivate algal biomass, and operate and maintain large PBRs.

At SFCC’s Center of Excellence in Biofuels, students learn how to cultivate algal biomass, and operate and maintain large PBRs.

Santa Fe Community College has been awarded a $50,000, SEED Infrastructure Grant from the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), for commercial algae photo-bioreactor monitoring. It will fund the purchase of state-of-the-art sensors to monitor algae growth in photobioreactors (PBRs) that are up to 10,000 liters in volume. A portion of the grant will be used to pay stipends to four students as they learn to cultivate algae at a commercial scale and analyze collected data.

Speaking of the funding to purchase the special sensors to monitor algae growth in photobioreactors, Luke Spangenburg, SFCC’s Director of the Center of Excellent in Biofuels said, “This technology will improve the curriculum as well as enhance the student experience. One of our goals is to transform the narrowly-defined AAS degree in Sustainable Technology into a broader Associate of Science degree that will transfer to the University of New Mexico or New Mexico State University which offer complementary programs.”

“The Biofuels program has been referred to as ‘stealth-STEM,’ ” continued Spangenburg. “We let highly motivated students start the program, and then discover that math and science are integral to their success. Biofuels students change from ‘I hate science’ to ‘Should I take chemistry or biology first?’ in a short time.”

Dr. Stephen M. Gomez, a biology instructor at SFCC, said the new funding for stipends demonstrates to students that working in STEM fields can provide a paycheck and help with financial difficulties in school. “Sometimes a few hundred dollars is the difference between a good student completing their program or leaving school,” he said. “SFCC is waiving all indirect costs and faculty salary permitted in the grant in order to maximize the amount of money available for student stipends.”

SFCC operates the largest enclosed photobioreactors in New Mexico as part of its Center of Excellence in Biofuels. At the center, students learn how to cultivate algal biomass, and operate and maintain large PBRs. Since its founding in 2010, 95 students have enrolled in the program, 9 have continued on to STEM fields at a four-year university, 5 have been employed in the biofuel/algae industry and 7 have created businesses employing 22 people in the Santa Fe region.

NM EPSCoR is funded by the National Science Foundation to build the state’s capacity to conduct scientific research. For more information on the college’s project, contact Stephen M. Gómez, Ph.D., at 505-428-1917 or stephen.gomez@sfcc.edu or Luke Spangenburg at 505-428-1807 or luke.spangenburg@sfcc.edu. More details on the college’s Biofuels Program are at www.sfcc.edu.

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