Evie Sobczak's love of math and science and concern for the future of the planet inspired her to conduct award-winning experiments with biodiesel fuel.
Biodiesel is a clean-burning alternative fuel produced from plant oils, animal fats, used cooking oil and new sources, like algae. Biodiesel is biodegradable and nontoxic.
Evie, who is 14 and a ninth-grader at Shorecrest Preparatory School, has been participating in the Pinellas County Science Fair, with a focus on alternative energy, since the sixth grade.
Early on, she did studies and experiments with solar power; in seventh grade her focus was wind power. But her journey started in the fifth grade after Evie read an article about algae experiments.
"They've been testing algae in other countries like Switzerland and Sweden," said Evie. "It's been really interesting to me and I wanted to get started with it in the United States, especially in Florida where our tropical climate allows year-round growth of algae."
"In our environment they find it to be a hazard, so why not use it as an energy source and also to reduce greenhouse gases? Also, it does not compete with our food source."
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Last year Evie built a bioreactor that enhanced the growth of spirogyra algae.
Utilizing phosphorus, nitrogen and potassium, she determined which fertilizer increased the lipid count of the algae cells. She then extracted the lipid oil and created a biodiesel fuel.
Evie initially won first place at her school's science fair and later won similar honors in Engineering and Best in Fair, in both the county and the state science fairs. She also won more than 10 additional awards.
Earlier this year she built an improved bioreactor that allows the testing of algae growth in hydrostatic and ambient conditions. The improvements also allow Evie to determine how much carbon dioxide the algae could consume to create a viable biofuel that would also reduce greenhouse emissions.
"The biodiesel made from algae runs hotter and longer, which means it's better for our environment and better for our cars," said Evie.
The findings have created somewhat of a buzz among environmentalists in the region, which resulted in Evie earning first place honors at the Tampa Bay Living Green Expo held this month at the Coliseum.
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In May, Evie will represent the Southeast region at the International Sustainable World (Energy, Engineering, and Environment) Project Olympiad in Houston.
Evie's methodical process starts with a couple of months of research, drawing out a plan, building bioreactors, incubators, vessels and a board, then ordering materials before finally testing begins.
She does everything on her own, with the exception of organizing all the correct paperwork that the International Science Federation requires for competing at state and county levels. Paul Dickman, science director at the CAT program at Lakewood High School, helps with that.
"I always want to stay in the area of renewable energies and resources because that's really the way our whole world is going to go when we run out of fossil fuels," Evie said.
"I hope that some company will help me to make it commercial because it's great for our environment and a great way to make fuel sources."