Kayvan Keshari, an Indian American graduate student in a joint program at the University of California at Berkeley and the University of California at San Francisco, has teamed up with a classmate to win Dow Chemical Company’s $10,000 Sustainability Innovation Student Challenge Award.
Keshari and Mozziyar Etemadi, who are simultaneously earning doctorates and medical degrees from U.C.-Berkeley and UCSF, won the Dow Chemical Co. challenge by developing a more efficient way to harvest biofuel from algae.
U.C. Berkeley was one of 17 campuses worldwide participating in the challenge.
Keshari’s focus is in biology, while Etemadi concentrates on bioengineering. According to the Daily Californian, the two worked together on a separate project when they began discussing green energy and solar power and came up with the idea that would lead to the algae biofuel project.
Formerly, researchers have used large vats to grow algae from which to create biofuel, but Etemadi and Keshari focused on the fact that in large vats, light can only hit the top layer of the algae. They used fiber optics to deliver light below the surface of the algae so there can be more energy produced.
SISCA program manager Ursina Kohler said that the U.C. Berkeley winners were chosen “because their projects represented innovative thinking, interdisciplinary work and a potential for significant sustainability impact. I am amazed at the creativity and enthusiasm of Berkeley's SISCA winners."
Sanjay Wagle, an expert on energy who formerly worked at the U.S. Department of Energy, told the Daily Cal that Etemadi and Keshari’s process could generate about twice as much algae from a single vat as the traditional method. Wagle said that there are still other issues with the biofuel process but described the fiber-optic development as “a big piece of the puzzle.”