Teens channel energies into alternative energy: Students take on Siemens ‘We Can Change the World’

From The Jewish Standard



Eliana Appelbaum, Ariella Appelbaum, Elana Forman, and Yakir Forman have channeled their energies into creating more energy.

The Appelbaum twins, both 16, and their friend Elana, also 16 — all sophomores at Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls — as well as Elana’s brother Yakir, 17, a senior at Torah Academy of Bergen County, teamed up to enter the Siemens We Can Change the World Challenge, a national environmental science competition for students. (Both schools are in Teaneck.)

After several months’ labor, the teens have developed a system for growing algae and converting it into fuel that has produced the first-ever 100 percent algae-based fuel to be used in a home heater.

Last year, the three girls won second place in the Toshiba/National Science Teachers Association ExploraVision Awards Program, reportedly the world’s largest K-12 science and technology competition. They heard about the Siemens competition from Phyllis Serfaty, science research director at Ma’ayanot, and Brenda Zak, a science research teacher at the school.

Winners will be announced in May. But regardless of the official outcome, their mentors are bursting with pride.

“We are very proud and hope it inspires other students in our school to pursue science research,” said Tamar Appel, assistant principal for academic life at Ma’ayanot.

“I am very impressed by what they accomplished and their determination and resourcefulness,” said Dr. Thomas Butcher, head of the energy conversion group at Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island, where the students took the algae they had grown for conversion into biodiesel fuel.

Butcher, a scientist who researches development of alternative fuel, including “algo-sources,” or algae-based ones, said the teens’ contribution could have real-world applications.

“They really did it,” he said. “After conversion to biodiesel it burned very well.”

Dressed up for Purim on Monday as Alice in Wonderland (Eliana), a pink cat (Ariella), and a hula dancer (Elana), the girls spoke with The Jewish Standard at Ma’ayonot about their recent project.

The process involved growing the algae — which requires water, carbon dioxide, and light — then filtering it, and converting it into biodiesel. Because the conversion requires use of toxic chemicals that are carcinogenic, Butcher handled that final step.

The students’ innovation was streamlining the production process, enabling them to produce algo-fuel for $4.19 a gallon.

“The main difference is we did it without a factory on a non-industrial scale,” said Elana.

They grew the algae in Snapple bottles, using fluorescent lights and air valves connected to carbon dioxide pumps, and added nutrients. They then filtered the algae using cheesecloth, filter paper, and buckets.

“We were able to do this in our basement and everything can be used again,” said Ariella.

While home heaters have been powered by algo-fuel and petroleum combined, they have never before been powered 100 percent by algo-fuel.

A highlight of the experiment was bringing some of the algo-fuel the four teens produced to school and watching their classmates use it to power their cell phones, the teens agreed.

“People are talking about this [algo-fuel versus petroleum issue] in Congress; that we could do something to help feels good,” said Ariella.

“It was rewarding to actually see what we could produce on our own — how it could affect the environment and make a difference in the world,” said Eliana.

Elana said, “For me, it was both rewarding and educational. We were able to do research and create fuel and show how feasible this idea was to implement. Most of all it was fun.”

Reached via phone, Yakir added, “I’m not sure how much our project will contribute to the global search for alternative fuel, but I’m glad to be a small part of that search.”

Learn more about their project at a website the teens created, www.growyourownpower.yolasite.com or at their Facebook page, growyourownpower.

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