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Chemistry research highlights sustainability

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After three years and thousands of hours in the lab, Western grad student Zach Thammavongsy’s research into breaking down carbon dioxide has just been published in the research journal Inorganic Chemistry. | Photo by Maddy Mixter

Western Chemistry students are studying whether algae can be part of a cheap biofuel and creating new ways to break down harmful greenhouse gasses.

Students Josh Corliss of Vashon Island, Aaron Culler of Spokane and John Williams of Battle Ground are working with Associate Professor Greg O’Neil to explore new ways to create a less expensive biofuel. O’Neil’s research is funded by a $430,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.

Culler said developing new renewable sources for biofuels is a pressing issue because of the country’s continued reliance on traditional fossil fuels. Algae-produced biofuels aren’t economically competitive with other fuel sources yet, he says. But that might change if scientists can figure out how to synthesize certain components of algae that are used in making biofuel.

Meanwhile, Chemistry Graduate Student Zach Thammavongsy’s research under the guidance of Assistant Professor John Gilbertson also has an eye toward sustainability. Thammovongsy’s efforts to find new ways to break down harmful greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide were recently published in the research journal Inorganic Chemistry.