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Prizewinning Film about Algal Biodiesel Fuel Features ODU's Hatcher

Hatcher during the shooting of the film in December.

A short film, "Shipload of Algae," which features an interview with Old Dominion University geochemist Patrick Hatcher, has won the Planet Forward Student Film Festival at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

Hatcher is executive director of the Virginia Coastal Energy Research Consortium (VCERC) and the leader of a research group at ODU that is studying the production of biodiesel fuel from algae. He was interviewed at the ODU algal farm near Hopewell, Va., in December by two GWU student filmmakers, Lauren Hoenemeyer and Kimberly Kroll.

Their production can be seen, together with an introduction by Planet Forward's Frank Sesno, at http://www.greatenergychallengeblog.com/blog/2010/12/17/a-shipload-of-algae/. The film is also on YouTube at http://www.greatenergychallengeblog.com/blog/2010/12/17/a-shipload-of-algae/.

Sesno is the award-winning former CNN correspondent and Washington bureau chief who is now the director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at GWU. He is the creator and host of Planet Forward, a Web-to-television show on PBS.

"Shipload of Algae" also includes an interview with Rear Adm. Philip Cullom, director of the U.S. Navy Energy and Environment Readiness Division, who describes the Navy's efforts to replace fossil fuels with alternatives such as algae-biodiesel. There is video footage of the Navy's Riverine Command Boat being operated with a blend of 50 percent algae-based fuel and 50 percent NATO F-76 shipboard fuel.

A panel, which included GWU President Steven Knapp and Jeff Nesbit, director of legislative and public affairs at the National Science Foundation, critiqued each of the 10 film festival submissions. Nesbit congratulated Hoenemeyer and Kroll for effectively translating their story, telling them it was "quite an achievement." Knapp echoed Nesbit's statement, saying the video conveyed a "powerful message."

Hatcher, who is the Batten Endowed Chair in Physical Sciences at ODU, is currently directing the installation and startup at the algal farm of the "Algaenator," a $1 million instrument that can convert algae grown in the facility's 1-acre pond into biodiesel at a rate of about three gallons a day. Previously, the conversion was accomplished in a much smaller reactor in Hatcher's laboratory on the ODU campus.

"The Algaenator will allow us to test the cost effectiveness of our biodiesel-from-algae process," Hatcher said. "Our goal is to make this fuel competitive in price with petroleum fuels, which in the near future are likely to ratchet upwards of $4 per gallon. Eventually, we want to convince entrepreneurs to invest in this alternative technology."

More about algae-to-biodiesel research at ODU can be found at http://sci.odu.edu/hatchergroup/algae_fuel/index.html.

This article was posted on: March 3, 2011

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