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Algae in Greater Victoria can clean water, produce biodiesel, says Grade 11 student

A Grade 11 Victoria student is exploring how an invasive algae can be used to clean contaminated water and extract oils to produce biodiesel.

Taya Lee, a Saanich resident who attends Glenlyon Norfolk School, is one of dozens of B.C. students competing at the Sanofi Biogenius Canada Innovation Summit this week, Canada’s largest life sciences and biotechnology competition for high school students.

Lee’s interest in contamination solutions was peaked while learning about mercury pollution in Grassy Narrows, Ont. and the effects of global warming. In particular, she found herself interested in water pollution and carbon emissions.

Research showed her that plants have impressive water purifying properties, so Lee began searching fresh water bodies around Greater Victoria for an algae that would meet her requirements. At Swan Lake, she found what she was looking for – Azolla filiculoides is an invasive macroalgae known to exist in fresh water bodies around the world and to have absorbing and purifying properties.

READ ALSO: Saanich teen, Taya Lee, launches free online tutoring website

A study conducted in Iran in 2014 showed the algae could yield up to 58,700 litres of oil per hectare, or about 23,765 litres per acre. The oil can then be used in a biodiesel blend.

Beyond oil absorption, Azolla filiculoides can also filter out heavy metals and bacteria, Lee said. It’s for this reason, she believes the macroalgae could be extremely useful in cleaning polluted water in developing or underdeveloped countries.

In her own experiments, Lee collected samples of the algae in water and added motor oil. She then dried the samples and extracted the oils. On average, her oil yield was 30.7 per cent of the dried biomass.

On a far larger scale, Lee said she believes the macroalgae could be a real solution.

The summit runs from noon to 7:30 p.m. April 26 and 27. Lee’s project, and all the others, can be viewed at

READ ALSO: Vancouver Island arbutus trees fighting for survival against parasites

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Jane Skrypnek

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Jane Skrypnek

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