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Unlocking the energy secrets of the planet

Kathleen Krueger

Unlocking energy secrets from the planet sounds like a lofty, difficult goal to reach. However, Kathleen Krueger is taking this goal one step at a time with her research on biofuels as a potential energy source for our future.

Cal Poly Science Cafe welcomed Kathy on Thursday, January 30, to speak about her work with biofuels. In particular, Kathleen spoke about her research of  fungi as a renewable energy source, along with rocks and other feedstocks.

What is a biofuel?

A biofuel is an energy source produced directly from a living organism, like fungi or algae. In Kathleen’s research, she used fungi to create a biofuel. Examples of biofuels are ethanol, biodiesel and biogas. When compared to fossil fuels, biofuels are sustainable and have more diversified means of production.

Biofuels can be produced by a number of different things like fungi, algae, corn, kelp and other feedstocks. They can provide energy for heat and electricity and can be an alternative to the fossil fuels we use to fuel our cars.

Fungi research

Kathy’s research with fungi yielded some interesting results. When compared to algae producing fuel, fungi take the cake because the extraction process of the fuel is a lot easier. When fungi produce biofuel, it sits right on top so it can just be scooped up. When algae produce the fuel, a long extraction process is required to get that fuel because it is mixed in with the algae.

Kathy also talked about how biofuels are also sustainable and a good energy source option for our future. She sees a few driving forces behind the need to switch from fossil fuels to biofuels as our main energy source:

Karen and Kathy after the event.

Karen and Kathy after the event.

  • Climate change
  • Biofuels provide more energy supply and security
  • The change in industrial and regional development
  • The potential for increasing biomass production

More about Kathleen Krueger

Kathy is a STEM Teacher and Researcher Program (STAR) fellow who studied fungi at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Washington. She won the second place Margaret Burbidge Award for best experimental research at the 2012 American Physical Society, California-Nevada Section Annual Conference at Cal Poly.

This event was offered in partnership with the College of Science and Mathematics and the Center for Excellence in STEM Education.

You can watch an interview about this Science Cafe and more on our Vimeo Channel.