Robert Bush 8:15 p.m., May 19
This March, up to 55 students will begin attending classes at UC San Diego Extension and Mira Costa College, learning to transform algae, colloquially known as pond scum, into car fuel.
“That's what petroleum is – it's ancient algae,” said Dr. Stephen Mayfield, a UCSD biology professor and director of the San Diego Center for Algae Biotechnology. “Algae already makes oil that looks like crude oil. The oil we extract from algae goes directly into a refinery and gets converted into diesel or gasoline.”
Those enrolled in the program are receiving the benefit of an approximate $7,000 state grant per pupil, awarded by the California Department of Labor under its Green Innovation challenge. They’re the second group to pass through the program, largely funded by a two-year grant totaling $4 million.
Feedback from the graduates of the first classes, along with that of faculty and local biofuels companies will result in a revamped structure for the program, which will run from March through August. Once the teaching materials are perfected, UCSD will develop a web-based curriculum that will be available to other California universities or to individuals globally through enrollment in UCSD Extension.
For now though, San Diego enjoys an advantage as a world leader in biofuels research and development. A San Diego Association of Governments study cited by UCSD suggests that jobs related to the fuel use of algae total 410 in the region, creating $56 million in direct economic activity.
“With this training, these students are prepared to support the region's growing biofuels companies and help San Diego continue to be a leader in the biofuels sector,” says Jason Anderson, vice president of CleanTECH San Diego, a non-profit that pushes for expansion of San Diego’s “clean technology” economy.