Robert (Skip) Pomeroy collaborated with centers and faculty to use marine algae as a source of clean energy. With this algae-based biofuel, his team has built a surfboard and fueled a motorcycle. He will help us surf our way into a sustainable future.
Skip Pomeroy is a Professor in the department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at UC San Diego. He holds a MS and PhD in Analytical Chemistry from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona and the University of Arizona respectively. Skip is a member of the California Center for Algae Biotechnology, the Center for Aerosol Impacts on Climate, and the Environment and Food and Fuel for the 21st Century at UC San Diego. His research spans renewable chemistry, environmental chemistry, and forensic analysis.
Skip is creating sustainable products without sacrificing quality.
Skip’s work involves creating biofuel from algae. Algae are plants that grow in water, and range from microscopic to large, well-known plants like kelp. They are especially important because petroleum is oil from algae that is millions of years old and buried underground.
Skip’s team has figured out how to use this resource and limit our dependency on fossil fuels, like petroleum. For instance, his team created an algae-based surfboard. Most surfboards today are made from petroleum. But, this one uses algae oil to form the core of the surfboard. The team worked with Arctic Foam to shape the core and coat it with a renewable resin.
And if that wasn’t impressive enough, Skip’s team has also set records with their algae-fueled motorcycle. This synthesis of biotechnology, sustainability, and products that grab people’s attention will help make people realize the power of using renewable resources.
Specifically, the objectives of this project are to:
- engage faculty, staff, students, local school children, and the general public,
- discuss the value of basic and applied research to stakeholders about sustainability and climate change, and
- include underrepresented groups in their efforts.
In addition, this project is highly collaborative and involves faculty, students, and two centers on campus. This includes Kimberly Prather of the Center for Aerosol Impacts on Climate and the Environment (CAICE) and Stephen Mayfield of the California Center for Algae Biotechnology (CalCAB), and organizations like the QualComm Institute, the California State Summer School for Mathematics and Science (COSMOS), Institute of the Americas, and Arctic Foam. Through a series of activities and events, Skip and his collaborators will engage and build relationships with the community. They will share their concerns about climate change and their vision for a sustainable world.
Skip’s collaborator, Stephen Mayfield, bottom turning on the team’s algal-based surfboard. Credit: Stephen Mayfield
Q&A WITH SKIP
What is a common misperception from non-scientists about climate research?
There are 2 key misconceptions, one difference between climate and weather. The difference between the two is time scale. Weather describes the conditions of the recent past and climate describes the conditions over longer time intervals, like decades. The second misconception is that because scientists speak of findings with 95% confidence, the interpretation is that we are uncertain about climate change. But, the physics is well established.
What is the most rewarding part about being a UC Climate Action Champion?
I have used this opportunity to speak to students on campus and the public at large about climate change and sustainability. The point of the surfboard is not that surfboards will change the world, but that we have alternatives for manufactured goods and that sustainable doesn’t have to mean inferior in terms of quality.
What do you hope your project contributes to your university, the UC-system, and society?
The goal of green chemistry is to create products that are environmentally sustainable and economically viable. Green chemistry is cleaner, cheaper, smarter chemistry; it is pollution prevention at the molecular level. The design of environmentally preferable products can reduce waste, prevent costly end of the pipe treatments, lead to safer products, and save resources like energy and water. These practices should favor renewable materials over petroleum and incorporate the design of chemicals to break down into innocuous substances after use. There is also a simple fact that cannot be avoided: the petroleum will run out!
What is one thing you want to tell non-scientists about climate change?
It is not the end of the world, but there will be consequences that involve our economies, public health, food security, our life styles and the planet we leave to our children.