Spotlight on Chemical Energy- Alternative Energy Sources

LRSEF contestants Virginia Sheldon and Ben Keeney submitted projects in the 2016 science fair that explored alternative energy sources.

Sheldon, who entered the science fair as an eighth-grader at St. Francis of Assisi, earned first place at LRSEF for her project, “Producing Alternative Fuels from Whiskey Waste.” Sheldon followed the process to create biobutanol, which is a direct replacement for petroleum and diesel.
According to Martin Tangley, the founder and president Keeney and Sheldon at LRSEFof Celtic Renewables, less than ten percent of what is created during the distillery process is actually the bottled product. The unwanted residue of the whiskey fermentation process can be used to create biobutanol.

Sheldon said she found the project interesting because of the amount of whiskey waste in Louisville. She said whiskey is “a popular product we’ll always have a demand for, unless it’s outlawed again.” She also said she was interested in the project because there are a lot of distilleries in Kentucky, so the project relates directly to her home.

Keeney, who entered as a seventh-grader at St. Francis of Assisi, earned third place for his search for a renewable energy source. Inspired by Bruce Logan, an environmental engineering professor at Penn State, Keeney decided to create his own microbial fuel cell.

According to Logan’s page on Penn State’s engineering website, five percent of the electricity produced in the US is used for water and wastewater infrastructure, with 1.5 percent used on treatment alone. Logan said microbial fuel cells would use bacteria to directly convert the water into electricity.

Logan had posted instructions for making microbial fuel cells online, but Keeney could not afford the equipment, so he used a series of YouTube videos as a guide to create his own. Keeney’s project is different from others because he tested how different variables affected the voltage of his microbial fuel cell.

Both Keeney and Sheldon also earned special awards from the US Air Force.

To learn more about Logan’s microbial fuel cells, watch this video:

To learn more about the creation of biobutanol from whiskey waste, watch this video:

You can support the exploration of ideas for students like Keeney and Sheldon by donating to the Louisville Regional Science and Engineering Fair.