An environmentally friendly and inexpensive brown algae electrolyte that can be used in a battery to generate green electricity was developed by two students from Carrigtwohill, Co Cork.
The algae acts as an electrolyte and is composed of “abundant, thermostable and biodegradable materials”, allowing the production of renewable electricity in a capacitor which stores energy, explained Sophie O Reilly and Robyn Sloane Lee who attend St Aloysius College.
Their project is one of many at this year’s BTYSTE where young researchers investigated the ability of locally available natural resources to ensure more sustainable lives, while helping to tackle the climate crisis, improve Irish biodiversity or to fight against Covid-19.
The capacitor cell they built centers on the polymeric sodium alginate naturally found in algae that grows in abundance near where it lives.
It has good gelling properties, considered essential for an electrolyte, and is inert. When pure carbon graphite electrodes are used, there is little threat to the environment or human health.
They tested various combinations in a variety of electrical circuits. “We have had great success in our search for green energy,” added Robyn. Using sodium alginate in combination with three other chemicals has shown the best results, as they are determined to improve efficiency even further in the months to come.
Transition year students Alex Roche and Eimear Keenan, who attend Moate Community College in County Westmeath, used native Irish plants to make a prototype ‘green firebreak’.
Horrified by the extent of the destruction caused by the wildfires, especially in Killarney, County Kerry, they concluded that “it will suppress the spread of wildfires, while also contributing to biodiversity”.
Over the course of several months, they examined the properties of various native plants from gardens, bogs and hedges, including their flammability and water content. High water and ash content and long burning time worked best.
While oak turned out to be impressive, holly was deceptive as it had a high water content but burned fiercely from its volatile oils when ignited. None of the suitable plants independently supported a flame, so they were deployed in their firebreak.
In addition, they have supported a wide variety of species, including slugs, birds, insects and mammals, while also acting as a good source of food, they confirmed.
Farsaad Ahmad Kamran of Kishoge Community College in County Dublin was determined to develop ‘augmented reality glasses’ for the visually impaired that were inexpensive and flexible to improve the quality of life for those who cannot see well or who suffer from dyslexia.
He fulfilled the mandate. Its prototype uses “artificial intelligence and machine vision” to help interpret the world for the visually impaired. His glasses read words after pressing a button and a photo is taken. “He identifies the distance and the object and can estimate what it is, based on what he thinks he’s looking at,” he explained. “And it can be used with headphones or bluetooth headphones.”
He developed a microcomputer with software to perform the task and used 3D printing to allow it to be combined with the glasses. Farsaad, however, believed it could be made less awkward if done in a professional environment. Additionally, he insisted that they can be made for less than $ 100 compared to the less flexible products currently available between $ 2,000 and $ 5,000.
The enormous need for new sources of electricity prompted three students of Ardscoil Rís in Limerick to invent a device to capture the potential energy of a rower. But St Michael’s Rowing Club members Patrick Stenson, Shane Rafferty and Colm Murphy believed it could be easily applied to treadmills and bicycles.
They built a 12-volt motor that, combined with a storage battery and an electrical inverter, can power a variety of household appliances and cell phones.
Patrick said their clean electric power could fit in when the sun is not bright and there is little wind blowing. “I can guarantee that there won’t be a day when there is no rowing training,” he added.
A large number of projects have looked at ways to reduce the risk of Covid-19 and the mental health aspects of the pandemic. A notable achievement on this front has been a biodegradable face mask made from algae fibers, which prevents acne, skin disease and reduces the spread of respiratory disease. It was made by Hana Haggag, Liam Ferguson and Ava Walsh of St Joseph’s Community College in Kilkee, County Clare.
A plentiful supply of brown algae along the coastline around Loop Head made this possible. They cooked the seaweed at a temperature of 90 degrees, generating a “very crispy powder”, which was then reconstituted into a material used in their face mask.
This year’s projects cover a wide range of topics such as health, mental well-being, the climate crisis and biodiversity loss – with over 200 awards given in four categories. The big winner who will receive € 7,500 in cash prizes and the chance to represent Ireland in the European Union competition for young scientists will be announced on Friday.
The public can view the projects and other events of the BT Young Scientist and Technology exhibition through the exhibition portal. More details are at btyoungscientist.com