Dr Christina McGraw (left) and Dr Evelyn Armstrong, winners of Otago Innovation's 2022 Proof of Concept Competition.
An invention aimed at improving the efficiency of processes in the algal biofuels industry has won Otago Innovation's $100,000 Proof of Concept Competition for 2022.
The collaboration between Dr Christina McGraw (Chemistry) and Dr Evelyn Armstrong (Marine Science) seeks to provide a real-time measurement solution for a number of parameters of interest in the industry.
The technology is a significant improvement on the existing measurement methods, which can involve lengthy manual processes and take up to a couple of days.
“The algal biofuels industry is growing quickly as producers are continuously discovering new ways to enhance product yields. Having a way to take snapshots of the algal growth in real time means we can help producers make their processes even more efficient”, Dr McGraw says.
The invention started life as a side project in Dr McGraw's laboratory and Dr Armstrong came on board for her expertise with algae.
“I asked Evelyn if she was interested in getting involved. Happily, she said yes and has brought a lot of new ideas to the project.”
After initially envisaging the technology as a tool for climate change researchers studying algae, the team realised it could have wider applications.
“We realised our work will be more impactful if we focus on biofuels, which are an increasingly appealing alternative to fossil fuels,” Dr McGraw says.
Winning the Proof of Concept Competition will enable the team to take the next step towards developing the process into a commercial device.
“It's exciting to win because it means other people see the value in what we're doing,” Dr Armstrong says.
The Competition judges found all proposals to be very well presented, and to contain interesting science and commercial potential. Choosing a winning project was difficult.
David Christensen, CEO of Otago Innovation, says that applying for the Proof of Concept Competition can be an exciting first step on a journey toward creating broader impact from academic research. All Competition finalists receive advice and support, not only the winners.
“We welcome researchers to come and discuss their ideas with one of the Otago Innovation team at any time, as we are open for business all year round and not just during these competitions”, he also says.
- Kōrero by Sean Flaherty, Internal Communications Adviser