CIAM Students Interning with the US Department of Energy in Colorado

07/28/ 2015

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), located in Golden, Colorado, is the premier renewable energy research institute in the world. NREL is the only federal laboratory dedicated to the research, development, commercialization, and deployment of renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies. As a US Department of Energy facility, NREL analysis informs policy and investment decisions as energy-efficient and renewable energy technologies advance from concept to commercial application to market penetration.

In this spirit, several UPRRP faculty and students joined the laboratory this summer 2015, not only to conduct cutting-edge research, but also to learn about the different energy platforms that could possibly revolutionize the island nation of Puerto-Rico, which is currently experiencing one of the most difficult energy crises they have seen in years.

This DOE summer internship program is one of the most prestigious in the country, where students from the best institutions in the US are recruited yearly to perform high quality research under the supervision of world-class mentors. Therefore, having 4 UPRRP students selected for this program is a testimony of the caliber of graduates being trained at UPRRP. Under the leadership of Dr. Clifford Louime and the mentorship of Dr. Michael Guarnieri, CIAM is preparing a future cadre of scientists to tackle some of the greatest environmental issues facing the island of Puerto Rico right now.

Dr. Michael Guarnieri, a Senior Scientist at NREL, Dr. Clifford Louime, UPRRP faculty, and 4 UPRRP students are currently working on developing cost-effective, environmentally-friendly energy technologies to reduce our nation's dependence on foreign oil, improve our air quality, and support rural economies.

Daniela Cruz, a junior environmental science major, is examining the endosymbiotic relationship of advanced Algae/Yeast co-cultivation system. Algae/Yeast Co-culture is a new exploratory project funded by DOE-BER Program. This project calls for a lot of basic physiology (trying to determine optimal conditions for yeast-algae coculture) as well as a big OMICS component looking at genes and proteins expressed during cocultivation.

Karleen Wagner, a CIAM graduate student, is focusing her efforts on the biological conversion of biomass-derived pentose sugars to industrial platform chemicals. Karleen’s work encompasses an array of molecular biology techniques including PCR and genetic transformation for gene overexpression and knockout. She is also working on an analytical chemistry component for bioproducts quantitation.

Sandra del Rio’s project involves algae bioprospecting and genetic tool development. Over the past 10 years, NREL has established an impressive algal collection consisting of more than 350 different strains. This collection is currently being screened via a mid-throughput reactor for growth rate, temperature and salinity tolerance. Sandra is also performing qualitative and quantitative lipid analyses to determine the lipid accumulation capacity of selected strains under nitrogen starvation. During the first 2 weeks, Sandra underwent intensive fluorescence microscopy training for that purpose.

Clifford’s project is directly related to Sandra’s, as he is developing vectors for transformation of the top strains down- selected in initial screening trials. In addition, Clifford is screening samples brought from Puerto Rico, where he is working in establishing a collection of halophytic marine algae similar to NREL’s algal library.

All tools learned by UPRRP students and faculty will be put to good use at UPRRP upon return. Dr. Mike Guarnieri agrees to continue supporting the UPRRP renewable energy group and would welcome more students next year through these DOE collaborative projects.

Dr. Clifford Louime   
University of Puerto Rico  Recinto Rio Piedras
College of Natural Sciences Department of Environmental Sciences San Juan, PR 00931