Ed Drabold spends a lot of time working in the Institute for Sustainable Energy and Environment lab on West State Street.
He works on ways to effectively use algae to remove pollution from water, create biofuels and absorb harmful carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as part of a $500,000 grant from Honda. He hopes that his personal project looking at the circadian rhythm of algae will result in a publication early this year. He stands side by side with professors and has even trained a graduate student.
Drabold is also an Ohio University freshman studying environmental studies who occasionally gets swiped into dining halls to spend time with some of his undergraduate friends.
The 19-year-old has worked on science fair projects since he was in fifth grade. As a junior at Athens High School, he wasn’t sure what to do for his project, but he was interested in the work David Bayless, a professor of mechanical engineering, was doing at OU. He asked Bayless to be his mentor on a science fair project, and the same school year, Drabold started working in the ISEE lab at just 16 years old.
“I’ve kind of worked with everything,” he said. “I kind of have my hands in everything.”
Drabold has always been interested in renewable energies. They were usually the focus of his science fair projects, so the work Bayless and other professors and students were doing at ISEE was fitting for Drabold.
The lab is currently working with algae to address multiple environmental problems. People want get rid of pollution, like fertilizer runoff from farms, which causes harmful algae blooms on waterways, Bayless said.
People want to produce biofuels so to not rely on petroleum-based fuels. People want to recycle carbon dioxide to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.
With algae, the lab is “really close” to solving all of those problems at once, Bayless said.
“It’s nature's perfect solution,” Bayless said. “It’s already there. What we’re trying to do is develop systems to make it work for how the world is right now — the economic systems we have.”
The work is currently being partially funded by a $500,000 grant from Honda’s research and development branch, Drabold said. The lab is working to make a thousand gallon bioreactor at a research and development plant in Raymond, Ohio.
In addition to the assisting other researchers in the lab, Drabold became curious about the circadian rhythm of algae and is now using pH calculations to model the rhythm to growth. He hopes to submit a manuscript concerning the work to a journal by early spring.
For all the late nights in the lab and early mornings in the classroom, Drabold said he couldn’t ask for anything more in a college education.
“I really mean it,” he added. “I couldn’t be more privileged. I kind of have to slap myself.”
One moment in particular that was amazing for Drabold was giving a presentation on his research to OU President Duane Nellis. Nellis asked him “a lot of really great questions” about his work, Drabold said.
“This is a freshman at our university who now has this project that potentially has scalability,” Nellis said. “Just think of places like Lake Erie where they have some of these algae blooms, and if there’s a way to apply some of those techniques to cleaning up some of the algae issues ... and use it in a positive way as far as sustainability, I think that could be tremendous.”
Although Drabold is only a freshman, he’s not seen that way in the lab.
“He’s just one of the guys,” Bayless said. “He’s not a freshman. He’s just one of the team.”