Teen's Winning Science Fair Project Could Turn Tire Dumps Into Power Stations

By Joseph Calamia | May 28, 2010 10:58 am

tiresWhen other Albertans saw landfill fodder, 17-year-old Kyle Schole saw electricity. His project, “Microbial Degredation of Vehicle Tires,” which uses a strain of bacteria to harness energy from decomposing rubber tires, hasn’t yet hit the journal circuit. But it has won the farm-raised teenager a gold-prize at his national science fair.

Schole devised his plan while driving past an Alberta tire recycling plant. Though his town was already transforming tires into speed bumps and surfacing, he wanted to pop those wheelies into something more. He decided to make a few calls, and chatted up a few microbiologists from Canada, Scotland, and Australia. He then had to find the perfect rubber-munching bacteria.

His farm wasn’t equipped to deal with biohazardous materials so he spent his summer in labs at the Westlock Health Care Centre. He estimates that the project took him over 400 hours, but in the end he successfully created a microbial fuel cell that converts chemical energy released during the tire’s microbial decomposition into electricity. For his efforts, he won a $6,000 cash prize and a $10,000 scholarship to the Canadian university of his choice.

The “science fair maniac” told the The Edmonton Journal:

“I’m a very curious guy–whether it’s tinkering on the farm with my dad or working on science projects,” said Schole. “So I’m often thinking, ‘What would be a neat thing to test and improve on?’”

For more warm-fuzzies, see the CTV video coverage, with interview.

Related content:
DISCOVER: Science Fair for a Better Planet
Discoblog: It’s In the Bag! Teenager Wins Science Fair, Solves Massive Environmental Problem
The Loom: Microbial Art
The Loom: I For One Welcome Our Microbial Overlords

Image: flickr/Mykl Roventine

  • http://www.arkanimals.com Ark Animals

    Awesome, in the face of some of the challenges we have it is my hope that technology and other creative minds come up with solutions.

    Glad this kid came up with the idea and pursued it. Hope to see more things from him in the future–worth more than $10,000 for college I’d say!

  • Sarah

    I am so glad to have met Kyle at the NYSF in Australia.
    It’s very inspiring to see someone so young come up with such a new and inventive idea.
    Keep up the fantastic work kyle! :)

  • http://www.agreensupply.net Agripina Biagi

    I see people using plastic bags in the grocery store every weekend. It makes me angry sometimes. When will our local government ban these ugly plastic bags? Sometimes, I wanted to tell the people in line to just bring their own plastic bags or get a few of durable green supply bags. These bags last me a long time. I even don’t remember the last time I paid for the bags. Do yourself a favor, buy a few of these reusable bags and put them in your car. Even better, give it to the nice person in front of the line when you see he/she is asking for plastic bags.

  • Clarkson

    Some lady tried that one with me, when I was on holidays in Victoria BC, Canada. When I kindly pointed out that I was ON #$%^&* HOLIDAYS and didn’t own any ‘green’ bags, nor was I interested in buying them and packing them back home in an already stuffed tight suitcase, I was met with a flurry of negativity and hateful comments. Welcome to Canada!

    Agripina Biagi, if you tried this on me, watch out. You have no idea who that person is, what they are doing there, or where they live. Maybe they forgot their bags, maybe they are visiting, maybe… who knows?

    Do YOURSELF a favor, and stick with keeping your mouth shut, before you embarrass yourself publicly. The last thing anyone wants to hear while grocery shopping is some pedantic hippie preaching to them. But expected from a webmaster peddling ‘Green’ products. See ya, wouldn’t want to be ya.

  • Hate Clarkson

    Hi readers. I’m not sure what the topic is when clarkson is saying something against agripina. But I think the old tires=energy is a good thing. also i think reusable bags can help. so, clarkson if you’re against anything that is good then I think we should all dump our plastics and old tires on your house.

    now, you could also do yourself a favo, start thinking green.

  • Plastic Bagger

    Awesome that there’s another way to deal with our rubber problems, the first being for roads and the second being a machine and chemical process that turns synthetic rubber (i.e. tires) back into usable oil. As for plastic bags, so what? The bacteria that eats plastic has already been discovered. There’s also some stores that keep a recycling bin just for plastic bags. I’m really not all that concerned that plastic is still the popular choice.

  • Kiwiiano

    Used tires should be regarded as a valuable resource for the cement industry. Suitably shredded they burn very well in the kilns and in fact the metal from the steel-belted radials catalyses the reaction that turns limestone into cement.

  • Ewan Scott

    The use of tyres as Tyre Derived Fuel, or as a fossil fuel substitute in cement kilns is one of the most efficient ways of disposing of large volumes of waste tyres. However, it is also one of the least efficient uses for waste tyres as the natural resources they contain are simply burnt. (Allowing for any catalytic effect in cement production).

    We need to find other ways of recycling, the products or recovering the natural materials from tyres – which actually contain high value chemical compounds such as Limonene, as well as carbon black, oil (which if recovered in a quality process should be useful as a fuel other than “bunker fuel” burned by ships at sea.

    Bio-degradation of hirtoric tyre dumps may be an option but for new arisings?

  • http://www.egenergy.com Energy Conservation

    There’s at least 10 of these “Science fair project can change the world” articles a year. I’m waiting on one that delivers.

  • Jacob

    What this article doesn’t mention is that carbon is still released during the process, so it is about the same as burning them for fuel although more efficient.

  • Janis

    Please check out Kyle’s video about his science research in this video talent contest and vote for him daily. Kyle could win $5,000 for university expenses and you could also win a $500 gift certificate. http://apps.facebook.com/wowcanada/promotions/detail/28378/en Much appreciated!!

  • kctceachr

    Spoke with him at the nationals last year. Best project there imho. He showed great ingenuity and enthusiasm. Hope that lots of good comes of this research.

  • clayton

    You guys are all talking about being green and you dont even know that green bags waste far more energy you would have to use a “green” bag for about 20yrs before you will save the CO2 emissions alone. I believe you can produce about 10,000 plastic bags compared to 1 “green bag” I bet you also think your prius is great for the enviroment to bad it puts so much CO2 just to produce the car you could drive a standard car that gets 30 mpg for 10 years before you make up the difference. Know your stuff before you talk about being “green”.

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