University of Ulster and school pupils sowing seeds for a greener future
University of Ulster engineers and pupils at a Co Armagh primary school have teamed up in a search for greener, more sustainable new fuels.
Scientists from the biomolecular diagnostics and engineering group at Ulster's Jordanstown campus - led by Professor James Davis - and children from St John the Baptist PS in Portadown are involved in a project to investigate the potential of sunflowers as a fuel source.
Primary four, five and six children planted sunflower seeds in small pots in their classrooms, which they took home and watched grow in their gardens.
Seeds from the giant sunflowers - some of them topped six feet - have now been collected and are being used by Prof Davis and his research team to assess the effectiveness of new processes for transforming sunflower oil into biofuel.
He explained: "The health benefits of cooking with sunflower oil are well-known. The challenge facing these aspiring engineers is to see if sunflower oil has potential as an alternative fuel source.
"The children have been working with us on a series of experiments - in their classrooms and in the university's labs - to assess the efficacy of new processes for transforming the oil into biofuels."
The pupils will also have an opportunity to record how the sunflower 'fuel' produced from the seeds they grew actually performs in road tests.
Prof Davis said: "In Northern Ireland, we're very dependent on imported fuel for our current heating and transport needs so it was really refreshing to see pupils and their parents being so actively involved in researching solutions for a greener, more sustainable future."
Cliodhna McCormac, who is a research associate in the school of engineering and former pupil of St John the Baptist, is project manager for the programme.
She said: "Thanks to their hard work we've got a bumper crop of seeds to help us assess the value of the bioengineering approaches being pioneered at Ulster."
School principal Mario Gribben said: "It's an excellent project which raised awareness about green energy and alternative fuel sources.
"It also got the children thinking about what they'd like to work at when they're older."