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A proposal to produce biofuel from microscopic algae in Mozambique, designed by Dutch children and scientists has won first place in a competition run by the Dutch biotechnology industry.

The winners were announced Tuesday (31 August) at a congress in Rotterdam, Holland. The organisers of the competition, led by the Kluyver Centre for Genomics of Industrial Fermentation, will now begin raising funds so that the proposed project may be implemented.

The competition, called 'Imagine…', aims to help implement practical scientific solutions to problems facing developing countries. Organisers say this is the first project of its kind that brings together life scientists and high school students to design science and development projects.

Scientists initially submitted project ideas, and five of these were selected for the second stage of the competition. Schoolchildren were then invited to propose a business plan for one of the five projects.

The winners of the competition are rewarded with the opportunity to see their ideas implemented. Organisers estimate that approximately US$150,000 will be required for this, although they were unable to say at this stage where the funding will come from.

"There may be government funding," said Marije Blomjous, Communication Coordinator for the Kluyver Centre, "but at the moment we are approaching private companies for sponsorship." She added that they have already contacted some organisations in Mozambique that could get involved in the project.

The winning business plan came from two students at Baarnsch Lyceum, in the Netherlands whose proposal was for producing biofuel from microscopic algae in Mozambique.

The students worked closely with Wouter van Winden and Bram van Beek at Delft Technical University, in the Netherlands, who developed the science behind the biofuel project. "Imagine… was the perfect opportunity to combine my professional skills and my moral ideals," says van Winden.

The organisers hope that the project will help communities become more self-sufficient by producing sustainable biofuel locally. Furthermore, the process should produce a minimum of carbon dioxide.

Other project proposals included fighting malaria in Africa using compounds extracted from the locally grown plant artemisia and producing cattle fodder from fermented water hyacinth in the east African Lake Victoria.

If funding is secured, Imagine… could become a European competition, with a number of national projects running in parallel in different countries.