Ajay Krishnan

Can something be made of nothing? According to the research of 16-year-old Ajay Krishnan, the answer is yes. A research enthusiast since the sixth grade, Krishnan — now a junior at Oregon Episcopal School — found a way to produce hydrogen gas from wastewater utilizing microbial electrolysis cells. For his work in renewable energy, Krishnan is a recipient of the 2012 Stockholm Junior Water Prize.

“I got inspired by Dr. Bruce Logan, who does research on microbial fuel cells,” says Krishnan, who began to investigate the energy-production potential of algae when he was in the eight grade. “With all the problems we are facing in our world today — such as climate change and water-infrastructure problems — all those problems made me want to do research on wastewater treatment,” says Krishnan. He hopes to eventually get a prototype working so that he can scale up his device, with an ultimate goal of implementation in wastewater treatment plants to offset the power needed to run their equipment.

Krishnan possesses a zeal for this kind of applied research, because he says it is a way to “go beyond the classroom and actually learn about something you’re interested in.” Water resources suffer from competing claims — across industries and markets, within ecosystems, between communities — and pressure is mounting from an ever-increasing population. Krishnan says his research prioritizes water because “there are many countries in our world where access to clean water is very limited, so it’s crucial to find methods of gaining access to clean water and also treating wastewater effectively.”

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