UIUC Algae Biofuels


Members - Derek Vardon
Background - Research - Publications - Awards

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A six year veteran of the United States Navy, Derek Vardon began working with the Algae Biofuel Project during the summer of 2007. With the help of Prof. Schideman, Derek successfully applied for seed-funding through the campus Student Sustainability Committee and has continued to serve as the project-lead for the Algae Biofuels group. Previously, Derek worked for two years with Prof. Clark's group under the guidance of David Ladner in the Environmental Engineering Department researching the fouling effects of algal blooms on membrane water treatment systems. Through his experience with both projects Derek has discovered a passion for research and is continuing for a doctorate degree in Environmental Engineering at the University of Illinois to advance the state of renewable bioenergy and pollution mitigation technology.

Derek is currently working in Professor Timothy Strathmann's research group, investigating biocrude oil characterization methods and applying heterogeneous catalysts to the hydrothermal liquefaction process.


Derek's recent research has focused on cultivating algae from coal-fired flue gas at Abbott power plant (TOP). He has also been working on algal cultivation and harvesting (MIDDLE) for biodiesel conversion (BOTTOM).

Derek's current research focuses on the following areas:

  • Biocrude oil characterization techniques
  • Sustainable application of heterogeneous catalysts for biofuel production
Previous work has included:
  • Environmentally friendly lipid extraction technologies
  • Analytical methods to profile and quantity algal lipids and high
  • Algal cultivation for coal-fired power plant flue gas carbon sequestration
  • Rapid analytical methods for algal bloom detection and quantification
  • Algal and bacterial population life cycles in closed cultures
  • Modeling shear effects on algal bloom fouling on pretreatment membranes


  1. D.R. Vardon, B.K. Sharma, G.V. Blazina, K. Rajagopalan, and T.J. Strathmann. (2012). Thermochemical Conversion of Raw and Defatted Algal Biomass via Hydrothermal Liquefaction and Slow Pyrolysis. Bioresource Technology. 109, 178-187.

  2. D.R. Vardon, B.K. Sharma, J. Scott, G. Yu, Z. Wang, L. Schideman, Y. Zhang, and T.J. Strathmann. (2011). Chemical Properties of Biocrude Oil from the Hydrothermal Liquefaction of Spirulina Algae, Swine Maure, and Digested Anaerobic Sludge. Bioresource Technology. 102, 8295-8303.

  3. D.R. Vardon, D.A. Ladner, and M.M. Clark. (2011). Potential of Laser Scanning Cytometry for Algal Monitoring in Seawater Desalination Plant Feedwater. Desalination. 207, 193-200

  4. D.A. Ladner, D.R. Vardon, and M.M. Clark. (2010). Effects of shear on microfiltration and ultrafiltration fouling by marine algae. Journal of Membrane Science. 356, 33-43


  • D.R. Vardon, B.K. Sharma, N. Rajagopalan, and T.J. Strathmann. Thermochemical conversion of algae and defatted algal cake to bio-oils. Accepted at the 1st International Conference on Algal Biomass, Biofuel and Bioproducts, St. Louis, MO. July 2011.
  • D.R. Vardon, B.K. Sharma, J. Scott, G. Yu, Z. Wang, L. Schideman, Y. Zhang, and T.J. Strathmann. Chemical properties of biocrude oil from the hydrothermal liquefaction of Spirulina algae, swine manure, and digested anaerobic sludge. Presented at the Spring 2011 American Chemical Society Meeting, Anaheim, CA. March 2011.
  • D.R. Vardon, D.A. Ladner, and M.M. Clark. Detection and enumeration of algal cells via laser scanning cytometry. Poster presentation at the UIUC Undergraduate Research Symposium and Planet U: The Story of Climate Change Conference, Champaign, IL. April 2009.
  • D.A. Ladner, D.R. Vardon, and M.M. Clark. Effects of shear on microfiltration and ultrafiltration fouling by bloom-forming algae in a seawater desalination treatment train. AWWA Membrane Technology Conference, Memphis, TN. April 2009.
  • D.A. Ladner, D.R. Vardon, M. Kumar, and M.M. Clark. Fouling by algogenic organic matter in seawater reverse osmosis desalination. AWWA Annual Conference and Exibition, Atlanta, GA. June 2008.

Derek at the CEE Departmental award ceremony (TOP). While in the Navy he served as a staff instructor at the Naval Nuclear Power Training Unit in Charleston, SC (MIDDLE). He also recently received the national Goldwater Scholarship honoring undergraduate researchers (BOTTOM).

Derek has received the following academic awards and fellowships:

  • NSF Graduate Research Fellow, April 2010.
  • EPA-STAR Graduate Research Fellow, April 2010.
  • Ira O. Baker Prize, March 2010.
  • Walter L. and Carole A. Crowley Scholarship, March 2010.
  • William John MacKay Award, March 2010.
  • Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, May 2009.
  • AFCEA Veteran's Scholarship, May 2009.
  • Wilfred F. and Ruth Davidson Langelier Scholarship, January 2009.
  • CH2M Hill Environmental Engineering Scholarship, January 2009.
  • Maude E. Eide Memorial Scholarship, January 2008.
  • UIUC CEE Undergraduate Research Grant, November 2007, 2008.
  • AFCEA National Security Scholarship, March 2006.
  • US Navy Seaman to Admiral-21 Scholarship, May 2005.
  • Junior Sailor of the Quarter Naval Nuclear Power Training Unit, September 2004.
  • Honor Graduate Naval Nuclear Power Training Unit, January 2003.