DURHAM – Sumani Nunna, a senior at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics in Durham, is one of the 15 finalists for the International BioGENEius Challenge, a major science competition for high school students.

Nunna [pictured above], North Carolina’s lone finalist among entrants from around the world, lives in the Charlotte suburb of Concord.

The BioGENEius Challenge recognizes outstanding research in biotechnology. Nunna and 14 other finalists are showcasing their research at the 2018 BIO International Convention, which is underway in Boston.

The Challenge provides young STEM innovators and entrepreneurs a venue to showcase their research and helps them build a long-term support system for converting their dreams into reality.

The winners of the International BioGENEius Challenge will be announced during the BIO keynote address Tuesday, June 5. Each winner will receive a $7,500 cash prize. Twitter users can follow the competition at @biotechinstitut. (We’ll update this story after we get the results of the final judging on Tuesday).

Nunna said she pursued the research based on inspiration from her mentor during an internship she had last year at RTI in Research Triangle Park. Her study is titled, “Increasing the Economic Viability of Biofuels By Recovering Methoxyphenols As Value-Added Bioproducts.”

Her stated research objective is to “efficiently recover methoxyphenols and other phenolics as value-added bioproducts from biocrude while minimizing system and residue loss, maximizing separation efficiency, and maximizing phenolic concentration of the refined bioproducts in order to increase the economic viability of biofuels and combat reliance on harmful fossil fuels.”


She was selected as a finalist because of the significance of her research, which she described as follows:

“There is a widespread reliance on harmful fossil fuels, and while the use of biofuels can combat this reliance, biofuels remain economically inviable.

“Biomass such as agricultural and construction waste can be converted to biofuel products through a process called catalytic fast-tail pyrolysis. Biocrude, the intermediate of fast-tail pyrolysis, contains a myriad of oxygenated phenolics, which can be recovered as specialty chemicals or as building blocks. These chemicals can be produced alongside biofuels to enhance the economic viability of biomass-to-liquid fuel technologies and subsequently garner a higher return on investment as it is being practiced in the petroleum industry.

“Thus, it is vital to develop efficient separation technologies for recovery of high-value chemicals from the liquid products of direct biomass liquefaction processes.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself. Truly. I couldn’t.