By Cynthia De Castro/Asianjournal.com
LOS ANGELES – As the search for alternative sources of fuel rages, a 17-year-old Raymond Amurao from the Philippines may have just found a good solution. His discovery started with the problem of a pesky fish.
A few years ago, many fishermen earning their livelihood from the Marikina River in Metro Manila began to notice some strange-looking fish that have been infesting the river’s waters and competing with other fish for food. Called the janitor fish, it has a hard exoskeleton, is smelly like other fish, and is not considered fit for human consumption.
Until that time, the Marikina River was teeming with several freshwater fish species such as tilapia, carp, catfish, and mudfish. Suddenly, the janitor fish, once alien to the river, invaded the river. It began multiplying rapidly and eating voraciously, competing with other fish for food.
Without the presence of natural predators, the janitor fish in the Marikina River grew in huge numbers. They eat the eggs of other fishes, causing the depletion of other fish species in the local aquatic environment. They also cause the river’s sides to erode as they bore holes on the soft, muddy banks to serve as their breeding nests, damaging much of the river’s plant life. The ratio of the number of janitor fish to other species in the river quickly rose to around 10 to 1, causing much dismay and frustration to Marikina fisher folks.
Chemistry teacher Janet Sarmiento Amurao brought the challenge to the Marikina City High School students who began experimenting with the fish.
“As a science teacher, I was tapped by our city mayor, Marides Fernando, as a member of the so-called Benefish Committee tasked to find possible applications for the dreaded janitor fish which was becoming one of the major problems in the Marikina River,” Janet told the Asian Journal in an exclusive interview.
Her youngest son who is also her student, Raymond Joseph Amurao, became part of the school science program.
“He was then a senior student working with two of his friends in trying to find out if janitor fish meat can be used as a component of the commercial chicken feeds,” Janet said. “One Saturday, he was assigned to boil the fish but young as he was, barely 16, he played basketball. The whole thing was supposed to be steamed for 10 minutes but he forgot and came back after 30 minutes. He was surprised to see a considerable amount of fish oil floating on the broth. He became interested with the oil and started asking me what to do with it. I told him to look in the net, the easiest way of finding possible answers.”
Instead of throwing the oil away, Raymond tried to find use for it. He first sought to turn it into a lubricant, but it solidified after being subjected to high heat. He then tried mixing the oil with other chemicals to produce soap, but only had partial success because it still smelled like fish. Then, while surfing the Internet, he learned that oil extracted from certain animals could be used as biodiesel. Another experiment later and he found that the fish’s greasy by-product indeed had biofuel potential. Raymond’s initial experiment with 12 kilos of janitor fish produced 500 ml of processed fuel. They calculated the fuel value of janitor fish oil and the results were comparable to that of diesel.
The result was Amurao’s discovery — extracting fuel oils from janitor fish carcasses which can be used in applications such as diesel additives and soap base. This not only solved Marikina City’s fish situation. It totally changed his life.
“He won First Place in the Intel Philippines Science Fair. His project was NCR’s entry to the National Level of Intel Philippines Science Fair and was chosen one of the Best Science Projects. He also received First Grand Award and chosen as one of the country’s entries to the Intel International Science Fair held in Indianapolis, Indiana, USA in May 2006, the world’s largest celebration of science showcasing the world’s most promising young scientists and inventors in grades 9 through 12,” Janet proudly related her son’s accomplishments.
More than 1,500 contestants from each US States and more than 40 different countries joined the world’s most prestigious and largest pre-college science competition – The Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF) in Indianapolis, Indiana. Representing the Philippines, Raymond won the 3rd Grand Award for his project entitled Biofuel and Soaps from Janitor Fish Oil which won for him international recognition, a cash prize of $1,000, and a medal.
“The biodiesel derived from the janitor fish could be used as an additive to diesel fuel, and could help lower the cost of petroleum in the Philippines,” says Raymond. It would also help control the janitor fish population in the Marikina River, Laguna Lake, and other bodies of water where it is known to dwell. “This could also become a great source of livelihood in Marikina,” he stated.
Janet Amurao still can’t get over his son’s achievement.
“I am very happy because I never thought that a playful bunso like him would be able to accomplish such a feat! You know what he said about his being an overnight celebrity when he came back from the competition? ‘You’re right Mama! I think the Lord has other plans for me when He gave me back to you twice.’ You see, Raymond was a dengue survivor when he was 10 years old and was given 24 hours to live at that time.”
Raymond was born on September 2, 1989 in Marikina City. He spent his elementary years at Roosevelt College Marikina Campus and enjoyed his high school life at the Marikina Science High School. At present he’s studying at the University of the Philippines Los Banos where he’s in second year taking up BS in Chemistry.
His friends describe him as wacky, funny, friendly, comedian etc. He really wants to become a very good chemist someday. He never planned to become a scientist but now that even senior inventors call him a young inventor, Raymond says God probably wanted to show him his purpose, for one thing, discovering the use of janitor fish.
All the television and radio interviews, the newspaper and online articles about Raymond and the invitations to speak in different symposia and conventions have not changed him a bit, says his mother. He’s still “Emong” with his feet flat on the ground. He revealed to Asian Journal that he loves to eat “Anything- especially fried chicken,”he said.
He loves basketball, enjoys watching The Simpsons, likes watching movies like Legend of Ron Burgundy, A Walk to Remember and Music and Lyrics.
“My Intel award is just one of the many proofs that God really loves me,” Raymond said. “When I won in the regional level, it was the first time that I relied on my faith in God. It really worked! So, when I won in the International competition, I really cried,” he admitted.
After the competition, Raymond and another participant stayed at San Diego and visited Universal Studios and San Diego Zoo and malls. “Oh! I really enjoyed my stay there in the US,” Raymond said. “I fell in love with Indianapolis, a very peaceful city. If given the chance, I would like to go back to the US and study there. Or maybe someday I will go back there when I’m already a chemist and hopefully, work in big drug companies.”
The Amuraos are happy to note that the janitor fish has been given a new image. “We were able to prove that the janitor fish is no longer a pest, but something which has many uses,” Janet said. Another possibility being studied is to use the exoskeleton from the janitor fish’s belly as leather to boost Marikina’s shoes and bags industry. The janitor fish could also be useful in producing carbonated water, liquid fertilizer, and chicken feed.
Raymond will also soon test his biofuel invention on a car engine.
As an advice to young people like him, Raymond has this to say. “Just be yourself, be open-minded, be patient in whatever you’re doing and avoid being boastful. Do not hesitate to “burn your midnight oil” and most importantly rely on your faith in God because He’s always with you the way He has been with me.”