Engineers at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have successfully turned algae into artificial crude oil in minutes, as opposed to the millennia that nature normally requires. The newly developed process uses high pressure chambers and temperatures of 350 Celsius to overcome some of the hurdles of other techniques, including the time required for the conversion. As the process is refined, the issue of high-cost is expected to be solved as well.
Photo by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
The resulting product can be refined as any other crude product, including into such speciality items as aviation fuel. A positive by-product of this new technique is that the waste water produced can be processed to create combustible gas and other substances like potassium and nitrogen, which, along with the cleansed water, can also be recycled to grow more algae.
"Cost is the big roadblock for algae-based fuel," said Douglas Elliott, the laboratory fellow who led the PNNL team's research. "We believe that the process we've created will help make algae biofuels much more economical.” This has huge implications for the fossil fuel industry and the future potential for biofuels. The technology has been licensed to a Utah-based company, Genifuel Corp.