News / Science & Technology

    Algae Converted to Crude Oil in Under an Hour

    Algae slurry is seen being poured into a container. (PNNL)
    Algae slurry is seen being poured into a container. (PNNL)

    Related Articles

    Nigeria Pioneers Clean Fuels for Domestic Use

    Nigerians experiment with simple and high technologies to meet increasing demands for light and fuel

    Scientists Discover Super Greenhouse Gas

    Perfluorotributylamine, or PFTBA, is 7,100 times stronger than carbon dioxide, researchers say

    Study Links Arctic Melting, Extreme Weather

    Te loss of ice and snow is affecting the jet stream, which in turn affects weather patterns around the Northern Hemisphere.
    VOA News
    It used to take a million years to convert algae to oil, but scientists at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), say they have developed a process to do the job in minutes.

    In the PNNL process, a slurry of wet algae with the consistency of pea soup is pumped into the front end of a chemical reactor. Once the system is up and running, out comes crude oil in less than an hour, along with water and a byproduct stream of material containing phosphorus that can be recycled to grow more algae.

    While algae has long been considered a potential source of biofuel, and several companies have produced algae-based fuels on a research scale, the fuel is projected to be expensive. The PNNL technology harnesses algae's energy potential efficiently and incorporates a number of methods to reduce the cost of producing algae fuel.

    "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."

    The most important cost-saving step is that the process works with wet algae. Most current processes require the algae to be dried — a process that takes a lot of energy and is expensive. The new process works with an algae slurry that contains as much as 80 to 90 percent water.

    "Not having to dry the algae is a big win in this process; that cuts the cost a great deal," said Elliott. "Then there are bonuses, like being able to extract usable gas from the water and then recycle the remaining water and nutrients to help grow more algae, which further reduces costs."

    Other processes for converting algae to oil exist, but according to PNNL, their process can continuously convert 1.5 liters of slurry into biofuel per hour.

    They say additionally their process eliminates the need for complex solvents like hexane.

    Instead, the PNNL team works with the whole algae, subjecting it to very hot water under high pressure to tear apart the substance, converting most of the biomass into liquid and gas fuels.

    The PNNL method requires a lot of heat and a lot of pressure, which together causes what is called hydrothermal liquefaction and catalytic hydrothermal gasification. While not cheap to build, Elliott says the savings “on the back end more than makes up for the investment.”

    "It's a bit like using a pressure cooker, only the pressures and temperatures we use are much higher," he said. "In a sense, we are duplicating the process in the Earth that converted algae into oil over the course of millions of years. We're just doing it much, much faster."

    A biofuels company, Utah-based Genifuel Corp., has licensed the technology and is working with an industrial partner to build a pilot plant using the technology. The company has been working with Elliott since 2008.

    The research results were reported in the journal Algal Research.

    Here's a short video about the process:

    You May Like

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border From Mexico

    In remote areas of the Sonoran Desert, which straddles the US-Mexico, thousands of migrants face arid desolation

    Video Recycling is Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    It's an ancient craft that stretches back millennia - but despite Lebanon’s trash crisis providing a lifeline, remaining glass blowers face an uncertain future

    Meet the Alleged Killer of Cambodia’s Kem Ley

    What little is known about former soldier, troublesome Buddhist monk and indebted gambler, raises more questions than answers

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: William Bodin from: Baton Rouge Louisiana
    December 26, 2013 3:16 PM
    Is anybody getting the full impact of the geopolitical ramifications of this breakthrough? Every nation on earth will be able to tell OPEC to stuff it. The possibility of someday running out of oil is no longer a concern.

    OK yes it is still burning carbon fuel but it's a step.

    by: NAA from: texas
    December 19, 2013 11:27 AM
    Does anyone know if this extarction technology can scale outside the lab?

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movementi
    X
    July 22, 2016 11:49 AM
    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Poor Residents in Cleveland Not Feeling High Hopes of Republican Convention

    With the Republican Party's National Convention underway in Cleveland, Ohio, delegates and visitors are gathered in the host city's downtown - waiting to hear from the party's presidential candidate, Donald Trump. But a few kilometers from the convention's venue, Cleveland's poorest residents are not convinced Trump or his policies will make a difference in their lives. VOA's Ramon Taylor spoke with some of these residents as well as some of the Republican delegates and filed this report.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video With Yosemite as Backdrop, Obama Praises National Parks

    Last month, President Barack Obama and his family visited some of the most beautiful national parks in the U.S. Using the majestic backdrop of a towering waterfall in California's Yosemite National Park, Obama praised the national park system which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. He talked about the importance of America’s “national treasures” and the need to protect them from climate change and other threats. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Counter-Islamic State Coalition Plots Next Steps

    As momentum shifts against Islamic State in Iraq, discussions are taking place about the next steps for driving the terrorist group from its final strongholds. Secretary of State John Kerry is hosting a counter-IS meeting at the State Department, a day after defense ministers from more than 30 countries reviewed and agreed upon a course of action. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb reports.
    Video

    Video Russia's Participation at Brazil Olympic Games Still In Question

    The International Olympic Committee has delayed a decision on whether to ban all Russian teams from competing in next month's Olympic Games in Brazil over allegations of an elaborate doping scheme. The World Anti-Doping Agency recently released an independent report alleging widespread doping by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. So far, only Russian track and field athletes have been barred from the Summer Games in Brazil. VOA's Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.
    Video

    Video Millennials Could Determine Who Wins Race to White House

    With only four months to go until Americans elect a new president, one group of voters is getting a lot more attention these days: those ages 18 to 35, a generation known as millennials. It’s a demographic that some analysts say could have the power to decide the 2016 election. But a lot depends on whether they actually turn out to vote. VOA’s Alexa Lamanna reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora