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Algae To Crude Oil: Million-Year Natural Process Takes Minutes In The Lab

The oil supply across the globe has continuously been depleting and this has led to the rise of oil prices. As a way to wean the country from dependence on oil as main source of fuel, engineers from the US Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) are developing a method that will make it easier and faster to create crude oil.

This innovative process has the ability to turn algae into crude oil in just a matter of minutes as the algae does not have to be dried out anymore. The final product can then be used to create diesel, gasoline, or aviation fuel.

The principle of high pressures and temperatures that turned prehistoric plant material into fossil fuel is also applied in this new technique. Experts have long established that algae can be a source of biofuel. However, until now, scientists were unable to convert algae into burnable fuel in such a short time. Older processes are costly and time-consuming.

Moreover, the large water content in algae also poses a problem. The mass of algae consists of over 80% water meaning that when it is dried, it will be smaller.

On the other hand, this new process of the PNNL exposes the entire mass of the algae to high pressures (350ºC/662ºF) and temperatures (3,000 psi). Genifuel Corporation has already licensed this process and have partnered with the laboratory since 2008. They are planning to invite other industrial partners to support the cause of finding alternative fuel sources.

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