Researchers at the University of Michigan have discovered a fast way to turn algae into biocrude oil, a clean substitute for conventional crude oil. Chemical engineering professor Phil Savage and doctoral student Julia Faeth were able to pressure cook microalgae in 1,100-degree-Fahrenheit sand for about one minute, converting 65 percent of it into biocrude.

It's a revolutionary way to speed up the natural process, given that waiting for dead organisms to decompose can take millions of years. It's a big improvement over the lab's own research. Two years ago, the team was able to speed things up to less than half an hour while converting about 50 percent of the microalgae into biocrude.

The researchers have been mimicking the natural process that forms crude oil with marine organisms. Savage and Faeth filled a steel pipe with wet, green microalgae from the genus Nannochloropsis, and pressured it into hot sand. Within a minute, the algae made it to 550 degrees all the way through, and 65 percent of it turned into biocrude.

Along with shaving down time in the production process, the researchers are exploring ways for wet algae to cost less than dry algae. Algae biofuel is typically produced as dry algae before extracting biocrude, which costs around $20 per gallon. Savage and Faeth can't yet estimate cost savings for their method, but are assuming that simplifying the process and cutting down production time are likely to bring prices down.

It won't be competing directly with dry algae anytime soon. The Michigan researchers used only 1.5 milliliters of microalgae for testing, and still don't know exactly why they were able to convert to biocrude within one minute. Algae biofuels have huge potential for reducing vehicle carbon emissions and dependency on foreign oil, but it will take a while for any version of algae to make it to gas stations – even if you can cook it in a minute.


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  • 15 Comments
      2 wheeled menace
      • 3 Months Ago
      Oh boy; we'll be energy independent any day now ;)
      Jesse Gurr
      • 3 Months Ago
      Is PETA going to get involved? Oh those poor algae are having to work and live in very hot temperatures. The poor things. /sarcasm
      goodoldgorr
      • 3 Months Ago
      This cost lower then what they said. Nothing is costly with that production except tooling and human work at first because they do not produce high quantity. Use this process 24/24 7/7 and the price of a gallon of fuel will cost 45 cents per gallon and it will pollute way less then conventionnal petrol. Im sure that the low cost of producing this is a problem for them instead of a solution. they don't want to invest in high production then saw someone else doing the same thing and then the profit margin will be low. Im sure that they try to sell these patents to big oil or goverments that want to make maximum profit by continuing to sell conventionnal petrol instead. This is easy technology like hydrogen and they experiment this since years and years and they just say that it is costly because their goal is only to hack new technologies trying to make a maximum of profits. They only work for wall-street speculators and the car guy is ignored.
      noevfud
      • 3 Months Ago
      HOw much energy does that take?
        Letstakeawalk
        • 3 Months Ago
        @noevfud
        Great use of a solar furnace, eh?
        Joeviocoe
        • 3 Months Ago
        @noevfud
        There might be some input from electricity or natural gas to get the temps up fast... but a well designed/insulated system won't require much continuous input. The bulk of the energy in the fuel itself will come from solar (photosynthesis)... cause, you know, it is a biofuel from a plant.
      mikeybyte1
      • 3 Months Ago
      My mom's secret to making the best bread pudding was to do it in a pressure cooker. I will have to ask her if she ever tried to use it to make biofuel.
      Scambuster
      • 2 Years Ago
      Biocrude from algae? Don't bother. The Big Oil has already bought the patent.
        Joeviocoe
        • 3 Months Ago
        @Scambuster
        Good thing the Chinese don't honor American patents.
      wxman
      • 3 Months Ago
      Just as an FYI, biodiesel from algae (B20) is currently available on a trial basis in a few stations in California... http://propelfuels.com/news_and_media/press_releases/propel_fuels_solazyme_deliver_worlds_first_consumer_access_to_algae_based_f/ http://www.nbcnews.com/technology/futureoftech/first-algae-derived-fuel-hits-pumps-1C7048163
      Smurf
      • 3 Months Ago
      So like hydrogen, you have to spend energy to make fuel. But... You have to spend energy to refine gasoline too. I wonder how this compares to how much energy is used to refine gasoline?
        Joeviocoe
        • 3 Months Ago
        @Smurf
        The Sun and Earth spend millions of years "spending energy" to make our current batch of fossil fuels which we are consuming (coal, natural gas, oil). The Free stuff is running out. Time to harvest more free stuff from the Sun and Earth (wind, solar, hydro, geothermal) But these are mostly intermittent and location specific... and cannot provide for all of our consumption. So we have to do what the Sun and Earth took millions of years to do.... in a short time. So yeah, it takes energy... but it is sustainable indefinitely. Unlike refining oil into gasoline, where the bulk of the energy is essentially being depleted from a source that was created millions of years ago.
      cinilak
      • 2 Years Ago
      Electricity into crude oil into polution. Is there a thing someone won't do for money?
        Joeviocoe
        • 3 Months Ago
        @cinilak
        what are you talking about? Bio-crude is NOT the same as petroleum crude. Contains no pollutants. Essentially everything that is emitted from the tailpipe would have been first absorbed by the algae during the growth process. Including the CO2. To my knowledge, biofuel from algae contains no aromatics, benzene, VOCs, etc. that gasoline would produce. There might be NOx because of the high compression needed to burn .... but overall, the emissions are VASTLT reduced... even if the electricity used comes from coal, since not much of the energy needed to process algae comes from electricity... it is mostly solar (photosynthesis) that provides the energy.
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