Scientists Create Crude Oil From Algae In Minutes

Scientists Create Crude Oil From Algae In Minutes

A resolution to some energy problems could be as close as the nearest scummy pond.

Rachel Pincus
  • 20 december 2013

Scientists at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) in Richland, Washington have figured out how to compress into under an hour a process that normally takes millions of years – the decomposition of organic matter into valuable fuels. With climate change intensifying algal blooms in many parts of the world, perhaps it’s good news that the material that proved perfect for this process was none other than concentrated pond scum.

In the PNNL process, a slurry of wet algae is pumped into the front part of a chemical reactor. The cooker uses temperatures of 660 degrees Fahrenheit and pressures of over 3,000 pounds per square inch to keep the mixture in a liquid phase while it extracts plant oil from the water. Less than an hour later, you have crude oil. The byproducts of the process include nitrogen-rich water and material that contains phosphorus, which can be used to regrow more algae. Additionally, the process can recover methane, or natural gas, from the leftover plant material. Though the cooker continuously processes only about 1.5L per hour right now, the researchers are confident that the technique can easily be scaled up. A biofuels company called Genicorp has licensed the technology and is working on building a pilot plant.


A previous incarnation of this technology, which is called hydrothermal liquefaction, was pioneered in the 1970’s, a time of heightened worries about fuel shortages. It involved drying the algae and adding chemicals to extract lipids, a process that was difficult, energy-intensive and expensive. However, this new technique isn’t perfect either; the fuels created are somewhat different chemically from different petroleum, and we still haven’t figured out how to grow sufficiently huge batches of algae for the energy production we need. And there’s no evidence that this algae’s petroleum burns any cleaner.

Images: PNNL Video

Sources: EPA, PNNL Press Release, NBC, Fast Company


Japanese Face Wash Creates A Perfect Rose Every Time

Arts & Culture
Mobile august 26, 2016

Get A Better Idea Of How You Are Wasting Your Time

The TouchTime app is trying to revolutionize personal task management by providing detailed insight on how to be more efficient

Culture august 26, 2016

London Telephone Box Repurposed As A Tiny Mobile Repair Shop

Tools and supplies to replace broken screens or damage are neatly stowed away in these micro-workrooms


Get PSFK's Latest Report: Future of Retail: Technology Primer

See All
Design august 26, 2016

Conceptual Sportswear Created Out Of Futuristic Condom Material

A Dutch fashion designer is experimenting with new methods and fabrics to make high performance clothing

Fashion august 26, 2016

Fashionable Tassel Will Ensure You Never Lose Your Valuables Again

The device is fashion meets connected tech, that will help you keep track of your belongings at all times

Syndicated august 26, 2016

Would You Wear Wool Shoes To Save The Environment?

As demand for wool shoes grows, a number of US footwear brands are heading directly to the source: the sheep pastures of New Zealand

Sustainability august 26, 2016

Self-Healing Material Is Fashioned Out Of Squid Teeth

Penn State researchers have devised a new textile that uses organic proteins

Arts & Culture august 26, 2016

Search Engine Turns Your Own Drawings Into Photos

This image-matching software accepts hand-made sketches instead of keywords


Future Of Work
Cultivating The Next Generation Of Leaders

PSFK Op-Ed august 23, 2016

Modern Workplace Culture: No More Fat Cats Or Kissing Ass

Samar Birwadker, CEO & Co-Founder of Good & Co, on designing shared organizational values to optimize employee happiness and success

PSFK Labs august 25, 2016

PSFK’s Workplace Vision: How The Nurturing Of Seeds Will Come To Define The Onboarding Process

Our Future of Work vision is a service that allows companies to assemble and deliver welcome packets that are uniquely focused on the concept of growth

Arts & Culture august 26, 2016

Illustrator Interprets The Experiences Of Blind Travelers

Artist Alby Letoy creates drawings of poignant travel memories for the visually impaired

Advertising august 26, 2016

Clickbait Titles Used For The Good Of Charity

An agency devised an unlikely campaign that uses clickbait as a positive force to drive awareness to nonprofit initiatives

Advertising august 26, 2016

The Best In Eye-Catching Olympics Campaigns

PSFK rounds out the Rio Games with our picks for the best advertising moments off the field

Work august 26, 2016

Editorial Roundtable: The Arrival Of The People-First Workplace

Managed By Q, Soma, Workbar, Primary and thinkPARALLAX enumerate the reasons why companies need an employee-embracing workforce in order to exist

Arts & Culture august 26, 2016

Transforming Light Waves Into A New Art Form

An artist uses glass treated with layers of metallic coatings to create a unique installation called lightpaintings


Rio Olympics
Innovation Coverage From The Rio Games

Design august 26, 2016

This Windbreaker Lets You Explore The Outdoors While Charging Your Phone

The apparel includes solar panels that allow the wearer to stay connected through the power of renewable energy

Asia august 26, 2016

The Goal Of This Game Is To Not Get Laid Off From Your Job

A hit mobile app has you working really, really hard to not get fired as you climb the corporate ladder

Advertising august 26, 2016

Movie Critic Bot Guides Viewers Through Festival Offerings

The Toronto International Film Festival has created a Facebook Messenger chatbot to help attendants curate their schedule

No search results found.