menu

Scientists Create Crude Oil From Algae In Minutes

Scientists Create Crude Oil From Algae In Minutes
Innovation

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.

algae-pressure

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

Innovation
Trending

How Indiegogo Is Becoming An Adult Product Destination

Retail
Work Today

Editorial Roundtable: The Arrival Of The People-First Workplace

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

Food Today

Bringing Food Innovation To America’s Crowded Milk Market

a2 Milk's Blake Winthrop, Chief Executive of the USA region, discusses how the distributor plans on bringing the popular drink for the dairy-sensitive to the States

Trending

Get PSFK's Related Report: Future of Automotive

See All
Financial Services Today

Device Makes Digital Currency Feel Tangible

The concept gadget wants you to experience the highs and lows of spending money

Advertising Today

Lyft Gives Free Rides To Those Who Have Had Too Much To Drink

Thanks to a new partnership between the ride sharing service and Budweiser, drunk passengers are able to receive free rides

Related Expert

Walter De Brouwer

Technology, Data, Consumer Health

Design & Architecture Today

Why Building Better Offices Is The Key To Employee Engagement

Interaction Designer and Audio-visual Technologist at ESI Design illustrates the value in creating environments filled with surprise and delight

Augmented / Virtual Reality Today

NBC Is Planning To Stream The Presidential Debates In Virtual Reality

Partnering with AltspaceVR, the broadcaster offers another way for Americans to engage with the election season

Travel Today

What Happens When An Entire Airport Terminal Rebrands Itself?

JFK's Terminal 4 underwent a dramatic design facelift to guide and delight travelers

PSFK LABS REPORT

Future Of Automotive
Scenarios Driving The Digital Transformation Of An Industry
NEW

PSFK Op-Ed september 21, 2016

Creative Agency Founder: Using VR As A Race Relationship Tool

Maurice Bernstein, CEO and Founder of Giant Step, explores the value in transforming headsets from high-tech entertainment tools into empathy machines

PSFK Labs september 22, 2016

The Future Of Work: Why Innovation Is Every Employee’s Job

PSFK Labs sits down with management at Johnson & Johnson to learn how the company comes up with their next ‘big idea’

Home september 23, 2016

Watch This Fire Pit Dance Along To Your Favorite Song

Music City Fire is a system that is designed to flicker in time to ambient music

Automotive september 23, 2016

Slick GPS Navigator Gives Directions To Moped Riders

This small, round device attaches to a sideview mirror to display maps for safer traveling

Home september 23, 2016

A Clock That Beautifully Manages Your Information Overload

The wall-mounted timekeeper is made to help people maintain focus and stay up to date with their appointments

Arts & Culture september 23, 2016

Performance Piece Blends Dancers Into Folds Of Light

The work provides commentary on the increasing connection between programmed and analog dimensions

Design & Architecture september 23, 2016

Design Firm Adapts Childhood Homes For Unemployed Young Adults

The studio has unveiled three prototypes of transformed living spaces for people forced to move back in with their families

PSFK LABS REPORT

Future Of Work
Cultivating The Next Generation Of Leaders
NEW

Health september 23, 2016

These Chocolate Squares Claim To Reverse The Aging Process

A group of researchers from Cambridge University have developed a candy bar that promises to give you a youthful glow

Cities september 23, 2016

Food-Producing Architecture Competition Seeks To Better Feed Cities

A design challenge in Copenhagen highlights the need and beauty of urban farming

Health september 23, 2016

Wearable Monitors Sun Exposure To Prevent Sunburn

The clip monitors UV rays to make sure you're not receiving too much sunlight

No search results found.