Scientists have managed to transform a small mixture of algae and water, and have remarkably turned the mixture into a kind of crude oil in less than an hour. The crude oil is suitable to be turned into burnable gases like jet fuel, gasoline or diesel.
According to a research brief
, with the process, a slurry of wet algae 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.
The lead scientist, Professor Paul Falkowski, explained to CBS News
the motivation behind the project: ""When we take petroleum out of the ground, we are buying a resource that was created millions of years ago and we don't pay for it. We're using nature's inventory of carbon."
In addition to the manufacture of crude oil, Forbes notes
that the process also generates, as a byproduct, chemical elements and minerals that can be used to produce electricity, natural gas and fertilizer.
This latest research forms part of the wider study into biofuels
. The search for new and novel ways to create biofuels is an area that is receiving considerable scientific attention and research funding. For this, algae
are a potentially useful natural resource because they proliferate quickly and are found in abundance. Although a bioplastic has been produced, scientists do not yet think that they have found the right type of algae for large scale production. It could be that a genetically altered algae is required.
The study was undertaken by researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Washington. The research has been purchased by the Utah-based start-up Genifuel Corporation
. The company hopes to build upon the research and eventually implement it in a larger commercialized framework. In the longrun, the company hopes to be in a position, The Smithsonian
reports, to sell biofuel commercially for as low as $2 a gallon.