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By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

12/20/2013 (1 year ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Method also includes cost-cutting methods to make it economical

It sounds like something that only the alchemists of legend could do: turning common algae into oil to power engines - in under an hour. As fantastical as this may seem, researchers have now found a way to do so. The new challenge will now be making such a process economical and worthwhile.

While there are other processes for converting algae to oil the PNNL process can continuously convert 1.5 liters of slurry into bio-fuel per hour.

While there are other processes for converting algae to oil the PNNL process can continuously convert 1.5 liters of slurry into bio-fuel per hour.

Highlights

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

12/20/2013 (1 year ago)

Published in Green

Keywords: Alagae, oil, production, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory


LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory says their process can do the job in minutes.

First, wet algae with the consistency of soup is pumped into the front end of a chemical reactor. Up and humming, the crude oil is produced in less than an hour, along with water and a byproduct stream of material containing phosphorus. This material can then be recycled to grow more algae.

While long considered a potential source of bio-fuel, several companies have produced algae-based fuels on a research scale. The fuel would be far higher in price than what consumers pay at the pump. In the meantime, PNNL technology harnesses algae's energy potential efficiently and incorporates a number of methods to reduce the cost of producing algae fuel.

"Cost is the big roadblock for algae-based fuel," Douglas Elliott, who led the PNNL team's research says. "We believe that the process we've created will help make algae bio-fuels much more economical."

Most importantly, the cost-saving measure involves the use of wet algae. Most current processes require the algae to be dry, which is a process that takes a lot of energy and is expensive. The new process works with an algae slurry that contains as much as 80 to 90 percent water.

"Not having to dry the algae is a big win in this process; that cuts the cost a great deal," Elliott says. "Then there are bonuses, like being able to extract usable gas from the water and then recycle the remaining water and nutrients to help grow more algae, which further reduces costs."

While there are other processes for converting algae to oil the PNNL process can continuously convert 1.5 liters of slurry into bio-fuel per hour. The group also says that their process eliminates the need for complex solvents like hexane.

The PNNL team works with the whole algae, subjecting it to very hot water under high pressure to tear apart the substance. While this method requires a lot of heat and a lot of pressure, together this causes what is called hydrothermal liquefaction and catalytic hydrothermal gasification. While not cheap to build, Elliott says the savings "on the back end more than makes up for the investment."

"It's a bit like using a pressure cooker, only the pressures and temperatures we use are much higher," he said. "In a sense, we are duplicating the process in the Earth that converted algae into oil over the course of millions of years. We're just doing it much, much faster."



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