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(TruthSeekerDaily) Out of all the clean energy options in development, it is algae-based biofuel that most closely resembles the composition of the crude oil that gets pumped out from beneath the sea bed. Much of what we know as petroleum was, after all, formed from these very microorganisms, through a natural heat-facilitated conversion that played out over the course of millions of years.

The researchers there have discovered a way to not only replicate, but speed up the “cooking” process in order to convert a small mixture of algae and water into a resemblance of crude oil – it takes less than an hour. Implementing this technique on a larger scale is speculated to possibly allow companies to see the biofuel commercially for as low as two dollars a gallon.

Fuels such as corn and soybeans, cut into the food supply and take up a lot of landmass to produce. For example, the U.S. Department of Energy estimates that in order to meet the country’s day-to-day oil consumption, fifteen thousand square miles of land, about the size of Maryland, would have to be devoted to algae fuel production. On the other hand, replacing just the supply of diesel with soybean biodiesel would require using up half of the nation’s land mass.

Hydrothermal liquefaction, the system Elliot’s team developed has had roots since the 1970s where scientists tried to find ways to gasify forms of biomass such as wood during the energy crisis. However, their pursuits were abandoned when price of gasoline became fair again.

 

 

Forbes energy reporter Christopher Helman has a good description of how this particular hydrothermal liquefaction technique works:

“You start with a source of algae mixed up with water. The ideal solution is 20% algae by weight. Then you send it, continuously, down a long tube that holds the algae at 660 degrees Fahrenheit and 3,000 psi for 30 minutes while stirring it. The time in this pressure cooker breaks down the algae (or other feedstock) and reforms it into oil.

Given 100 pounds of algae feedstock, the system will yield 53 pounds of ‘bio-oil’ according to the PNNL studies. The oil is chemically very similar to light, sweet crude, with a complex mixture of light and heavy compounds, aromatics, phenolics, heterocyclics and alkanes in the C15 to C22 range.”

In 2009, ExxonMobil enlisted world-renowned bioengineer Craig Venter’s Synthetic Genomics lab to create a genetic strain of lipid- rich algae in order to offset the expense of cultivating and processing the substance into a commercially-attractive resource. However, the project was beset with “technical limitations,” despite investing six hundred million dollars into it – they concluded that algae fuel is “probably further” than twenty-five years away from becoming mainstream. Cost is a hindrance to the production of algae biofuel – most of the expenditures are spent on raising the algae in an open-pond system – similar to natural environments or in well-controlled conditions found in closed-loop systems. White the open-pond system is not too expensive, it tends to yield more contaminated and unusable crops. Artificial settings, where the algae is farmed inside clear-closed containers, are more pricey to maintain.

“People have this slightly inaccurate idea that you can grow algae anywhere just because they’ll find it growing in places like their swimming pool, but harvesting fuel-grade algae on a massive scale is actually very challenging,” Elliot says. “The beauty of our system is you can put in just about any kind of algae into it, even mixed strains. You can grow as much as you can, any strain, even lower lipid tubes and we can turn it into crude.”

Elliot’s team licensed the technology to the Utah-based startup Genifuel Corporation, which aspires to build upon the research and eventually implement it into a larger commercialized framework. The teams suggests that in order to be financially-stable, six hundred and eight metric tons of dry algae should be converted to crude per day. With innovative research, driven scientists, and a commitment to invest in this amazing technology, any barriers can be overcome to introduce America and the world to the world of algae biofuel.

“It’s a formidable challenge, to make a biofuel that is cost-competitive with established petroleum-based fuels, Genifuel president James Oyler said in a statement. “This is a huge step in the right direction.”

Source: [smithsonianmag]