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Scientists Turn Algae Into Crude Oil – Within Minutes

Scientists Turn Algae Into Crude Oil – Within Minutes

Published on Dec 17, 2013

Engineers have created a chemical process that produces useful crude oil just minutes after engineers pour in harvested algae -- a verdant green paste with the consistency of pea soup. The PNNL team combined several chemical steps into one continuous process that starts with an algae slurry that contains as much as 80 to 90 percent water. Most current processes require the algae to be dried -- an expensive process that takes a lot of energy. The research has been licensed by Genifuel Corp. Read the full story here: http://www.pnnl.gov/news/release.aspx...


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Lets do some math.........

1.5L of algae, which is 90% water.

Ignoring the algae, here are some #'s

1.5L water = 3.3 lbs

662F - 60F = 602 F

1 Btu = 1 degree F per pound, so: 3.3 lbs * 600 F = 1980 BTUs = .58 KWH

Now the pressure....
a 1.2 gpm pressure washer at 3000 psi, using a 1 horse motor for 1 minute would consume: .12 KWH (Just estimating how much energy needed to pump the slurry)

Total KWH with zero loss: .70 KWH (kilowatt hours)

you'll end up with 0.039 gallons of Crude oil. 90% water...

.039 gallons of crude in BTU is: 53,800 BTU

53,800 BTU in KWH = ~15 KWH

Input 0.70 KWH (in perfect conditions) Output 15 KWH

There is room for production and loss in those #'s


bigmikedude's picture

Tune in next week when the headlines probably read

Group of Engineers and Algae Scientists Mysteriously All Die in Same Week from Various Misfortunes. Big Oil and Central Bank CEO's Mourn with Families.

Young-Earthers Arise...

I can imagine the flood of "young-earthers" that will crawl out of the woodwork based on this story.

This should be fun.

I Agree

Another scientific nail in the coffin of the "trillion year old earth" ... They find carbon 14 in diamonds as well ... Just seems the Darwinian Evolutionists are useful idiots for the NWO ..eh sumpm1

Alternatives aren't being suppressed, there are real problems

There are real technical barriers to the alternatives, including algae. The problem isn't big oil companies suppressing alternatives. The issue is that nothing can currently compete with fossil fuels because of real technical issues.

In the case of this algae stuff, the hydrothermal process works at rather extreme temperatures and pressures, with corrosive conditions as well. Reactors that work under those conditions are expensive. In addition to equipment cost, the process requires energy. Also, the algae requires more than just water and sunlight to grow. You need to provide nutrients and fertilizer that require energy to synthesize.

When you net everything out, the petrochemical industry is using the lowest cost and most efficient things available on the market at present. If someone comes up with a technology that really beats fossil fuels, I have no doubt that you will see a thriving industry develop around it.

We all want progress, but if you're on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.

-C. S. Lewis

This isn't the first bio alternative that wasn't cost effective

You're right. Unless it is cheaper to create fuel than it is to simply dig up what has already been made by nature, this stuff isn't going to be part of a successful business venture and this stuff doesn't seem to be going to be cheaper than the grain fuel alternatives we already have yet couldn't compete at all if not for government subsidies.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

These new energy solutions are fascinating

All the potential energy solutions are there, we just need the technology to make them viable in the market.
Joule energy also has algae/cyanobacteria research that appears to have potential. http://www.dailypaul.com/169576/update-oil-from-cyanobacteria

Maybe it's the conspiracy theorist in me, but I have to wonder how many alternate energy ideas are quickly bought out by corporations who would like to control any alternative to fossil fuels?

You're correct to suspect coersion

but the latest method isn't to buy them out. The new trick is to get them suckered into bad financing deals, string them out with small charges like bank fees, broker fees, transfer fees, legal fees... and then drag things out til they go bankrupt. Tons-o-promises turn into tons-o-debt. Pretty much like Wall St. operates!

This is why I always promote the support (especially financial) of these companies. Private funding could turn the entire game around for 10% of the cost its going to publicly. But I digress...

I had an idea for a new product a few years ago

I researched it in the idea to pursue the development or just to buy it for my own use. I found a number of patents during an online search, but could not find it for sale. I looked up the person with the patent, a heart surgeon and found out he had sold the patent rights to it. The curious thing is, it never was produced. The reason for buying the patent rights is to make sure it would not be produced. I don't know how wide spread this is, but I do know from personal experience that it happens.

I don't doubt

that still happens, but I was only referring to the most recent advancements in renewable energy and local sustainability. I have a unique insider type connection to many of them and I can give names, dates and details on at least a dozen that have been relegated into obscurity in the exact manner I described. Some of them are just what people scream for when they can't figure out why we don't have ubiquitous distributed energy yet.

Years ago, I tried to sell my very first patent to some electrical outlet companies and they all wanted me to give up my patent rights before we even talked money. As you can imagine, it was highly competitive to some existing products they made.

With all that in mind, that's why 'some players' are grouping together to obtain private funding with a higher purpose. ...so those pitfalls don't pop up later. :D

I also read that

Crude oil turns scientists into algae

For Freedom!
The World is my country, all mankind is my brethren, to do good is my religion.

Now That's Funny!

Happy Holidays Dex!


There are better ways to do this

Why not just have the algae secret the refined product so that one can just sift the refined end product right off the top of the bioreactor?

This is where things are heading.

You can see reports of secreting refined diesel ("microdiesel")directly from bacteria here:

This same path will also be realized with Algae and/or Cyanobacteria.

Why the waste the energy if the cells will give us what we want directly?

The most powerful Law of Nature is Time. It is finite and we all will run out of it. Use this Law to your advantage, for it offers you infinite possibilities...

This is an attempt to avoid the wrath of the refineries

By creating crude, they still need refinement so the oil companies won't fight back so hard.

This isn't even the most efficient way to make crude but, hey....

There's another process invented, funded and being brought to market all privately that does not require a clean single species of algae (this is the expensive part usually because algae likes to invite other species). The output of a whole colony of mixed species is then converted directly into biodiesel that meets the government #2 diesel standards continuously and with no heating or pressurizing. Won't be too long now, I hope.

It is still a ways out from here

I have a small company and we have been developing the most advanced lab algae photobioreactor control systems in the world. Our systems have gone into most of the biggest players research labs and all I can say here is that algae aquaculturing is a very difficult engineering problem and we are still years out.

The most powerful Law of Nature is Time. It is finite and we all will run out of it. Use this Law to your advantage, for it offers you infinite possibilities...

You should be careful with your words

Things like "the most advanced ... in the world".

You might want to add the qualifier "the most advanced PUBLICLY KNOWN ... in the world".

I guarantee your first sentence is misleading. I note you're referring to the 'control systems' and not the actual meat and spuds equipment, but neither is an absolute. Some of them circumvent the problems by avoiding entire processes that others spend their R&D on. There is tremendous research being done under the radar. And not just in the bio area.

Regarding the 'years out', that may be but only because there are more ducks to line up going the alternate routes. The tech is NOT the problem in any of these areas.

I speak from the perspective I see

I am fully aware of all commercially available lab systems out there and I also know that none of these systems have been established for automated directed evolution of the cells which is where we are going. We want to accelerate the same 7000 year directed evolution of corn and other vegetables for algae to be done in automated accelerated manner in such a way as to be done in a matter of several years.

The largest labs in the world working on the algae biofuels R&D are not satisfied with the current lab options due to inherent problems with the tech side of things that are really a bunch of little detail problems that never addressed certain needs and inherent problems in their designs.

Most labs currently have no ability to simulate outdoor growth systems in high throughput manner that reliably correlates and matches the data results to actual outdoor systems. We have achieved this on certain levels already and are expanding this capability. When I say lab control systems I mean precision solar simulators, temp, ph, DO, EC, Turbidity sensing and control, automated nutrient recipe delivery and PBR system along with all software. We designed the electronics hardware signal interface and data acquisition circuits and LED custom PCBs, embedded control hardware with TCP and USB interface and all embedded code, application and enterprise level code for scalable platforms. We also developed our own air and water cooled scalable LED control platforms with custom optical configurations for optimized light delivery and a range of operational software filters for simulating the light as seen by the algae. We have formatted our latest system for long term automated deployment targeted for 1 year untouched operation.

I don't know what you mean by "meat and spuds" but beyond the chips on the boards we designed there is only a few off the shelf items we have in our systems. We even designed our own custom formatted ph, DO, EC and Turbidity sensors. I think from a lab hardware technology perspective this is about as "meat and spuds" one can get.

When I look at the massive amount of cavalier bs TALK in the algae biofuels industry with promises that constantly fall short and I look at the tech implemented at the largest commercial algae producer companies like Earthrise and others I see huge gaps in the bio and the tech side for realizing mass fuel production from algae. While others talk, companies like Earthrise and others have operations ongoing with steady streams of commercial product.

Commercial algae farms are selling algae for $10-50K per ton into the food stuffs and vitamin supplement industry and are not very profitable. These commercial farms demonstrate where the real state of the art is at and I can tell you unequivocally that the there are problems with the tech and major gaps between growing algae and filling even a small percentage of tanks of fuel with algae biofuel.

From my perspective I would say we are more than a decade out IF it is ever even economically feasible/competitive. That is the real situation regardless of what is going on "under the radar". The problems are still the problems to solve regardless of who is working on the problems. Even if algae could simply be made to grow in a pool, bucket, pipe, plate or fabric that squirts out refined fuel there are significant challenges.

If you think the algae biofuels will be in any state of mass production and use within even 5 years I'd say you have fallen into the trap of those cavaliers in the industry that don't see the real challenges here. The under the radar work is not going to magically pop into existence and have an economically viable solution in the next several years. The challenges for wide scale implementation and adoption are too numerous for such a scenario to be realistic.

The most powerful Law of Nature is Time. It is finite and we all will run out of it. Use this Law to your advantage, for it offers you infinite possibilities...

Interesting to learn

But since I can't say more about certain things, I'll tell a story as an analogy.

When I began designing my solar system, I thought I was being so crafty because instead of trying to create the best PV system, I went a different way. I designed a concentrating thermal based system. The bottleneck of such was the efficiency and economics of current Stirling (external heat) engines. I had a better version, having refined a few industry missed principles. I chased that overall design for a while until one day an eyebrow changed things for me.

When I was explaining how the engine worked to a young teenager, he raised his eyebrow at one point as if to say, "Why?" It struck me as odd because having just had it explained to him, he should have understood. At that point, I wondered if there was another way.

Later, I stepped through it not taking anything for granted. When I got to that point, I realized that I could do that step differently and it would actually eliminate 3-4 other tricky problems. The result wouldn't hardly be recognized as 'an engine' but it would still work as such. Since then, it has blossomed to the point that it has simply eliminated many other issues as well. So while others still fight the materials game to build high pressure, high temperature seals and bearings and then place those in close proximity to cold stuff (without heat loss), I have none of those issues or limits.

What I'm saying is that you may be involved and aware of every 'commercially known' lab and those may be very good at chasing down the latest tech problems associated with 'the commercially accepted' process for growing algae and turning it into a fuel on large scale, you may not be aware of some small private group who realized a different process which fosters much more simplified algae growth for less cost/energy and then used their process to shortcut their way to the end fuel. Those process designs are what I meant by the meat and spuds - it's the pipe and light and other hardware configuration that I questioned, not the grade of the instruments or skill in monitoring it.

I just thought of another good analogy. I'm not telling it to drive a point home though. I just think it's very interesting and applicative. In 1896-1904 steam engines were the most powerful engine by weight. So Samuel Langley got the government and best engineers to help him catapult tons of steam engine powered aeroplanes into the Potomac. ...until a couple broke bike mechanics named the Wright Brothers applied a better internal combustion engine to a plane and got there first.

On a personal note, I have another small project I am looking to automate fairly soon. It's home aquaponics. For that, I will need to monitor temp, light, pH, humidity, orp, EC, ammonia, nitrites and nitrates. I would like to do this on a DIY type scale running from Arduino. Are you aware of OTS sensors for the last 4 measurements in stripped down, cheap versions?

Abstraction reveals the challenges

If one simply abstracts all issues to their fundamental quantities of mass, density, productivity, photo-efficiency, inputs and outputs as a mass energy balance the challenges can be seen as applicable to all potential solutions. Just dealing with all of this mass energy movement is a significant challenge regardless of what novel or natural configuration is implemented. These are the fundamental challenges to economic competitive viability inherent to all solutions here.

As far as aquaponics (and hydroponics) that is something I designed our systems for cross over application as a second phase. I have automated my own hydroponics in the past and learned key lessons about reliability for such environments which I have now addressed in our lab systems. I also developed the software architecture in such a way as to have all channels, signals, components, sub-systems, systems and platforms within an enterprise to be dynamically deployable/configurable/removable for integrators to pick from pre-built software/hardware plugins. Our automated ponics systems will have interconnectivity for remote monitoring on operators via smart phones or internet. Our plan is to offer everything from components to complete systems and everything in between.

As far as sensors: EC, ammonia, nitrites and nitrates
My company has EC and ammonia as well but its not cheap at this point because we don't have volume. You are going to have challenges with cross-talking between sensors. As far as low cost solutions if you solve the problems yourself at the circuit level then you can produce interface circuits relatively cheap but you need to understand the problem. I am working to capitalize on this so I will not give the solutions we developed but the information on solutions is out there from other sources.

In hydro you use TDS targets for nutrients which is based on EC but that's also because you know what you put in where aquaponics is making it. I have not addressed the aquaponics side at this point in R&D but I think the highest probability for success is probably in finding good relations between EC pH and Ammonia for estimating nitrate/ nitrite levels from empirical studies with nitrate sensors initially recorded manually then incorporated in software as cal curves/surfaces or lookup tables. Here is a nitrate sensor but I have never used this product and it still does not address multisensing platform issues:

If I were you I would do extensive experiments with your sensors first before any automation. You are going to find issues. That's where I think we have an edge because I learned these issues years ago with my hydroponics efforts and I invented all kinds of solutions over the years simplifying things down to mass producible products targeted for low cost implementation. This is not easy to do for low cost but eventually you will see what we have made penetrate these markets and you will realize why we did what we did and I believe it will likely take a center stage for the sensing system of choice for automation of all types of these measurements.

The most powerful Law of Nature is Time. It is finite and we all will run out of it. Use this Law to your advantage, for it offers you infinite possibilities...

Video works, link doesn't.

I'd guess they're doing some form of pyrolysis on the feedstock. The process would have to be continuous to justify maintaining the extremely high temperatures required.

Don't feed the pandas. Ever.