Michigan researchers ‘pressure-cook’ algae to produce biocrude in just a minute

Algae are one of the most attractive organisms that can be used to produce biomass and biofuel. However, despite the fact that algae can thrive in a variety of environments including brackish water, salt water and waste water, the amount of biofuel produced from algae is minimal. The reason is that conventional ways to produce biofuel from algae take up a lot of time and the fuel thus produced is quite expensive than conventional fossil fuels. Researchers at University of Michigan have not found out a way to “pressure-cook” algae to produce biocrude in just a minute.

The breakthrough converts an unprecedented 65 percent of the green slime into biocrude, which can then be refined to produce usable liquid fuel. To make the one-minute biocrude from algae, the researchers fill a steel pipe connector with 1.5 milliliters of wet algae, cap it and then plunge it into 1100-degrees Fahrenheit sand. In just a minute the algae’s temperature grazes to around 550-degrees and is converted into biofuel.

The researchers also believe that the one minute process could boost the biocrude by keeping unwanted reactions at bay. Moreover, the shorter reaction time ensures that the reactors don’t have to be as large as well. Before biocrude can be fed into an existing refinery system to produce liquid fuel, it needs to get rid of extra oxygen and nitrogen. The research team is developing systems to better the method employed for this stage of biofuel production. While the research is hinting towards a biofuel powered world, the team isn’t really sure if the technology can really result in affordable fuel. They are however confident that with algae farms on an area the size of New Mexico, can definitely produce enough oil to match current U.S. petroleum consumption.

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