The term “fossil fuels” comes from the fact that the oil in the ground is the result of compressed carbon life dating back millions of years. But a new biofuel breakthrough by researchers at the University of Michigan has turned wet algae into a viable oil substitute in under a minute. Is this the moment that algae goes mainstream?
Not quite. The process, developed by chem professor Phil Savage and doctoral student Julia Faeth, superheats algae located in a thin metal tube that is then placed in 1,100-degree F. In about a minute, the algae heats to over 550 degrees, turning about 65% of the sea plant into biocrude. Ba-zing, right?
Not quite. What makes this process so different is the use of wet algae versus dry algae. Many biofuel producers first dry the algae before converting it into biocrude, but the Savage method also breaks down proteins and carbohydrates, in edition to the existing fat of the algae, resulting in a better yield. Because the reaction time is just a minute, the process is also a lot cheaper. Currently, the U.S. Navy spends around $27 a gallon for experimental algae fuel…but the U.S. Military as a whole sees a lot of potential in green gasoline.
Right now many algae fuels are going for over $20 a gallon, a long ways away from being economically viable, but algae oil refineries are popping up all over the country. The Savage method could result in huge savings, though there are still other hurdles to overcome, including excess oxygen and nitrogen within the biocrude. But because algae oil could use the existing U.S. oil infrastructure, and be a straight replacement for oil-based petrol, it could offer a forever-sustainable fuel solution for America.
Could we be filling our gas tanks with algae within our lifetimes? Wouldn’t that be cool?
Source: University of Michigan