Algae Into Oil? PNNL Can Now Do It Cheaper And Better -- In An Hour


Rebus above for the research referenced below:
Elliott, Hart,  Schmidt, Neuenschwander, Rotness, Olarte,  Zacher, Albrecht, Hallen and Holladay,
"Process development for hydrothermal liquefaction of algae feedstocks in a continuous-flow reactor,
 
Algal Research, Sept. 29, 2013, DOI: 10.1016/j.algal.2013.08.005.

THE BREAKTHROUGH:

From wet smelly algae slurry to crude oil in less than an hour -- in a continously running process that not only is much cheaper than previous processes, it is cleaner and greener -- producing, besides the valuable fuels, pure water as a result:



     In the PNNL process, a slurry of wet algae is pumped into the front end of a chemical reactor. Once the system is up and running, out comes crude oil in less than an hour, along with water and a byproduct stream of material containing phosphorus that can be recycled to grow more algae.

     With additional conventional refining, the crude algae oil is converted into aviation fuel, gasoline or diesel fuel. And the waste water is processed further, yielding burnable gas and substances like potassium and nitrogen, which, along with the cleansed water, can also be recycled to grow more algae.


Read more at PNNL.gov


How they reduced costs:


  • several steps in one process
  • can run that process continuously instead of one batch at a time --- 1.5 litres an hour
  • can start with wet algae -- algae is 80 - 90% water, other systems have to remove that water first
  • doesn't add any more messy and/or biohazardous solvents (like hexane) to the mix -- a big green plus and also a moneysaver.  

The process uses (get this) hot water instead.  Imagine!  Hot water works as well as hexane!  What next, soap beings as good as anti-microbials?  Sugar being better for you than Nutra-sweet?  Creativity being better than entertainment?  Good thing that nothing will ever be better than the internet....  But I digress.

No cost savings on the initial hardware investment:

Basically, they use an industrial strength pressure cooker -- but the pressure of your 15 pounds-per-square-inch home pressure cooker is a measly .5% of the 3,000 psi needed for the process.  

The temperature is likewise beefy: while you might be able to get to 250 °F (121 °C) in your kitchen cooker, you would have to be able to acheive 662 °F (350 °C), says PNNL, to effectively mimic the Geologic process whereyby algae is converted to fossil fuel.

But the payoff more than balances....

  • The products of the process are:
  • Crude oil, which can be converted to aviation fuel, gasoline or diesel fuel. In the team's experiments, generally more than 50 percent of the algae's carbon is converted to energy in crude oil — sometimes as much as 70 percent.
  • Clean water, which can be re-used to grow more algae.
  • Fuel gas, which can be burned to make electricity or cleaned to make natural gas for vehicle fuel in the form of compressed natural gas.
  • Nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium — the key nutrients for growing algae.
Read more at PNNL.gov

....except, I guess, for the still-unaddressed consequences of continuing to use crude.

What I want to know (not enough to research it right this second) is: how much harder is it to mimic the abiotic process by which hydrocarbons arise?



Be seeing you.







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