Scientists Turn Algae Into Crude Oil In Minutes

Scientists say they can speedily make crude oil artificially, a process that naturally takes millions of years.

Scientists at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, part of the Department of Energy, say they can turn algae into crude oil in minutes using a relatively simple process. The work, which has important implications for future biofuel projects, replaces the natural process, which takes millions of years.


Wet algae slurry is processed in a chemical reactor in a process that takes less than an hour, pouring out liquid crude oil at the end along with by-products that can be fed back into the algae-growing process. The crude oil produced can later be refined using traditional refining techniques and can be turned into regular gasoline or even more exotic fuels like aviation gas. The waste water from the process can also be processed to produce combustible gas.

Though algae has been processed into oil and fuels before, the main drawback is that the techniques have been time consuming and expensive. Whereas before, algae was dried and pre-processed with aggressive chemicals, the new process uses high pressure chambers and temperatures of about 350 Celsius, which is potentially much more economical. It’s so promising, a biofuel company called Genifuel Corp. has already licensed the tech to test out the process in a proper biofuel factory setting.

About the author

I'm covering the science/tech/generally-exciting-and-innovative beat for Fast Company. Follow me on Twitter, or Google+ and you'll hear tons of interesting stuff, I promise.