Researchers at the University of Michigan have been experimenting with cooking green marine micro-algae and found that one minute is all it took to get 65% of their source material transformed into biocrude. They also used a wet algae, rather than having to dry it in the manner that is used in the more conventional process.
Their wet algae sample was placed in a steel tube and then inserted into extremely hot sand for one minute. After this very brief placement, the algae’s temperature was about 550 degrees Fahrenheit. Before using this sort of flash cooking method, the researchers were using cooking times of ten minutes or more. The benefit of having to cook the source material for only one minute is obvious for saving time, but doing so seemed contradictory to the previous thinking. The shorter cooking temperature might actually be more in sync with the algae’s potential to be transformed into bio-oil, because it produces fewer unnecessary chemical reactions.
Another potential benefit is that smaller bio-reactors could be all that is required, which means lower construction costs.
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While these kinds of results are very impressive, they currently exist in lab conditions, not in large-scale, viable commercial facilities. So, though an area the size of New Mexico dedicated to producing algae for bio-oil is a tantalizing notion because of the potential for replacing petroleum, there are still many hurdles to clear and kinks to work out. One day, it might be possible to create huge volumes of plant-based oils for vehicle fuel. Anyone who follows energy issues knows if that should come to any fruition it would be helpful to the domestic economy and perhaps even international relations.
If the Pentagon is the number one consumer of energy in the world, offsetting the consumption of foreign oil with home-grown algal oil would be a great boon.
Image Credit: JanB46, Wiki Commons