Renewable fuel from algae

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Farm Forum

Scientists and engineers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) have created a process that produces biocrude oil minutes after they pour in a slurry of green algae.

The continuous process uses heat and pressure to chemically and physically change the algae to biocrude, mimicking the way Earth made crude oil millions of years ago. The biocrude can then be turned into aviation fuel, gasoline and diesel using conventional refining technology.

PNNL teamed with Utah-based Genifuel Corporation to ready this technology for industry-their collaborative research led to two joint patents. With the new designs, Genifuel built a pilot plant for Reliance Industries Ltd. in Colorado, where the company plans to test the technology before producing renewable biofuel on a larger scale.

Unlike traditional extractions methods, which separate lipids out of algae to make biodiesel, PNNL’s process converts whole algae into biocrude, fuel gas and usable byproducts. This doubles the yield of biofuel from algae and cuts the cost of production by 86 percent.

The process can be applied to other forms of wet materials as well, such as sludge from wastewater, dairy farms or food processing, increasing the potential impact of this technology. More companies have approached Genifuel about using PNNL’s process.

The team recognized for transferring this process includes: PNNL’s Doug Elliott, Dan Anderson, Todd Hart, Andy Schmidt and Eric C. Lund; and James Oyler, president of Genifuel Corporation. The Department of Energy’s Bioenergy Technology Office provided funding to develop the algae-to-biocrude process.