WASHINGTON, Jan. 16 (UPI) -- Raw algae can be converted into a crude oil that can be processed at existing petroleum refineries before distribution as a substitute for gasoline and other processed fuels, new research has found.
The innovative use of algae, including the common seaweed, for large-scale renewable fuel production takes the quest for economically feasible environmentally friendly fuel a few steps further, easing pressure on agricultural alternatives that are often criticized as a potential threat to global food resources.
Algae comprise from one cell to many cells, as in giant kelp, and are seen as a potential solution to global energy needs.
The U.S. Department of Energy and OriginOil Inc. of California plan to work together to develop the idea to a point where algae growers can be enabled to grow their businesses and enter the renewable crude market.
Brazil has been leading research into alternative sources for renewable fuel in South America but has faced criticism that some of the renewable fuels produced from feedstock and various grains threaten to undermine agriculture for food.
Algae biofuel has the potential to meet the world's growing energy demand, an OriginOil spokesman said. "Due to its high productivity, algae represents a sustainable pathway for helping to reduce capital and operating costs of algae production, due to its high productivity, sequestration of CO2, and broad co-product portfolio."
OriginOil says algae has the potential to yield greater volumes of biofuel than other biofuel sources. Algal biomass has been recognized as a promising alternative source of raw material for continuous renewable biofuel.
The company will launch an algae production workshop Jan. 30 at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and has begun a partnership with Idaho National Laboratory to support algae growers' entry into the oil market.
Both sides will work toward developing an integrated system for direct conversion of raw algae into a renewable crude oil.
"We believe this is a major breakthrough for OriginOil and a major step forward for the algae industry," OriginOil Chief Executive Officer Riggs Eckelberry said.
"We already lead the industry with our chemical-free, low-energy, continuous high-flow harvesting system," he added.
"From there it's a natural step to helping algae growers make a direct crude oil replacement right on site, giving them direct access to the existing world market for transportation fuels, including jet fuel. That's an instant upgrade from what is now a niche market, to the immediate 86 million-barrel-per-day global crude oil market."
OriginOil says its planned Biocrude System will integrate its own harvesting system with state-of-the-art biomass processing technology that is developed to convert raw algae into barrels of renewable crude oil.
The company said obtaining the renewal crude oil will be a much cleaner alternative to hydrocarbons. Renewable algae crude could also be blended with other biomass sources to improve their performance, OriginOil said.
"Algae is a high energy biomass and can function as a force multiplier to blend in other biomass waste such as from forestry and agriculture into a uniform renewable crude oil substitute," Deborah T. Newby, project manager at the Department of Energy Idaho National Laboratory said. "This may well support the U.S. military's strategic fuels diversification program."
INL has been researching sustainable energy and strategically important alternatives to conventional energy sources since 1949.