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'Pressure-cooked' algae yields oil

  |   Oct. 31, 2012 at 6:42 PM
ANN ARBOR, Mich., Oct. 31 (UPI) -- U.S. researchers say they can do in minutes what Mother Nature needed millions of years to accomplish: turn algae into a source of crude oil.

Scientists at the University of Michigan report they can "pressure-cook" algae for as little as a minute and transform an unprecedented 65 percent of the green slime into biocrude.

"We're trying to mimic the process in nature that forms crude oil with marine organisms," chemical engineering Profess Phil Savage said in a university release Wednesday.

Savage and doctoral student Julia Faeth filled a steel pipe with wet algae, capped it and plunged it into 1,100-degree Fahrenheit sand.

The algae's temperature reached 550 degree before the team pulled the pipe back out.

Current commercial makers of algae-based fuel first dry the algae and then extract the natural oil, but at more than $20 per gallon it is a long way from being available at gas station pumps.

"Companies know that that approach is not economical, so they are looking at approaches for using wet algae, as are we," Savage said.

The biocrude created in the "pressure cooker" contained about 90 percent of the energy in the original algae, he said.

"That result is near the upper bound of what is possible."

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