Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Biocrude: Helping the environment through algae

by Brandon, This post originally appeared at the Future Science Leaders blog.
Although we rely heavily on gasoline today, we won’t always be able to. People make gasoline from refining crude oil. The problem is that our crude oil reserves running out. Scientists have been looking into alternative sources of energy so that we’ll have something to use when we run out of crude oil. Algae may be just what we need.
Researchers at the University of Michigan have developed a revolutionary method to pressure-cook algae and produce biocrude, biological crude oil. The researchers’ method is far faster than previous methods.
Phil Savage and Julia Faeth study biocrude. In previous experiments, they have heated algae at temperatures of 570 degrees Fahrenheit for ten to ninety minutes. They found that biocrude production was more efficient if they heated the algae for short periods of time. Results from these previous experiments were not particularly promising, but they gave researchers ideas about what to try next.
Savage and Faeth experimented further and heated algae at a temperature of 1100 degrees Fahrenheit for one minute. Their results from this experiment were groundbreaking. 65% of the algae in this experiment became biocrude. What happened?
“My guess is that the reactions that produce biocrude are actually must faster than previously thought.”
— Savage
Heating the algae further may cause reactions that convert biocrude into other things.
Savage and Faeth have more research to do, but their results are promising. Algae might one day replace crude oil.
Savage and Faeth have turned to Mother Nature for ideas about what to do.

“We’re trying to mimic the process in nature that forms crude oil with marine organisms.”
— Phil Savage

 Savage and Faeth’s research reminds me a bit about Aiden Dwyer’s attempt to maximize the amount of electricity that people can gain from solar cells. Like Savage, Dwyer turned to nature for ideas in his research.
I wonder what else we have yet to learn from nature.

About this contributor: Brandon is a confused high school senior in Vancouver, BC. He enjoys investigating human behaviours, studying evolution, responding to current events, and debating.

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