Crude oil in 60 minutes

Chemical reactor developed that turns algae into crude oil in 60 minutes:

 

Chemical reactor developed that turns algae into crude oil in 60 minutes

Chemical reactor developed that turns algae into crude oil in 60 minutes

Although efforts are being made to cut down on our reliance on oil, such as more efficient cars and green energy production solutions, it seems very unlikely we’ll ever stop using it completely. At least, not before it runs out, anyway. So it’s reassuring to know that there may be an alternative in the works that allows us to produce our very own crude oil.

Engineers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have created a chemical reactor that takes in wet algae and outputs crude oil 60 minutes later. The only byproducts are clean water and a phosphorous-containing waste material that can be reused to grow more algae or converted into a burnable gas among other things.

The crude oil does require further refining as all oil does, but the researchers claim the end result is a usable fuel that replaces conventional aviation fuel, gasoline, or diesel.

One of the major roadblocks of fuel creation from algae is cost. Typically the algae needs to be dry, requires the use of solvents, and is only produced in batches, which is slow. This new method solves a lot of those problems. It works with wet algae, relies on heat and pressure inside the reactor, and is a continuous process so it can just keep producing 24/7.

The chemical reactor setup in their lab can process 1.5 liters of algae an hour, but it is very small and can easily be scaled. It operates at 350 degrees Celsius and uses water at a pressure of 3,000 PSI to create processes known as hydrothermal liquefaction and hydrothermal gasification. The reactor is expensive, but the costs are up front and therefore can be recouped long term from the oil and subsequent fuels it produces.

The researchers describe what they have created as a very high temperature pressure cooker that duplicates what the Earth does to produce oil, only much faster. Whether you believe the claims are true or not, it’s a solution that has already been licensed by Utah company Genifuel Corp. who is now working to roll it out on an industrial scale.

Synthetic gel communicates with itself

In a paper published in the January 8 print edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the research team demonstrates that a synthetic system can reconfigure itself through a combination of chemical communication and interaction with light.

This study demonstrates the ability of a synthetic material to actually 'talk to itself'

This study demonstrates the ability of a synthetic material to actually ‘talk to itself’

Anna Balazs, principal investigator of the study and professor of chemical and petroleum engineering in the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, has long studied the properties of the Belousov-Zhabotinsky (BZ) gel, a material first fabricated in the late 1990s and shown to pulsate in the absence of any external stimuli.

In a previous study, the team noticed that long pieces of gel attached to a surface by one end “bent” toward one another, almost as if they were trying to communicate by sending signals. This hint that “chatter” might be taking place led the team to detach the fixed ends of the gels and allow them to move freely.

Balazs and her team developed a 3D gel model to test the effects of the chemical signaling and light on the material. They found that when the gel pieces were moved far apart, they would automatically come back together, exhibiting autochemotaxis—the ability to both emit and sense a chemical, and move in response to that signal.

“This study demonstrates the ability of a synthetic material to actually ‘talk to itself’ and follow out a given action or command, similar to such biological species as amoeba and termites,” says Balazs.

“Imagine a Lego set that could by itself unsnap its parts and then put itself back together again in different shapes but also allow you to control those shapes through chemical reaction and light.”

“We find this system to be extremely exciting and important because it provides a unique opportunity to study autochemotaxis in synthetic systems,” says Olga Kuksenok, a member of the research team and research associate professor in the department of chemical engineering.

The National Science Foundation, Army Research Office, and Air Force Office of Scientific Research supported the research.