Los Alamos National LaboratoryBradbury Science Museum
Your Window into Los Alamos National Laboratory
Bradbury Science Museum

Algae to Biofuels

What if you could power your life using pond scum? Algae, plant-like aquatic microorganisms, produce oil similar to petroleum and can be grown almost anywhere, don’t need to be fed and actually remove pollution from the air.

  • algae

    Squeezing Power from Pond Scum

    Near industrial plants on undesirable land, scientists raise algae that suck up harmful exhaust and thrive in the non-drinkable wastewater.

  • algae

    Why Algae?

    Algae produce at least 32 times more oil than corn per acre annually—and use in fuel does not compete with the world's food demands. Unlike other biofuels, algae create enough energy to be used for jet fuel and long-haul trucks.

  • algae

    Economical and Environmentally Friendly

    To make algae competitive, researchers seek ideal algal strains that grow quickly, produce large amounts of oil, need less in food, CO₂ or water and withstand large variations in temperature and water quality.

  • algae

    Algae to Biofuels Cycle

    Algae's products are diverse—biogasoline, cosmetics, plastics, and food supplements, to name a few. Some species double their mass daily and half their body weight is energy-rich lipids.

  • algae

    Manipulating Efficient Growth

    To maximize hydrocarbon and lipid production, scientists must find the right balance between rapid growth (less oil) and slow growth (more expensive).

  • algae

    Better Harvesting Techniques

    Separating the algae from water, and then squeezing the oil out of each cell can be almost one-third of total costs.

Researching Algae

flask with algae
3:11

Turning Algae into Energy in New Mexico

Scientists found that algae produces hydrocarbons similar to gasoline that can be dropped into an existing refinery. Some species of algae grow outdoors using sunlight for energy—but the process is slow. Others are fed a sugar inside a fermenter—productive but costly. Scientists are combining growth methods and are genetically engineering algae to increase growth rates and lipid production.

Energy 101: Algae-to-Fuels

algae in water
2:34

Department of Energy video

Separating algae from water, and then squeezing the oil out of each cell can be almost one-third of total costs. Researchers create novel, efficient solutions, including the use of acoustic waves and genetically engineering algae to be magnetic, therefore removed via magnets. Perhaps soon algae may replace fossil fuels that pollute the environment, contribute greenhouse gases and are running out! Watch how oil is extracted from algae and refined into sustainable biofuels.