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.

July 23, 2019


  • Stacy Leigh Baker
  • (505) 664-0244
  • Email

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

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.

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 to Biofuels Cycle

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

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).

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.