algae-oilWhile electric cars are becoming increasingly popular with those seeking an alternative to oil, liquid fuels and combustion engines are going to remain a dominant force for decades to come. One of the most promising alternatives to fossil fuels is oil produced from algae, and researchers have developed a new process that takes just minutes to turn pond scum into carbon-neutral fuel.

Scientists at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have created a continuous chemical process that turns wet algae into useful crude oil, the big difference being the use of wet, rather than dry algae. See, most algae-to-oil processes require energy-intensive drying of algae, before it can be converted into oil. Utah-based Genifuel has licensed the technology, and is in the process of building a pilot plant to create the algae oil en masse.

The entire process from algae to oil takes less than an hour, with water and phosphorus (which can be used to grow even more algae) being the main byproduct. From there, the algae oil can be further refined as either diesel, gasoline, or aviation fuel. While there are literally dozens of algae oil research operations just in America, the fuel remains incredibly expensive to produce and would require oil prices to skyrocket in order to be price competitive. This latest breakthrough could change all that.

By eliminating the drying process, as well as the complex process requiring industrial-grade solvents to extract oil from the algae, researchers have eliminated two of the costliest roadblocks to producing cost-effective algae. While algae fuel is for sale at a handful of locations around San Francisco, this breakthrough is big news for people waiting for a real alternative to oil that isn’t electric or hydrogen cars.

Will we all be filling up with algae soon?