In Washington, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory scientists have developed a model that predicts outcomes from the algae hydrothermal liquefaction process in a way that mirrors commercial reality much more closely than previous analyses. They found that algae with higher lipid content is key to reducing costs, and that two factors—algae composition and capital investment—are the biggest drivers of economic uncertainties about the process.
Their significant strides in transforming algae to biocrude using HTL is much closer to how the algae conversion process would take place in a commercial setting.
While similar studies on algae HTL yields have been done, they were based on lab benchtop experiments, and those configurations are different from a commercial-scale plant.
A unique and experimental continuous flow HTL system at PNNL offers a setup that is much closer to how the process would take place in a commercial setting. The HTL reactor subjects the algae to high heat and pressure, which produces biocrude, along with liquid, gas, and solid byproducts. The biocrude can then be refined further into transportation fuel.