Crude oil, from which all fossil fuels are made, is a dwindling resource.
There will come a point, some time in the future, where the expense of extracting it from deep under the ground becomes too great for the return on investment.
While one solution is to wean ourselves off fossil fuels entirely, another is to artificially create them–and biofuel made from algae is one solution. And scientists have proven that theoretically, it’s easy to create.
By putting green microalgae under intense pressure and heat–replicating the pressure and heat which has created crude oil over millions of years–researchers at the University of Michigan created biocrude oil in only 60 seconds.
According to Wired, the algae was “pressure cooked” in sand at up to 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit for around 60 seconds, after which 65 percent had been converted into oil.
The speed of the transformation is impressive–as recently as two years ago, a similar process took just under an hour.
Naturally though, there’s a catch.
While green microalgae is abundant throughout the planet, the researchers used just 1.5 mililiters of the algae–and don’t actually know why the process took place so quickly.
The minute time frame could also be a sweet spot, with less time not translating into a useful quantity of biocrude, and any more time causing the algae to decompose into an unusable substance. Hitting such a sweet spot may be a little more difficult with larger–usable–quantities.
The other issue is energy.
While heating up 1.5 mililiters uses only a comparatively small amount of energy, a similar process for full-scale biocrude production would require huge amounts of energy. Huge amounts of algae too–enough to cover the state of New Mexico, to meet U.S. demand for oil.
So for the time being at least, it doesn’t look like we’ll be replacing Mother Nature’s fossil fuels with an algae equivalent.
This article originally appeared at Green Car Reports.