The process brings the material under 3,000 pounds of pressure to break down the molecules, he said.
Quality of the Johnstown company's fuel is not the big issue, Behrens stressed.
"It isn't:'Can you do it'" he said. "It is:'Can you do it economically?' The process will work. Everybody's system works."
Walker said his company's system will be profitable because of the quality of the product and the simplicity of its raw material. Other systems have to add some of the materials already found in acid mine discharge-grown algae.
He believes the cavitation system's heat and pressure acts on the algae in the same way eons of sediment pressing down on algae and other materials for millions of years originally created the petroleum now being pumped from oil wells.
"Not all algae turned into oil," Walker said, explaining his conclusion that the unique mix of mine discharge-grown algae reproduces the ancient natural process in an infinitely shorter time period.
But the process will not, ultimately, be limited to mine-discharge algae, Walker stressed. Now that his company has stumbled upon the right ingredients, those conditions can be duplicated to produce crude oil from algae grown anywhere.
Walker expects the Johns-
town plant can be in commercial production within two years, without any outside investment. The small system currently operating can produce about 51/2 gallons of fuel an hour from 30 gallons of algae.
He estimates the cost at less than $30 for a 42-gallon barrel.
The small system can collect fuel in a tank behind the former planing mill building.
"We are going to fill that sucker, send it to the refinery and take our $100 a barrel," Walker said, explaining that the algae fuel has the properties of a light, sweet crude oil, easily refined into diesel fuel or heating oil.
Alternative fuel and petroleum experts contacted by The Tribune-Democrat said they were not prepared to comment directly on Walker's claim of producing crude oil from algae.
But all said they were interested in hearing more about the project.
"This is the first time I've heard of anything like this," said Robert Enick, vice chairman for research in the University of Pittsburgh department of chemical and petroleum engineering.
Like crude oil, traditional biofuels are composed of hydrocarbon molecules, Enick said. But the petroleum molecules are much longer chains of hydrogen and carbon atoms, he stressed.
"It is difficult for me to comment on the claims," said Daniel Ciolkosz, senior associate for bioenergy at Penn State Cooperative Extension.
"I'd have to see a lot more detail to understand exactly what they are doing.
"It is possible that algae grown in acidic conditions may produce oil with unique properties, but the biggest challenge in algal biodiesel production is usually not the properties of the oil but the cost of growing and harvesting the stuff. So far, field crops like canola or sunflower have been a much more economical source of oil."
(c)2012 The Tribune-Democrat (Johnstown, Pa.)
Visit The Tribune-Democrat (Johnstown, Pa.) at www.tribune-democrat.com
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