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Creation 37(3):55, July 2015

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Algae to oil

Algal ‘slurry’ turns to crude oil in minutes

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Scientists in the US have worked out how to convert algae into crude oil in less than 60 minutes. Looking much like pea soup, a mixture of green algae and water is subjected to a temperature of 350°C and pressure of 3,000 PSI, which breaks the algae down into oil and gas. The scientists learned that a mixture of up to 80 to 90% water made the best algal ‘slurry’ for the process.

Just like crude oil that comes out of wells, the resultant oil can be easily refined into aviation fuel, gasoline, diesel and other products, and the gas can be converted to natural gas, with multiple uses such as household heating and cooking, and powering cars.1

It has been widely believed for decades that ‘fossil fuel’ oil and gas took millions of years to form from algae and plants (and other buried organic material—see box), after being slowly trapped in rocks and subjected to the earth’s heat and pressure over eons.

However, we now know that the millions of years are unnecessary. This industrial process (which does not involve chemical reagents) shows that heat and pressure suffice to form oil in ultrashort time periods. And both heat and pressure are ‘naturally’ available when organic material is buried2 deep within the earth, which would have happened on a vast scale at the time of the Genesis Flood. The thousands of years since then are thus far more than necessary to generate the huge fossil fuel deposits of the present day.

Interestingly, a high proportion of water is needed in the process of turning algae into oil. The evidence suggests that some of our fossil gas and oil came from vast algal blooms that occurred in the waters of the year-long global Flood, caused by volcanic activity altering the chemical balance and temperature of the water. We know that algal blooms occur today during times of environmental stress. Huge quantities of algae would have been catastrophically buried within sedimentary deposits during the Flood—about 4,500 years ago.

Ironically, whenever evidence such as this shows conclusively that fossil fuels would not require vast ages, reports often feature phrases like, ‘Process does in minutes what nature takes millions of years to do’.

Is all crude oil from buried plant or algal material?

Courtesy of Pacific Northwest National Laboratorycrude-oil
Algal slurry
Courtesy of Pacific Northwest National Laboratoryslurry
Algal slurry and biocrude oil

Almost certainly not. Some oil deposits, especially those from Venezuela, contain high levels of vanadium, believed to be the result of its preferential accumulation in marine organisms, particularly shellfish.

Note that buried vegetation subjected to heat and pressure may first become coal, which can also form in short time periods. Coal can itself become oil if subjected to still higher temperatures and pressures. For example, the Bass Strait oil deposits in Australia bear the chemical signature of having been derived from the geographically nearby Gippsland brown coal deposits. It is believed that the oil is forming right now as the coal seams are thrust deeper into the earth.3

Also, there is evidence to suggest that some oil may form directly from methane gas from deep within the earth. Some oil is found in igneous rocks, where nothing seems to have been buried in sediment. Microbial action has been suggested as one likely agent in its formation.4

First posted on homepage: 20 March 2017
Re-posted on homepage: 18 August 2021

References and notes

  1. Rickey, T., Algae to crude oil: Million-year natural process takes minutes in the lab, pnnl.gov, 17 December 2013. Return to text.
  2. Thus preventing ongoing exposure to oxygen, which would result in decomposition, not oil formation. Return to text.
  3. Snelling, A.A., The recent origin of Bass Strait oil and gas, Creation 5(2):43–46, 1982; creation.com/bass-gas. Return to text.
  4. Wieland, C., Oil not always a ‘fossil fuel’, Creation 32(2):56, 2010; creation.com/oil-not-always-fossil. Return to text.

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