Researchers at Bandung Institute of Technology hypothesize that since the oil deposits in Indonesia originate from fossilized microscopic algae, the process can be replicated under laboratory conditions. With the currently employed method, scientists have managed to get 3 grams of oil from 1 liter of algae culture.
Petroleum is a fossil fuel derived from ancient fossilized organic materials, such as zooplankton and algae. Vast quantities of these remains settled to sea or lake bottoms, mixing with sediments and being buried under anoxic conditions. As further layers settled to the sea or lake bed, intense heat and pressure built up in the lower regions. This process caused the organic matter to change, first into a waxy material known as kerogen, which is found in various oil shales around the world, and then with more heat into liquid and gaseous hydrocarbons via a process known as catagenesis. Formation of petroleum occurs from hydrocarbon pyrolysis in a variety of mainly endothermic reactions at high temperature and/or pressure.
Dr. Zeily Nurachman from Bandung Institute of Technology is currently researching the production of biofuels from Thalassiosira sp. microalgae cultures. Since 2009 he and his team from the Division of Biochemistry, Analytical Chemistry, Organic Chemistry Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences (FMIPA) have tried to replicate the same process that happened long time ago and extract biofuel from Thalassiosira sp cultures.
Microalgae Thalassiosira sp. cultures were cultivated in a media. For that purpose researchers used three types of sea water of different chemical composition. Seawater is rich in phosphorus, nitrogen, silicon and urea (carbamide), and is therefore suitable to grow Thalassiosira sp. Microalgae grows at a pH range of 8.0 to 8.8. One liter of culture can produce 3 grams of biofuel.
Biofuel produced form microalgae Thalassiosira sp. does not produce exhaust gases like fossil fuels do, and the algae itself is available in large quantities in the Indonesian seas. It is worth to note that microalgae can be grown relatively faster than the higher plants.
In addition to producing oil, microalgae Thalassiosira sp. also produces pigments that are used in food industry and for many other purposes.
“If Indonesia would have 50,000 scientists researching algae, then Indonesia will take over the world”, said Zeily Nurachman.