Algae, cyanobacteria and aquatic plants for production of biofuels



Use of algae for production of advanced biofuels - presentation from EBTP SPM6 , October 2014

Cultivation of algae as advanced biofuel feedstocks

Conversion of algae to biofuels, including algal biorefineries

Algal biomass associations in Europe and US

European projects on algae production for biofuels and other bioproducts

Commercial scale demonstrations of algae for biofuels production

Algal Biofuels R&D and demonstration in Europe and Globally

Other microorganisms and aquatic plants being investigated as biofuels feedstocks


"Algae and aquatic biomass has the potential to provide a new range of "third generation" biofuels, including jet fuels. Their high oil and biomass yields, widespread availability, absent (or very reduced) competition with agricultural land, high quality and versatility of the by-products, their efficient use as a mean to capture CO2 and their suitability for wastewater treatments and other industrial plants make algae and aquatic biomass one of the most promising and attractive renewable sources for a fully sustainable and low-carbon economy portfolio." (Source: European Algae Biomass Association - EABA).

Photomicrograph of Botryococcus species with oil droplets

Photomicrograph of Botryococcus species, with oil droplets being released.

Use of algae for production of advanced biofuels

The use of algae for the production of advanced biofuels presented by Dominik Behrendt, FZ Jülich, Germany, at EBTP SPM6, October 2014 focuses on the Aufwind Project on biojet fuels from algae.

The AUFWIND project, Germany, was launched in 2013 and involves twelve partners from research and industry, who are developing microalgae as a basis for the production of biokerosene. Key questions addressed are the economic and ecological feasibility of the process. The Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection (BMELV) is funding the project with € 5.75 million via its project management organization FNR (Fachagentur Nachwachsende Rohstoffe). Total funding for the project amounts to some € 7.4 million.

Biojet fuel production from algae


Cultivation of algae as advanced biofuel feedstocks

Algae have the potential to produce considerably greater amounts of biomass and lipids per hectare than terrestial biomass, and can be cultivated on marginal lands, so do not compete with food or other crops. Algae can be cultivated photosynthetically using sunlight for energy and CO2 as a carbon source. They may be grown in Shallow lagoons or raceway ponds on marginal land (e.g. Sapphire Energy, Aurora BioFuels, Live fuels) or closed ponds (e.g. Green Star). Green Star also produces a micronutrient formula to greatly increase the rate of algal growth.

A number of closed photobioreactors are being investigated, including: Horizontal tubes (e.g. AlgaeLink NV), Vertical (e.g. BioFuel Systems SL), Thin film, Open/Closed systems (e.g.Parabel, Cellana). See also Subitec, Germany.

Productivity is higher in the controlled, contained environment of a photobioreactor, but capex and opex are also both substantially higher than for open systems. Significant investment in research is required before high levels of productivity can be guaranteed on a commercial scale.

Algae to biofuels plants may be developed on land adjacent to power stations, for converting the carbon dioxide from exhausts into fuel.

Conversion of algae to biofuels

Algae may be used to produce biofuels in several ways:

Following extraction, algal oils may be further refined (e.g. by hydrocracking and hydrogenation) to produce gasoline or jet fuels.

Algal Biorefineries

In addition to producing oils, algae are rich sources of vitamins, protein and carbohydrates. The following steps have been identified for development of microalgae biorefineries.

  • Development of mild and efficient cell disruption, extraction and fractionation technologies
  • Effective technologies for separation of carbohydrates, proteins and lipids
  • Lipid /oil refining technologies
  • Improvement of energy consumption and environmental performance, decrease of capital costs
  • Integrate knowledge & facilities for oil, food and fine chemical industry
  • Biomass provision (quantity and quality)

Source: Wageningen University, Netherlands


EABA - European Algae Biomass Association aims to act as a catalyst for fostering synergies among scientists, industrialists and decision makers in order to promote the development of research, technology and industrial capacities in the field of algae.

Algal Biomass Association (US) - promotes the development of viable commercial markets for renewable and sustainable commodities derived from algae.

European Projects on Algae Production and Algal Biofuels

FUEL4ME, FUture European League 4 Microalgal Energy

FUEL4ME is a 4-year project funded by the EU, which is aiming to develop a sustainable, scalable process for biofuels from microalgae and to valorize the by-products by 2017. The specific aims are:

1. To develop a continuous one-step process in which the lipid productivity in microalgae cultures is maximized and the lipid profile is optimized for the biofuel production.

2. To translate the developed one-step process to outdoor, thereby achieving a robust and reliable production process with short downtime, continuous year round lipid production under different climates and an oil production of constant quality.

3. To develop and integrate an innovative and continuous downstream process for conversion of microalgae into biofuels with consistent volume and quality, resulting into a technically feasible and sustainable process chain.

4. To demonstrate the capability of the optimised process at a pilot scale under representative industrial conditions in a pilot facility in Spain.

5. To assess the environmental, social and economic sustainability of the continuous production and conversion process developed by Fuel4me consortium.

DEMA - Direct Ethanol from MicroAlgae

The DEMA project runs from 01.12.2012 to 31.05.2017. The Consortium, coodinated by University of Limerick, Ireland, will develop, demonstrate and licence a complete economically competitive technology for the direct production of bioethanol from microalgae with low-cost scalable photobioreactors by 2016. Initial proof-of-concept results show via Life Cycle Assessments (LCA) and economic balance that it is feasible to use microalgae to produce bioethanol for less than 0.40 per litre. The catalytic conversion of solar energy, H2O and CO2 into ethanol will be carried out by a metabolically engineered strain of the cyanobacterium, Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803.

FP7 Algae Cluster - BIOFAT, ALL Gas, and InteSusAl

Following the 2010 FP7 call on demonstration at industrial scale of algae and its subsequent use in biofuel production, a total EC contribution of €20.5 M was announced in support of three projects - BIOFAT, ALL Gas, and InteSusAl - which form the FP7 Algae Cluster.

The BIOFAT demonstration project aims to integrate the entire value chain in the production of ethanol and biodiesel. The process begins with strain selection and proceeds to biological optimization of the culture media, monitored algae cultivation, low-energy harvesting and technology integration. The project will be implemented in two phases: 1) Process optimization in two pilot scale facilities, each of 0.5 ha size, located in Italy and Portugal; and 2) Economical modeling and scale-up to a 10-hectare demo facility.

The raw material wil be industrial CO2 derived from fermentation. Production will be based on low-energy consuming photobioreactors. Algal oils will be transformed into FAME biodiesel and ethanol through fermentation. The project will also demonstrate the algorefinery concept with production of added value products in addition to biofuel.

BIOFAT is coordinated by A4F-AlgaFuel (Portugal). Partners include: Abengoa Bioenergia Nuevas Tecnologias (ABNT), University of Florence, Ben-Gurion University (Israel), Fotosintetica & Microbiologica (Italy), Evodos (Neherlands), AlgoSource Technologies (France), IN SRL (Italy) and Hart Energy (Belgium).

The ALL Gas project (Industrial scale Demonstration of Sustainable Algae Culture for Biofuels Production) will use wastewater, and will introduce a patented ' Light Enhancement Factor (LEF)', to increase the biomass yield of raceway ponds. The residual algae will be digested with wastewater solids to produce biogas, which will be purified and used as fuel for at least 200 vehicles. Additional CO2 will be generated via thermal conversion of agricultural residues and digestate from algal residues.

InteSusAl (Demonstration of Integrated & Sustainable enclosed raceway and photobioreactor microalgae cultivation with biodiesel production and validation) aims to cultivate 1,500 dry tonnes from 10 ha over 18 months, which will be used to produce 580 tonnes of FAME biodiesel. Glycerine, will be used to enhance alagal growth rates. The production site will be developed near the site of the existing E-BIO biodiesel production plant.

INTERREG IVB EnAlgae Project

EnAlgae brings together 19 partners and 14 observers across seven EU Member States. The project is developing sustainable technologies for algal biomass production, bioenergy and greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation, taking them from pilot facilities through to market-place products and services. By developing and sharing nine pilot-scale facilities across Europe, cost and access barriers can be overcome. The facilities will also give plant operators the ability to experience the full range of physical parameters (ranging from rural countryside to industrialised areas) that are present within the region.

See EnAlgae interactive Map of Algae Initiatives in North West Europe.

MED-ALGAE Production of biodiesel from Algae in selected Mediterranean Countries

The ~2.0 million Euro MED-ALGAE project "Production of biodiesel from Algae in selected Mediterranean Countries", started in 2014 and runs for 36 months. The methodology includes all stages in the production of biodiesel from microalgae: sampling of seawater or freshwater, the selection of microalgae, species identification, cultivation of microalgae, harvesting and extraction of biodiesel and determination of properties of biodiesel produced in accordance with Standard EN14214 and its testing. Five pilots will be established in each participating country: Cyprus, Italy, Malta, Lebanon and Egypt. The project is implemented under the ENPI CBC Mediterranean Sea Basin Programme, and financed (~90%) by the European Union through the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument.


ALGAEBIOGAS (algal treatment of biogas digestate with significant economic and environmental benefits for biogas plants operators) is focused to market introduction of algal-bacterial treatment of biogas digestate and feedstock production, an innovative technology which has significant economic and environmental benefits to biogas operators. The project is co-founded by the Eco-innovation Initiative of the European Union.


The project PHOTOFUEL (Biocatalytic Solar Fuels for sustainable mobility in Europe) will develop a next generation technology for the sustainable production of alternative, liquid transportation fuels. The challenge is to advance the base technology of microalgae cultivation in closed bioreactors by enabling phototrophic algae or cyanobacterial microorganisms to produce alkanes and alcohols, which are excreted to the culture broth for direct separation without cell harvesting. This thereby turns the microbial cells into self-reproducing biocatalysts allowing the process to directly convert solar energy, water and CO2 into engine-ready fuel instead of being used to form biomass.


BioAlgaeSorb - focuses on enabling European SMEs to remediate wastes, reduce Green House Gas emissions and produce biofuels via microalgae cultivation.


The FP7 project BioWALK4Biofuels aims to develop an innovative system for the treatment of biowaste and use of GHG emissions to produce biofuels, where macroalgae is used as a catalyser.


D-Factory: In February 2014, the University of Greenwich, UK, announced it is leading a 4-year €10 million project supported by EC FP7 to develop the microalga Dunaliella as a sustainable raw material that captures carbon dioxide and can grow in some of the world’s harshest environments. The project will build a biorefinery called the 'D-Factory'. The 13 D-Factory partners include:

Universities and research institutes: University of Greenwich, UK; National Technical University of Athens, Greece; Institute for Energy and Environmental Research Heidelberg, Germany; Marine Biological Association, UK.

Small and medium enterprises (SMEs): A4F AlgaFuel S.A., Portugal; Nature Beta Technologies, Israel; SPTechnical Research Institute of Sweden; Dynamic Extractions, UK; NateCO2, Germany; Instituto de Biologia Experimental e Tecnologica, Portugal; Evodos, Netherlands; Hafren Investments, UK; IN, Italy.


GIAVAP (Genetic Improvement of Algae for Value Added Product) is a large scale integrating project involving twelve partners from five European and one associated country. The consortium will adapt genetic engineering techniques to various algal strains of economic interest focusing on carotenoid and PUFA production and the overexpression of peptides of commercial value. In parallel the project will develop cultivation technologies, harvesting and extraction methods using model algae strains and suitable improved strains. Techniques developed could potentially also have applications in the energy field.


PHOTO.COMM - includes close collaboration with three European companies, AlgaFuel, Novagreen and Algae Biotech, who will test strains under full production conditions in state-of-the-art photobioreactors. The aim is the development of novel, carbon-neutral production platforms and the ultimate establishment of state of the art photobioreactor technology in Denmark. The project will fund a consortium of 9 groups and provide trans-European training for a network of PhD students.


The AQUAFUELs project, supported under FP7, started in January 2010. AquaFUELS investigated the state of the art on research, technological development and demonstration activities regarding the exploitation of various algal and other suitable non-food aquatic biomasses for 2nd generation biofuels production.


BISIGODOS (High value-added chemicals and bioresins from algae biorefineries produced from CO2 provided by industrial emissions) aims to address the production of valuable algae derived chemicals, amino acids and high added-value bio-resins starting from algae biomass fed directly with CO2 from industrial emissions (cement, steel factory, thermal power plants, etc.) as a raw material that is cost-effective and renewable. The process is assisted by solar radiation, nutrients and sea water microalgae. This approach is based on the technology developed by the Partner Biofuel Systems (BFS) to produce bio-oil.

Other Projects

Other European projects include SUNBIOPATH towards a better sunlight to biomass conversion efficiency in microalgae (FP7 245070), CO2ALGAEFIX (CO2 capture and bio-fixation through microalgal culture), MIRACLES (Multi-product Integrated bioRefinery of Algae: from Carbon dioxide and Light Energy to high-value Specialties), PUFA-Chain (The Value Chain from Microalgae to PUFA) and SPLASH (Sustainable PoLymers from Algae Sugars and Hydrocarbons).

Commercial-scale demonstrations of algae for biofuels production

Sapphire Energy Green "Crude Farm"

Sapphire Energy is operating the most advanced, algae crude oil production facility in the world. The company’s Green Crude Farm is the world’s first commercial demonstration scale algae-to-energy site, integrating the entire value chain of algae-based crude oil production, from cultivation, to harvest, to extraction of ready-to-refine Green Crude. Sapphire Energy’s Green Crude Farm features 100 acres of cultivation ponds and all the necessary mechanical and processing equipment needed to harvest and extract algae and recycle water. At full capacity the facility will be 300 acres. It is in continuous operation of all unit processes since 2012 and producing 5,000 – 10,000 barrels of green crude per day.

Sapphire Technology Algaeus - first hybrid to cross country using a belnd of algae-based renewable gasoline

© Copyright Sapphire Energy
Above is the world’s first plug-in hybrid vehicle to cross the US on fuel containing a blend of algae-based renewable gasoline. Sapphire Energy has constructed a 300-acre integrated algae-to-biofuel demonstration facility, (Green Crude Farm) in Luna County. The First Phase became operational in August 2012, and the facility is now on schedule to reach commercial-scale production by 2018.

Muradel "algae-crude" demonstration, Australia

In November 2014, Muradel launched a $10.7m 30000 litre/annum plant to demonstrate its Green2Black™ (algae to crude oil) technology at industrial scale. This is the first step towards an 80 million liter commercial plant. Muradel uses an energy-efficient subcritical water reactor to rapidly convert algae to crude oil that is "functionally equivalent" to fossil crude.

Solazyme demonstration of commercial production of biofuels and biochemicals using heterotrophic algae

Solazyme has used molecular biology and chemical engineering to develop proprietary microalgae to convert sugars into fuels and other products. The algae are heterotrophic, meaning they grow in the dark (in fermenters) using the sugar as a food source. Using standard industrial fermentation equipment, Solazyme is able to efficiently scale and accelerate microalgae's natural oil production time to just a few days and at commercial levels. The company is currently focused on production of high margin ingredients, rather than high volume fuels [Source: Solazyme, November 2014].

In May 2014, production started at the Solazyme Bunge Renewable Oils plant. Solazyme is now manufacturing products at three large scale facilities, including our 2,000 MT/year integrated facility in Peoria, the 20,000 MT/year Iowa facilities in Clinton/Galva and the 100,000 MT/year facility in Brazil.

In April 2012, Solazyme announced a joint venture with Bunge (Solazyme Bunge Produtos Renovaveis Ltda.) to develop a commercial-scale (100,000 t.p.a.) oil production facility in Brazil, using Solazymes technology to convert sugar (from cane) to 'tailored oils'. In January 2013, Solazyme Bunge Renewable Oils received approval for a loan of $120 million from the Brazilian Development Bank.

Solazyme Bunge Renewable Oils broke ground in June 2012 and was scheduled to be operational in the fourth quarter of 2013. It will service the renewable chemical and fuel industries within the Brazilian marketplace and will initially target 100,000 metric tons per year of renewable oil production. In November 2012, Solazyme and Bunge announced in a framework agreement that they intend to expand production capacity from 100,000 metric tons to 300,000 metric tons globally by 2016, and that the portfolio of oils will broaden to include a range of healthy and nutritious edible food oils for sale in Brazil [Source: Solazyme website].

Solazyme has partnerships with Chevron, and has a contract to provide 450000 gallons of algal biofuels for the US Navy trials. Solazyme microalgae produce linear fatty acids and esters that can be readily be converted into fuels and other added value bioproducts. Solazyme technology has been deployed successfully at commercial manufacturing scale. The company has received a $21.8m grant from the DoE for a demonstration plant. Soladiesel™ has exceeded the requirements of ASTM D6751 for jet fuel, EN 14214, D-975 and Military Specifications. In 2012 Solazyme tested its fuel with VW TDI Clean Diesel technology.

Cellana and Neste Oil agreement for commercial-scale algae production

In June 2013, Cellana, a leading developer of algae-based feedstocks for biofuels, animal feed, and Omega-3 nutritional oils, announced has entered into a multi-year off-take agreement with Neste Oil for commercial-scale quantities of Cellana’s ReNew™ Fuel algae oil feedstocks for biofuel applications. Since 2009, Cellana has operated its Kona Demonstration Facility, a 6-acre, state-of-the-art production and research facility in Hawaii. To date, more than 20 metric tons of whole algae (dry weight) have been produced using Cellana’s process with highly diverse strains, making it one of the most flexible, thoroughly tested, and validated outdoor algae production technologies in the world.

Algae.Tec Ltd production facility in Australia

Algae.Tec Ltd, Australia, has signed agreements with in Australia (Macquarie Generation) and India (Reliance) to provide facilities to convert carbon dioxide from energy plants to biofuels. In May 2015, Algae.Tec shipped the first photobioreacor to Reliance.

In August 2012, Algae.Tec opened its Shoalhaven production facility in Bomaderry, NSW - consisting of a series of photobioreactors, which will be fed with carbon dioxide from a neighbouring ethanol plant operated by the Manildra Group.

In September 2012 Algae.Tec Ltd. signed a collaboration agreement with Lufthansa for an industrial-scale algae to aviation biofuels production facility in Europe.

BioProcess Algae commercial scale algae platform in US

BioProcess Algae LLC has constructed four commercial scale Grower Harvester™ platforms in Iowa. The facility will use the carbon dioxide from Green Plains’ ethanol plant to produce high quality algal feedstocks. In April 2013, BioProcess Algae received $6.4m funding from US DOE to further develop its platform to produce military biofuels, with a focus on faster lipid production and conversion of lipids to various hydrocarbons.

Algenol Direct to Ethanol® process

Algenol recently won the 2014 Global Leadership in Biofuels award from PLATTS. Algenol’s first commercial facility will include phased deployments of photobioreactors on an initial site of up to 2,000 acres of photobioreactors, with additional acreage available for future scale-up, along with upstream and downstream processing equipment and related infrastructure. It will be located on marginal land with access to salt water, an industrial source of CO2 and distribution infrastructure. Algenol uses fully closed and sealed photobioreactors for ethanol production directly from enhanced algae. Waste algae are converted into diesel, jet fuel and gasoline using hydrothermal liquefaction and other conversion technologies.

Joule Demonstration Plant

Joule has pioneered a CO2-to-fuel production  platform,  effectively  reversing combustion through the use of solar energy. The company’s platform applies engineered catalysts   to   continuously convert waste CO2 directly into renewable fuels such as ethanol or hydrocarbons for diesel, jet fuel and gasoline. At full-scale commercialization Joule is targeting productivity of up to 25,000 gallons of ethanol/acre/year and 15,000 gallons diesel/acre/year.

Algal Biofuels R&D and demonstration in Europe and Globally

The EnAlgae project has produced an interactive Map of Algae Initiatives in North West Europe. Currently, the map includes links to over 260 commercial and scientific activities.

Algae-based biofuels form one of the value chains proposed in the European Bioenergy Industrial Initiative (EIBI)

Companies and universities involved in algal biofuels R&D&D are listed on the EABA website.

Solazyme abandons algal biofuels, refocuses on food: Solazyme, a Californian algae-based bio-product producer, has abandoned its biofuels business and will be focusing its algae oil production on food and personal care industries. Renamed TerraVia, the company lists the current extremely low oil prices, changing sentiment around the benefits of biofuels, and uncertain US government policies as reasons behind the business restructuring.

In 2014, Schott financed a Helix™ photobioreactor built by Heliae and installed at Arizona State University DOE-funded algae testbed facility. In April 2015, Schott announced that its new oval glass tubes for photobioreactors (PBRs) increased maximum dry biomass output per day by more than 22 per cent.

Algenol Biofuels has developed a platform for converting CO2 to ethanol at lower cost and higher efficiency (one tonne of CO2 to 144 gallons of fuel / 8,000 gallons per acre per year). The technology, using patented photobioreactors and downstream technology, can be used to produce ethanol, gasoline, diesel or jet fuel. Algenol Technology is being demonstrated in India where Reliance Industries has commenced operations near the Jamnagar Refinery in India. In April 2015, Algenol was part of a US trade mission to China.

Algae Systems LLC and IHI Corp, Japan have demonstrated an integrated process to treat wastewater and produce algae, which is dewatered, converted to bio-oil, and used to produce drop-in biofuel (biojet, biodiesel and biogasoline). Further development of the novel hydrothermal liquefaction process is being funded by a £3.2m grant from the US DoE to a consortium coordinated by Algae Systems (led by SRI International). The algae production technology uses off-shore floating membrane photobioreactors.

Genifuel Corp in Utah is also developing a process for rapidly converting algal slurry into bio-crude, and announced plans for a pilot plant in December 2013.

The University of Greenwich is part of a UK initiative led by Durham University on biofuels production from macroalgae via conversion of wet seaweed to gas. The MacroBioCrude project, supported by a £1.6m grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, will establish an integrated supply and processing pipeline for the sustainable manufacture of liquid hydrocarbon fuels from seaweed. The consortium includes 6 UK universities: Greenwich, Durham, Aberystwyth, Swansea, Harper Adams, and Highlands and Islands, and 6 industrial partners: Johnson Matthey Catalysts, Johnson Matthey Davy Technologies, Silage Solutions Ltd, Shell, and the Centre for Process Innovation (CPI).

In August 2013, Aurora Algae announced it had constructed a demonstration algae cultivation site in Western Australia.

In May 2013, a new $19m demonstration algae biorefinery on Alberta Canada was announced. The Algal Carbon Conversion Pilot Project will use carbon dioxide from oil sands facilities and is a partnership between the National Research Council, Canadian Natural Resources Limited and Pond Biofuels

In the US, ATP3 - a sustainable network of regional test beds - is funded through a $15 million grant from the US Department of Energy. Funding helps support a range of outdoor algae cultivation systems in Arizona, Hawaii, California, Ohio and Georgia, including those for production of advanced biofuels. Partners work both independently and in cooperation with the wider ATP3 network. The PPP is coordinated by Arizona State University - see AzCATI Arizona Centre for Algae Technology and Innovation.

In July 2012, Subitec, Germany, announced an investment of €4.5m for manufacturer of algae photobioreactors.

See Algae Technology (SAT), Austria is to construct a $9.8m biofuels plant using seaweed (macroalgae) for the Brazilian state of Pernambuco (pending approval). The plant will produce up to 1.2m litres of biofuels a year, using carbon dioxide from an adjacent sugar cane to ethanol plant.

In 2011, Abengoa started construction work at the ECOALGA project plant in Cartagena. The 5000m2 experimental plant will be supplied with CO2 generated by the neighbouring bioethanol facility. The project will evaluate strains of microalgae and cyanobacteria, harvesting technique, optimum CO2 concentrations etc, for the production of biofuels and animal feed.

The ECOALGA Project has received funding from the Ministry of Science and Innovation, under the National Plan for Scientific Research, Development and Technological Innovation 2008-2011, managed by the Spanish Institute of Oceanography, within the scope of the Special State Fund For Stimulating the Economy and Employment, Plan E. For the project’s execution, ABNT receives technical support from the National Centre for Renewable Energies (CENER), the University of Murcia, the Polytechnic University of Cartagena and Ecocarburantes Españoles. [Source; Abengoa].

In Senftenberg, Germany, Vattenfall Group operates a closed algae-breeding facility (photobioreactor) supplied by ecoduna, Austria. The facility uses carbon dioxide from a neighbouring power plant.

Enalg S.p.A. holds the exclusive rights in Italy for the production of bio-fuel from algae granted by Spanish BFS Biofuel System SL (since 2010 Enalg has been a shareholder of BFS SL). A first industrial pilot plant has been operating in Alicante (Spain) since 2010 for the continuous-cycle production of Blue Petroleum. Construction work has started on the Island of Madeira for the first industrial plant to be implemented in collaboration with the local Government and the Electric Power Supply Agency. CO2 captured from the Cemex cement works will be used to produce biopetrol via microalgae, which are multiplied and transformed through daily treatment cycles. During the first phase of processing high-value nutrients like EPA and omega fatty acids can also be extracted from the biomass.

Photomicrograph of Botryococcus species with oil droplets

© Copyright BFS Biofuel System SL
"Blue petroleum" algae biofuels industrial pilot plant in Alicante.
View at larger size

AlgaeLink N.V. and KLM Royal Dutch Airlines are currently cooperating on a pilot project for the development of alternative aviation fuels from algae.

In October 2012, Genesis Biofuel Inc. signed a M.o.U. with Abundant Energy Solutions for a joint venture to develop Algal Biofuel Refineries.

Within the Dutch AlgiCoat initiative (supported via SenterNovem EOS programme) an integral marine biorefinery is being developed for potential production of biodiesel, CHP and chemicals. A small pilot plant has been constructed by AkzoNobel and Essent to demonstrate co-production in principle. Research by WUR-AFSG and Ingrepro is now being carried out to facilitate potential full-scale operation.

In June 2010, the first flight by an airplane using 100% algal biofuels was demonstrated by EADS at the Berlin Air Show. The microalgae oil was produced by Biocombustibles del Chubut S.A. at its plant in Puerto Madryn, Argentina, and then refined and converted into biofuel by VTS Verfahrenstechnik Schwedt in Germany.

EADS has also partnered with IGV GmbH on the use of algae-based biofuels in aviation. An IGV photobioreactor, which multiplies microalgae, was also exhibited at the Berlin Air Show. In 2012, IGV GmbH signed a contract with Bioalgostral SAS (BAO) for the delivery and establishment of an industrial plant for the production of biofuels from microalgae with a total volume of 82000 L [Source: IGV].

FeyeCon D&I BV, Netherlands specialises in the commercialisation of innovative CO2 technology. The company has created two business ventures within the algae sector. Algae Biotech SA creates innovative products and processes in the field of micro-algae, and aims to improve all aspects relating to growing, harvesting, extraction and other downstream processes. It works closely with a sister company Clean Algae SA which specializes in the growing of microalgae at competitive cost, and maintains growing facilities on Grand Canaria.

Reseachers at Western Washington University and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution have investigated alkenones produced by Isochrysis as an additional source of algal biofuels. Olefin metathesis is used to reduce the chain length of the alkenones, to produce shorter chains suitable for biojet fuel production. Isochrysis also produces fatty acids, which can be converted into biodiesel. The first step in the process is to separate these from the alkenones [Source: WWU Press Release, January 2015].

In 2015, OriginClear Inc. and Idaho National Laboratory of the U.S. Department of Energy announced collaboration on a project to develop OriginClear's Electro Water Separation process to improve the efficiency of algal biofuel production.

Spanish biotech company, BioSerentia, is developing modified microalgae strains able to produce larger volumes of biomass for biofuels production.

Politecnico di Torino (Department of Environment, Land and Infrastructures Engineering), Italy, led the project BioAlma, biofuel from algae for sustainable mobility in urban areas, which ran from 2012-2014. The project focused on optimising the yield of ethanol from conversion of algae.

As part of its System Research programs, ENEL is examining the possibility of producing algae using carbon dioxide emitted by its coal-fired plants.

ENI has operated a small scale algae pilot plant at the Gela Refinery.

Other companies developing photo bioreactors include Fotosintetica & Microbiologica S.r.l., IGV GmbH, BISANTECH NUOVA GmbH & Co KG, and B. Braun Biotech International GmbH (BBI).

Based on research carried out at the University of Alicante, Bio Fuel Systems in Spain has developed a pilot plant for bio-petroleum production.

In June 2010, US D.o.E. announced up to $24M to three projects that aim to commercialize produciton of biofuels from algae:

The Sustainable Algal Biofuels Consortium, Mesa, Arizona will investigate biochemical conversion of algae

The University of California, San Diego (Cal-CAB) leads the Consortium for Algal Biofuels Commercialization - focusing on algal feedstocks

Cellana develops large-scale production of fuels and products from microalgae grown in seawater

Previous reseach on algae biofuels

In January 2010, US D.o.E. announced a $44 million investment in algal biofuels development and demonstration to be carried out by the National Alliance for Advanced Biofuels and Bioproducts (NAABB). Led by the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center (St. Louis, MO), NAABB will develop a systems approach for sustainable commercialization of algal biofuel (such as renewable gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel) and bioproducts. NAABB will integrate resources from companies, universities, and national laboratories to overcome the critical barriers of cost, resource use and efficiency, greenhouse gas emissions, and commercial viability. It will develop and demonstrate the science and technology necessary to significantly increase production of algal biomass and lipids, efficiently harvest and extract algae and algal products, and establish valuable certified co-products that scale with renewable fuel production. Co-products include animal feed, industrial feedstocks, and additional energy generation. Multiple test sites will cover diverse environmental regions to facilitate broad deployment.

In October 2009, the report Cultivating Clean Energy: The Promise of Algae Biofuels (2.8 Mb pdf) was produced by Terrapin Bright Green LLC and the Natural Resources Defence Council.

In July 2009, Exxon Mobil Corporation announced an alliance with leading biotech company, Synthetic Genomics Inc. (SGI), to research and develop next generation biofuels from photosynthetic algae. Under the program, if research and development milestones are successfully met, Exxon Mobil expects to spend more than $600 million, which includes $300 million in internal costs and potentially more than $300 million to SGI.

In December 2007, Royal Dutch Shell plc and HR Biopetroleum (now Cellana) formed a joint venture Cellana for the construction of a pilot facility in Hawaii to grow marine algae and produce vegetable oil for conversion into biofuel.

In October 2007, it was announced that Chevron and NREL scientists would collaborate to identify and develop algae strains that can be economically harvested and processed into finished transportation fuels such as jet fuel. Chevron Technology Ventures, a division of Chevron U.S.A. Inc., was funding the initiative.

In July 2009, a paper on Life-Cycle Assessment of Biodiesel Production from Microalgae by Laurent Lardon et al, INRA, UR50 Laboratoire de Biotechnologie de l’Environnement, France was published in Environmental Science and Technology.

A Review of the Potential of Marine Algae as a Source of Biofuel in Ireland (2.5 Mb PDF) was commissioned by Sustainable Energy Ireland in order to provide an overview of marine algae as an energy resource, from either macroalgae or microalgae. Tentative roadmaps based on high, medium and low scenarios are included for development of these resources by 2020.

The Sustainable Fuels from Marine Biomass project, Biomara, was a UK and Irish joint project that aims to demonstrate the feasibility and viability of producing third generation biofuels from marine biomass. It will investigate the potential use of both macroalgae and microalgae as alternatives to terrestrial agri-fuel production.

Other microorganisms and aquatic plants being investigated as biofuels feedstocks

Modified Cyanobacteria

Proterro has developed a patented method using modified cyanobateria in bioreactors to produce sugars, which could be used as feedstock for advanced biofuels. Proterro says that the system potentially offers higher productivity (per acre of land used) and costs less than producing sugar from corn, cellulose or sugar cane.

Researchers at the Biodesign Institute, Arizona State University have modified cyanobacteria (photosynthetic bacteria) to excrete oil, which can be collected without killing the cells. The technique could be used to optimise microbial oil production for conversion into biofuels. The Biodesign Institute is also carrying out research to optimise Photobiorectors (e.g. phosphorous, CO2 light irradience) for cyanobacetria.

Researchers at J. Craig Venter Institute in Rockville, Md. and Waseda University in Tokyo have modified the circadian clock of cyanobacteria to remain in its daytime state and hence increase productivity. Researchers on the project include Professor Carl H. Johnson, Vanderbilt University.

Aquatic plants with potential as biomass feedstocks

Aquatic plants, such as Spirodela polyrhiza, commonly called Greater Duckweed, have low levels of cellulose and lignin and have the potential to be converted to biofuel at a cost competitive with fossil fuels. In 2014 the genome was being investigated by researchers at the Waksman Institute of Microbiology, with a view to optimising the pond plant as a future feedstock. Thermochemical Conversion of Duckweed to gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel - the 'duckweed biorefinery' concept - is also being studied by Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, Princeton University, and the Institute of Process Engineering, Chinese Academy of Sciences et al.