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Lipid factor is the percentage of vegoil in relation with the algae cells needed to get it, i.e. if the algae lipid factor is 40%, one would need 2.5 kg of algae cells to get 1 kg of oil.{{Fact|date=March 2009}}
Lipid factor is the percentage of vegoil in relation with the algae cells needed to get it, i.e. if the algae lipid factor is 40%, one would need 2.5 kg of algae cells to get 1 kg of oil.{{Fact|date=March 2009}}

Revision as of 19:34, 17 September 2009

Algae fuel, also called algal fuel, oilgae,[1] algaeoleum or third-generation biofuel,[2] is a biofuel from algae.

High oil prices, competing demands between foods and other biofuel sources and the world food crisis have ignited interest in algaculture (farming algae) for making vegetable oil, biodiesel, bioethanol, biogasoline, biomethanol, biobutanol and other biofuels. Among algal fuels' attractive characteristics: they do not affect fresh water resources,[3] can be produced using ocean and wastewater, and are biodegradable and relatively harmless to the environment if spilled.[4][5][6] Algae cost more per unit mass yet can yield over 30 times more energy per unit area than other, second-generation biofuel crops.[citation needed] One biofuels company has claimed that algae can produce more oil in an area the size of a two car garage than a football field of soybeans, because almost the entire algal organism can use sunlight to produce lipids, or oil.[7] The United States Department of Energy estimates that if algae fuel replaced all the petroleum fuel in the United States, it would require 15,000 square miles (40,000 km2).[8] This is less than ​17 the area of corn harvested in the United States in 2000.[9][10]

During photosynthesis, algae and other photosynthetic organisms capture carbon dioxide and sunlight and convert it into oxygen and biomass. Up to 99% of the carbon dioxide in solution can be converted, which was shown by Weissman and Tillett (1992) in large-scale open-pond systems. The production of biofuels from algae does not reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO
), because any CO
taken out of the atmosphere by the algae is returned when the biofuels are burned. They do however eliminate the introduction of new CO
by displacing fossil hydrocarbon fuels.

As of 2008, such fuels remain too expensive to replace other commercially available fuels, with the cost of various algae species typically between US$5–10 per kilogram.[citation needed] But several companies and government agencies are funding efforts to reduce capital and operating costs and make algae oil production commercially viable.[11]


The Aquatic Species Program launched in 1978. The U.S. research program, funded by the U.S. DoE, was tasked with investigating the use of algae for the production of energy. The program initially focused efforts on the production of hydrogen, however, shifted primary research to studying oil production in 1982. From 1982 through its culmination, the majority of the program research was focused on the production of transportation fuels, notably biodiesel, from algae. In 1995, as part of the over-all efforts to lower budget demands, the DoE decided to end the program. Research stopped in 1996 and staff began compiling their research for publication. In July 1998, the DoE published the report "A Look Back at the U.S. Department of Energy's Aquatic Species Program: Biodiesel from Algae"[12].


Dry algae factor is the percentage of algae cells in relation with the media where it is cultured, e.g. if the dry algae factor is 50%, one would need 2 kg of wet algae (algae in the media) to get 1 kg of algae cells.

Lipid factor is the percentage of vegoil in relation with the algae cells needed to get it, i.e. if the algae lipid factor is 40%, one would need 2.5 kg of algae cells to get 1 kg of oil.[citation needed] 66666


Yields claims cover a vast range from 5,000 to 150,000 US gallons of oil per acre per year (4,700–140,000 m3/km2·a). The higher yield claims assume all aspects of the cultivation are controlled - temperature, CO
levels, sunlight and nutrients (including carbohydrates as a food source). Such variation can make calculations on which to base 'fuel the world' scenarios very difficult.

For example, Glen Kertz of Valcent Products,[13] claims that "algae can produce 100,000 gallons of oil per acre" per year (94,000 m3/km2·a). This relies on growing the algae in an entirely closed loop system. More recently, Valcent have claimed 150,000 US gallons may be possible [14]; their most recent actual reported yields could reach 33,000 gallons per acre per year (21,153,000 gal/sq mi·a or 31,000 m3/km2·a) if they could achieve their yields with an algal species having 50% lipids. [15] In 2007, the U.S consumed 20.680 million barrels per day (3.2879×10^6 m3/d) of petroleum or 317 billion US gallons per year (1.20×10^9 m3/a).[16] Thus, with the production capabilities of Valcent, it would only require 15,000 square miles (39,000 km2) of land to completely displace petroleum use in the U.S.

Current projections, however, do not take into account the energy losses due to converting the algae lipids into fuels.

This graph is based on several estimated parameters. The four parameters used were:

  1. length of Valcent's VAT's
  2. height of Valcent's VAT's
  3. ground surface area associated with each VAT and
  4. efficiency of chemical conversions.

The length was estimated to be 10 feet (3.0 m), the height was estimated to be 15 feet (4.6 m), the surface area associated was estimated to be 5 square feet (0.46 m2), and the chemical conversion efficiency was estimated to be 30%. With these estimates, the best algae would still require about 50,000 square miles (130,000 km2); the worst would need 305,000 square miles (790,000 km2). In reality the totals would be somewhere in between. Any changes in these estimates can significantly affect the graph, especially the efficiency of chemical processes. Companies should be able to easily change the dimensions for the VAT's, but they must spend time increasing the efficiency of changing algal lipids into biofuels.


The vegoil algae product can then be harvested and converted into biodiesel; the algae’s carbohydrate content can be fermented into bioethanol and biobutanol.[17]


Currently most research into efficient algal-oil production is being done in the private sector, but predictions from small scale production experiments bear out that using algae to produce biodiesel may be the only viable method by which to produce enough automotive fuel to replace current world diesel usage.[18]

Microalgae have much faster growth-rates than terrestrial crops. The per unit area yield of oil from algae is estimated to be from between 5,000 to 20,000 US gallons per acre per year (4,700 to 18,000 m3/km2·a);[citation needed] this is 7 to 30 times greater than the next best crop, Chinese tallow (700 US gal/acre·a or 650 m3/km2·a).[19]

Studies show that algae can produce up to 60% of their biomass in the form of oil. Because the cells grow in aqueous suspension where they have more efficient access to water, CO
and dissolved nutrients, microalgae are capable of producing large amounts of biomass and usable oil in either high rate algal ponds or photobioreactors. This oil can then be turned into biodiesel which could be sold for use in automobiles. The more efficient this process becomes the larger the profit that is turned by the company. Regional production of microalgae and processing into biofuels will provide economic benefits to rural communities.[20]


Butanol can be made from algae or diatoms using only a solar powered biorefinery. This fuel has an energy density 10% less than gasoline, and greater than that of either ethanol or methanol. In most gasoline engines, butanol can be used in place of gasoline with no modifications. In several tests, butanol consumption is similar to that of gasoline, and when blended with gasoline, provides better performance and corrosion resistance than that of ethanol or E85[21].

The green waste left over from the algae oil extraction can be used to produce butanol.


Biogasoline is gasoline produced from biomass such as algae. Like traditionally produced gasoline, it contains between 6 (hexane) and 12 (dodecane) carbon atoms per molecule and can be used in internal-combustion engines.


Through the use of algaculture grown organisms and cultures, various polymeric materials can be broken down into methane.[22]


The algal-oil feedstock that is used to produce biodiesel can also be used for fuel directly as "Straight Vegetable Oil", (SVO). The benefit of using the oil in this manner is that it doesn't require the additional energy needed for transesterification, (processing the oil with an alcohol and a catalyst to produce biodiesel). The drawback is that it does require modifications to a normal diesel engine. Transesterified biodiesel can be run in an unmodified modern diesel engine, provided the engine is designed to use ultra-low sulfur diesel, which, as of 2006, is the new diesel fuel standard in the United States.

Hydrocracking to traditional transport fuels

Vegetable oil can be used as feedstock for an oil refinery where methods like hydrocracking or hydrogenation can be used to transform the vegetable oil into standard fuels like gasoline and diesel.[23]

Jet Fuel

Rising jet fuel prices are putting severe pressure on airline companies,[24] creating an incentive for algal jet fuel research. The International Air Transport Association, for example, supports research, development & deployment of algal fuels. IATA’s goal is for its members to be using 10% alternative fuels by 2017.[2]

On January 8, 2009, Continental Airlines ran the first test for the first flight of an algae-fueled jet. The test was done using a twin-engine commercial jet consuming a 50/50 blend of biofuel and normal aircraft fuel. It was the first flight by a U.S. carrier to use an alternative fuel source on this specific type of aircraft. The flight from Houston's Bush International Airport completed a circuit over the Gulf of Mexico. The pilots on-board, executed a series of tests at 38,000 feet (12,000 m), including a mid-flight engine shutdown. Larry Kellner, chief executive of Continental Airlines, said they had tested a drop-in fuel which meant that no modification to the engine was required. The fuel was praised for having a low flash point and sufficiently low freezing point, issues that have been problematic for other bio-fuels.[25]

Algae cultivation

Algae can produce 15-300 times more oil per acre than conventional crops, such as rapeseed, palms, soybeans, or jatropha. As Algae has a harvesting cycle of 1-10 days, it permits several harvests in a very short time frame, a differing strategy to yearly crops (Chisti 2007). Algae can also be grown on land that is not suitable for other established crops, for instance, arid land, land with excessively saline soil, and drought-stricken land. This minimizes the issue of taking away pieces of land from the cultivation of food crops (Schenk et al. 2008).

They can grow 20 to 30 times faster than food crops.[26]

Not only does algae produce biofuel, it also helps with reducing CO
emissions. Algae, like other fuels, releases carbon dioxide when it is burned. Fortunately, Algae takes in CO
and replaces it with Oxygen during the process of photosynthesis. Ultimately, its net emissions are zero because the CO
released in burning is the same amount that was absorbed initially.

The hard part about algae production is growing the algae in a controlled way and harvesting it efficiently.


Most companies pursuing algae as a source of biofuels are pumping nutrient-laden water through plastic tubes (called "bioreactors" ) that are exposed to sunlight (and so called photobioreactors or PBR).

Running a PBR is more difficult than an open pond, and more costly.

Algae can also grow on marginal lands, such as in desert areas where the groundwater is saline, rather than utilise fresh water. [27]

The difficulties in efficient biodiesel production from algae lie in finding an algal strain with a high lipid content and fast growth rate that isn't too difficult to harvest, and a cost-effective cultivation system (i.e., type of photobioreactor) that is best suited to that strain. There is also a need to provide concentrated CO
to turbocharge the production.

Closed Loop System

Another obstacle preventing widespread mass production of algae for biofuel production has been the equipment and structures needed to begin growing algae in large quantities. Maximum use of existing agriculture processes and hardware is the goal.[28]

In a closed system (not exposed to open air) there is not the problem of contamination by other organisms blown in by the air. The problem for a closed system is finding a cheap source of sterile CO
. Several experimenters have found the CO
from a smokestack works well for growing algae.[29][30] To be economical, some experts think that algae farming for biofuels will have to be done next to power plants, where they can also help soak up the pollution.[27]

Open Pond

Open-pond systems for the most part have been given up for the cultivation of algae with high-oil content.[31] Many believe that a major flaw of the Aquatic Species Program was the decision to focus their efforts exclusively on open-ponds; this makes the entire effort dependent upon the hardiness of the strain chosen, requiring it to be unnecessarily resilient in order to withstand wide swings in temperature and pH, and competition from invasive algae and bacteria. Open systems using a monoculture are also vulnerable to viral infection. The energy that a high-oil strain invests into the production of oil is energy that is not invested into the production of proteins or carbohydrates, usually resulting in the species being less hardy, or having a slower growth rate. Algal species with a lower oil content, not having to divert their energies away from growth, have an easier time in the harsher conditions of an open system.

Some open sewage ponds trial production has been done in Marlborough, New Zealand.[32]

Algae Types

A feasibility study using marine microalgae in a photobioreactor is being done by The International Research Consortium on Continental Margins at the International University Bremen.[33]

Research into algae for the mass-production of oil is mainly focused on microalgae; organisms capable of photosynthesis that are less than 0.4 mm in diameter, including the diatoms and cyanobacteria; as opposed to macroalgae, e.g. seaweed. However, some research is being done into using seaweeds for biofuels, probably due to the high availability of this resource.[34] [35] This preference towards microalgae is due largely to its less complex structure, fast growth rate, and high oil content (for some species). Some commercial interests into large scale algal-cultivation systems are looking to tie in to existing infrastructures, such as coal power plants or sewage treatment facilities. This approach not only provides the raw materials for the system, such as CO
and nutrients; but it changes those wastes into resources.

Aquaflow Bionomic Corporation of New Zealand announced that it has produced its first sample of homegrown bio-diesel fuel with algae sourced from local sewerage ponds. A small quantity of laboratory produced oil was mixed with 95% regular diesel.

The Department of Environmental Science at Ateneo de Manila University in the Philippines, is working on producing biofuel from algae, using a local species of algae.[36]

NBB’s Feedstock Development program is addressing production of algae on the horizon to expand available material for biodiesel in a sustainable manner[37].

The following species listed are currently being studied for their suitability as a mass-oil producing crop, across various locations worldwide[38][39][40]:


Nutrients like nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K), are important for plant growth and are essential parts of fertilizer. Silica and iron, as well as several trace elements, may also be considered important marine nutrients as the lack of one can limit the growth of, or productivity in, an area.[43]

One company, Green Star Products, announced their development of a micronutrient formula to increase the growth rate of algae. According to the company, its formula can increase the daily growth rate by 34% and can double the amount of algae produced in one growth cycle.[44]


A possible nutrient source is waste water from the treatment of sewage, agricultural, or flood plain run-off, all currently major pollutants and health risks. However, this waste water cannot feed algae directly and must first be processed by bacteria, through anaerobic digestion. If waste water is not processed before it reaches the algae, it will contaminate the algae in the reactor, and at the very least, kill much of the desired algae strain. In biogas facilities, organic waste is often converted to a mixture of carbon dioxide, methane, and organic fertilizer. Organic fertilizer that comes out of digester is liquid, and nearly suitable for algae growth, but it must first be cleaned and sterilized.

The utilization of wastewater and ocean water instead of freshwater is strongly advocated due to the continuing depletion of freshwater resources. However, heavy metals, trace metals, and other contaminants in wastewater can decrease the ability of cells to produce lipids biosynthetically and also impact various other workings in the machinery of cells. The same is true for ocean water, but the contaminants are found in different concentrations. Thus, agricultural-grade fertilizer is the preferred source of nutrients, but heavy metals are again a problem, especially for strains of algae that are susceptible to these metals. In open pond systems the use of strains of algae that can deal with high concentrations of heavy metals could prevent other organisms from infesting these systems (Schenk et al. 2008).

At the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution the wastewater from domestic and industrial sources contain rich organic compounds that are being used to accelerate the growth of algae.[17]

Also the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering of the University of Georgia is exploring microalgal biomass production using industrial wastewater[45] .

Algaewheel, based in Indianapolis, Indiana, presented a proposal to build a facility in Cedar Lake, Indiana that uses algae to treat municipal wastewater and uses the sludge byproduct to produce biofuel[46][47].


There is always uncertainty about the success of new products and investors have to consider carefully the proper energy sources in which to invest. A drop in fossil fuel oil prices might make consumers and therefore investors lose interest in renewable energy. Algal fuel companies are learning that investors have different expectations about returns and length of investments. AlgaePro Systems found in its talks with investors that while one wants at least 5 times the returns on their investment, others would only be willing to invest in a profitable operation over the long term. Every investor has its own unique stipulations that are obstacles to further algae fuel development.


US Universities working on Oil from Algae:

  • The University of Texas at Austin[48].
  • Cal Poly State University, San Luis Obispo[49].
  • Montana State University, Utah State University[50].
  • University of Virginia[51].
  • Arizona State University
  • Ohio University
  • University of Maine, Orono
  • University of Kansas
  • Old Dominion University[52].
  • Brooklyn College[53]
  • Colorado State University[54].
  • The University of Toledo
  • University of California, San Diego[55].

UK universities working on oil from Algae:

  • Brighton University

Research and Promotion

The Ukraine Cabinet plans to produce biofuel of a special type of algae[56].

Also the CSIC´s Instituto de Bioquímica Vegetal y Fotosíntesis (Microalgae Biotechnology Group, in Sevilla, Spain[57] is researching the algal fuels.


Algal Biomass Organization (ABO) is formed by Boeing Commercial Airplanes, A2BE Carbon Capture Corporation[58], National Renewable Energy Labs, Institution of Oceanography, Benemann Associates[59], Mont Vista Capital[60] and Montana State University.

Global air carriers Air New Zealand, Continental, Virgin Atlantic Airways, and biofuel technology developer UOP LLC, a Honeywell company, will be the first wave of aviation-related members, together with Boeing, to join Algal Biomass Organization.[61]

The National Algae Association (NAA) is a non-profit organization comprised of algae researchers, algae production companies and the investment community who share the goal of commercializing algae oil as an alternative feedstock for the biofuels markets. The NAA gives its members a forum to efficiently evaluate various algae technologies for potential early stage company opportunities.

Biofuel from algae by territory

See also



  1. ^ " – Oil from Algae! [Algae Fuel Making][AlgaeFuelMaking.Com]". Retrieved 2008-06-10. 
  2. ^ a b Alternative Fuels
  3. ^ Cornell, Clayton B. (2008-03-29). "First Algae Biodiesel Plant Goes Online: April 1, 2008". Gas 2.0. Retrieved 2008-06-10. 
  4. ^ ""'Green Dream' Backed by MPs"". Eastern Daily Press. 2003. Retrieved 2008-06-10.  Unknown parameter |month= ignored (help)
  5. ^ Friends of biodegradable ethanol[dead link]
  6. ^ "Low Cost Algae Production System Introduced". Energy-Arizona. 2007-08-28. Retrieved 2008-06-10. 
  7. ^ "Why Algae?". Solix Biofuels. Retrieved 2008-06-11. 
  8. ^ Hartman, Eviana (2008-01-06). ""A Promising Oil Alternative: Algae Energy"". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2008-06-10. 
  9. ^ "Major Crops Grown in the United States". U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved 2008-06-10. 
  10. ^ Dyer, Gwynne (2008-06-17). ""A replacement for oil"". The Chatham Daily News. Retrieved 2008-06-18. 
  11. ^ "{PhD thesis on algae production for bioenergy}" (PDF). Murdoch University, Western Australia. Retrieved 2008-06-10. 
  12. ^ A Look Back at the U.S. Department of Energy Aquatic Species Program: Biodiesel from Algae; Page 7
  13. ^
  14. ^ "Valcent Products Inc,. - News Releases - Valcent Products Inc. Develops "Clean Green" Vertical Bio-Reactor - Sat Jan 17, 2009". 
  15. ^ "Valcent Products Inc,. - News Releases - Initial Data From the Vertigro Field Test Bed Plant Reports Average Production of 276 Tons of Algae Bio Mass on a Per Acre/Per Year Basis - Sat Jan 17, 2009". 
  16. ^ "Energy Information Administration - Petroleum Basic Statistics - Feb,2009". 
  17. ^ a b ""Biofuels from industrial/domestic wastewater"". Retrieved 2008-06-11. 
  18. ^ "Biodiesel Production from Algae" (PDF). Department of Energy Aquatic Species Program, National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Retrieved 2006-08-29. 
  19. ^ See Biodiesel.
  20. ^ "Microalgal Production SARDI AQUATIC SCIENCES" (PDF). Government of South Australia. Retrieved 2008-11-03. 
  21. ^ [1]
  22. ^ "Methane production". FAO, Agriculture Department. Retrieved 2006-08-29. 
  23. ^ "ConocoPhillips Begins Production of Renewable Diesel Fuel at Whitegate Refinery". Green Car Congress. 2006-12-20. Retrieved 2008-06-10. 
  24. ^ More airlines fold as fuel prices soar: IATA
  25. ^ "First flight of algae-fuelled jet". BBC. 2009-01-08. 
  26. ^ McDill, Stuart (2009-02-10). "Can algae save the world - again?". Reuters. Retrieved 2009-02-10. 
  27. ^ a b Herro, Alana (2007-10-08). "Better Than Corn? Algae Set to Beat Out Other Biofuel Feedstocks". Worldwatch Institute. Retrieved 2008-06-10. 
  28. ^ 'Maryking' (2007-08-29). "Will algae beat its competitors to become the king source of biofuels?". Environmental Graffiti. Retrieved 2008-06-10. 
  29. ^ Clayton, Mark (2006-01-11). ""Algae — Like a Breath Mint for Smokestacks"". Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 2008-06-10. 
  30. ^ "Growth Rates of Emission-Fed Algae Show Viability of New Biomass Crop" (PDF). Arizona Public Service Company (APS) and GreenFuel Technologies Corporation (GFT). September 26. Retrieved 2008-06-10.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  31. ^ Briggs, Michael. "Widescale Biodiesel Production from Algae" UNH Biodiesel Group (2004). Retrieved May 26, 2004.
  32. ^ "Biodiesel Made from Algae in Sewerage Ponds". Renewable Energy Access. 2006. Retrieved 2007-01-31. 
  33. ^ "Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Project at the International University Bremen". The International Research Consortium on Continental Margins. 2006. Retrieved 2007-01-31. 
  34. ^ "Seaweed to breathe new life into fight against global warming". The Times Online. 2005. Retrieved 2008-02-11. 
  35. ^ Seaweed Biofuels: Production of Biogas and Bioethanol from Brown Macroalgae
  36. ^ Mañalac, Melissa M. (5/9/2008). ""Ateneo scientists working on algae as biodiesel source"". ABS–CBN News Online, Philippines. Retrieved 2008-06-10.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  37. ^
  38. ^
  39. ^
  40. ^
  41. ^ Ecogenics Product 2
  42. ^ ""Algae eyed as biofuel alternative"". Taipei Times. 2008-01-12. Retrieved 2008-06-10. 
  43. ^ Anderson, Genny (2004-12-18). "Seawater Composition". Retrieved 2008-06-18. 
  44. ^ "Green Star Announces Algae Breakthrough". Green Star Products, Inc. 2008-05-22. Retrieved 2008-06-10. 
  45. ^
  46. ^ "Algaewheel — Wastewater Treatment Specialists". Retrieved 2008-06-18. 
  47. ^ "Indiana Company to Submit Proposal to Utilize Algae to Treat Wastewater and Create Renewable Energy". E-Wire. 2008-06-12. Retrieved 2008-06-18. 
  48. ^
  49. ^
  50. ^
  51. ^
  52. ^
  53. ^
  54. ^
  55. ^
  56. ^
  57. ^
  58. ^ A2BE Carbon Capture, LLC | Home Page
  59. ^ Overview: Algae Oil to Biofuels
  60. ^ Mont Vista Capital
  61. ^ Green Car Congress: First Airlines and UOP Join Algal Biomass Organization

58. Schroeder, Rick. "What is the conversation of "green crude oil"?" "Green Crude Oil" AlgaePro System. 18 May 2009 <>.

Further reading

External links