State of Technology Review – Algae Bioenergy

Date Feb 2017


This IEA Bioenergy report provides an international update on the status and prospects for using microalgae and macroalgae as feedstocks for producing biofuels and bioenergy products. The report’s scope covers algae-based options for producing liquid and gaseous biofuels, and also algae-based bioenergy in the more general context of integrated biorefineries. The IEA Bioenergy Executive Committee supported this report’s compilation and it is co-authored by members of IEA Bioenergy Tasks 34, 37, 38, 39 and 42.

Even though algae remain an attractive target for bioenergy applications over the longer term because of their high photosynthetic efficiency, the near-term prospects for primary algae-based energy/fuels production are poor due to the relatively high cost of cultivating and harvesting algae. The past 6 years have nonetheless seen substantial progress in research, development and demonstration of algae-based bioenergy and bio-products. With low fossil fuel prices, the algae-based industry is increasingly focusing on manufacturing higher value (non-fuel/energy) products that can be profitable today. Algal biomass-based co-products can provide the critically needed revenue to reduce the net cost of producing algal-based biofuels. As such, a biorefinery approach appears essential to realize the full value of algal biomass. Progress in minimizing/reducing the energy, water, nutrients and land use footprints of integrated algal-based operations needs to be a primary objective of larger scale demonstrations and future research and development.