Algal Bioenergy


Algae are the ‘engines’ that drive global biogeochemical cycles in the aquatic environment and are directly responsible for >50% of current planetary productivity and geologically for fossil fuel resources. However, their use as a source of biofuels is minimal. The search for new forms of biomass for the production of bioenergy is, and will increasingly be, influenced by the politics of food, water supplies and anthropogenic climate change. Algae that are capable of high levels of productivity and grow in marine ecosystems, or land‐based seawater systems, are one of the few realistic sources of future fuels that avoid compromising ecological sustainability and political stability. Technologies are being developed to cultivate and exploit macroalgae for biofuels, including bioethanol and biomethane, and it is envisaged that these will be a commercial reality in the near future. Microalgal systems present huge potential; however, faced with a range of technical constraints they will take much longer to develop into a commercial reality.

Key Concepts:

  • Third‐generation biofuels.

  • Alternative energy supply through cultivation of algae.

  • Biofuel production without compromising food or water resources.

  • Microalgal cultivation to generate oils and biomass for biofuel production.

  • Macroalgal production for biomass production.

  • Conversion of algal biomass derived from microalgae and/or microalgae for the production of bioethanol and biomethane.

Keywords: algae; biofuels; biodiesel; bioethanol; biomethane; macroalgae; microalgae

Figure 1.

Different algal species that have been linked to biofuel production: (a) Botryococcus braunii leaking hydrocarbons. Photograph is reproduced from Gordon Beakes; (b) longline‐cultivated Saccharina latissima at time of harvest; (c) oil bodies of Phaeodactylum tricornutum stained with Nile Red and (d) tank‐cultivated Ulva lactuca.

Figure 2.

TAG synthesis in algae.

Figure 3.

There are three main stages for S. latissima cultivation: (a) spores are released from reproductive tissue and allowed to settle on to string wrapped around tubing; (b) S. latissima plantlets at approximately 2 weeks, now ready to be planted out at sea and (c) S. latissima after 6 months at sea ready to be harvested.



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Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (2004) Biomass as a Renewable Energy Source. Westminster, London: Published by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution. ISBN 0–9544186‐1‐1.

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Stanley, Michele S, and Day, John G(May 2014) Algal Bioenergy. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0023715]