Energy Education Science and Technology Part A: Energy Science and Research
2012 Volume (issues) 29(1): 687-700
Key issues to consider in microalgae
based biodiesel production
Anoop Singh1,*, Deepak Pant2, Stig Irving Olsen1, Poonam Singh Nigam3
1Technical University of Denmark, Department of Management Engineering, Lyngby, Denmark
2Flemish Institute for Technological Research (VITO), Separation and Conversion Technology, Mol, Belgium
3University of Ulster, Faculty of Life and Health Sciences, Coleraine BT52 1SA, Northern Ireland, UK
Received: 02 July 2011; accepted: 29 August 2011
All nations have been confronted with the energy crisis due to depletion of finite fossil fuels
reserves, which results an increasing global demand of biofuels for energy security, economic stability
and reduction in climate change effects, and generate the opportunity to explore new biomass sources.
The production of sustainable bioenergy is a challenging task in the promotion of biofuels for
replacing the fossil based fuels to mitigate challenges of fossil based energy consumption. Algae
might be a very promising source of biomass in this context as it sequesters a significant quantity of
carbon from atmosphere and industrial gases and is also very efficient in utilizing the nutrients from
industrial effluents and municipal wastewater. If developed sustainably, the algae biofuel industry may
be able to provide large quantities of biofuels with potentially minimal environmental impacts.
However, in order to realize this, a complete analysis of full life cycle impact of algal biofuel
production in the context of issues such as water resource management, land use impact, energy
balance and air emissions are very necessary. The commercial-scale production of algae requires
careful consideration of many issues that can be broadly categorized into four main areas: selecting
algae species that produce high oil levels and grow well in specified environments, algae growth
methods, water sources and related issues, and nutrient and growth inputs.
Keywords: Algae; Biodiesel; Technology; Commercialization; Sustainability
©Sila Science. All rights reserved.
At present all nations have been confronted with the energy crisis due to depletion of finite
fossil fuels reserves. Their continued consumption as energy source is not accepted as
sustainable energy source due to depletion of resources and emissions of greenhouse gases
(GHGs) in the environment  when used. The use of fossil fuels to satisfy the major energy
requirements cause increasing anthropogenic GHG emissions and depletion of fossil reserves.
Therefore, it is highly important to develop strong abatement techniques and adopt policies to
promote those renewable energy sources which are capable of sequestering the atmospheric
CO2 to minimize the dependency on fossil reserves, and to maintain environmental and
economic sustainability [2-6].
*Corresponding author. Tel.: +454-525-4744; fax: +454-593-3435.
E-mail address: email@example.com (A. Singh).
688 A. Singh et al. / EEST Part A: Energy Science and Research 29 (2012) 687-700
The biomass based fuels can be a possible solution for all the issues related to energy
production and consumption. They are renewable by nature, and there are possibilities to use
them for heat, electricity and transportation fuel. Biofuels thus have the capabilities to replace
fossil fuels, reduce dependency and provide a number of environmental, economical and
social benefits [3-7], and can play a major role in achieving the renewable energy targets set
by various countries especially for transport sector. Brazil has already shown the way where
the cost of making ethanol from sugar has dropped by a factor of about 3 since they started
making ethanol from cane sugar 25 years ago . Energy produced from renewable sources,
be it biofuels or bioelectricity [9-10] increasingly becomes a possible fuel option especially in
the developed world. The first and second generation biofuels have several constraints (like
food-fuel competition, land use change, higher resource use, energy balance, etc.) besides
having several other benefits. Algal biofuels could be an answer for those constraints as it can
grow very fast, is capable in production of several times higher biomass in comparison to
terrestrial crops and trees, requires low and marginal land and other resources, producing
higher lipid and carbohydrate, etc.
Keeping in view the benefits of the algal biofuels over first and second generation biofuels
and sustainability issues for the production of biofuels, this article reviews the key issues in
the sustainable production of algal biofuels.
2. Qualities of sustainable biofuels
World Commission on Environment and Development defined the term „sustainability‟ as “the development
that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own
needs” . Sustainable development encompasses economic, social, and ecological perspectives of
conservation and change  that can be represented by sustainability matrices and indices (Fig. 1).
Fig. 1. The sustainability matrix and sustainability indices .
Sustainability has become an unavoidable issue in all major planning and undertakings that involve future use of
energy, water and other natural resources. In order to ensure sustainable growth, there is a need to satisfy the
sustainability criteria and meet the constraints imposed by the finiteness of all natural resources and the
dynamics of their natural renewal .
The sustainability of biofuels production depends on the net energy gain fixed in the biofuels that depends on
the production process parameters, such as land type where the biomass is produced, the amount of energy-
intensive inputs and the energy input for harvest, transport and running the processing facilities .
Additionally, there can be competition for land use between biomass crops versus food production. These
parameters can vary considerably according to the raw material and local conditions, complicating life-cycle
assessments and preventing any valid global statement on biofuel sustainability [15-16]. The large-scale biofuel
production can only be deemed sustainable if the energy balance of the biofuel is significantly positive . The
biofuel production will be sustainable only if it is eco-friendly (less GHG emission, sequester large quantity of
carbon, not affect the air, water, soil and biodiversity, etc.), be socially acceptable (provide employment,
involved small stack holders, less inputs in the production) and economically viable (Fig. 2).
I: Highly aggregated
indices of sustainability
A. Singh et al. / EEST Part A: Energy Science and Research 29 (2012) 687-700 689
Fig. 2. Economic, social and environmental aspects of sustainable biofuels.
Markevičius et al.  found 35 criteria in emerging sustainability assessment frameworks and grouped them
into social (15 criteria), economic (4 criteria) and environmental (16 criteria). Energy balance and greenhouse
gas balance were perceived as especially critical, social criteria ranked generally low. Although being perceived
as important, food security ranked very low.
Silva Lora et al.  defined the basic criteria and also provide sustainability indicators for a sustainable
biofuels (Table 1). They also stated that the most used indicators to measure the biofuels sustainability are: Life
Cycle Energy Balance (LCEB), quantity of fossil energy substituted per hectare, co-product energy allocation,
life cycle carbon balance and changes in soil utilization.
Table 1. Criteria and sustainability indicators for sustainable biofuels .
To be carbon neutral, considering the necessity of fossil fuel
substitution and global warming mitigation.
Not to affect the quality, quantity and rational use of available
natural resources as water and soil.
iii. Not to have undesirable social consequences as starvation
because of high food prices.
To contribute to the society economic development and
Not to affect biodiversity.
3. Algal biodiesel
3. 1. Background
For several years, the research on microalgae focused on combining microalgae cultures that fix CO2 with
photosynthetic bacteria that produce H2. Though lucrative and seemingly possible, the microalgae biohydrogen
production research achieved little progress towards practical and commercial processes . It is only in recent
years that algae biofuels is referred as third generation biofuels, also known as „oilgae‟. The first mention of
algae biofuels was in a report published by MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) in the early 1950s,
when microalgae were mass cultured for the first time . Proposals to use algae as a means of producing
energy started in the late 1950s when Meier  and Oswald and Golueke  suggested the utilization of the
carbohydrate fraction of algal cells for the production of methane via anaerobic digestion. A detailed engineering
analysis in 1978 is reported by Benemann and co-workers , indicated that algal systems could produce
methane at prices competitive with projected costs for fossil fuels.
The discovery that many microalgae species can produce large amounts of lipid as cellular oil droplets under
Economic indicators (cost of production)
Output/Input relation (net energy analysis)
Substituted fossil fuel per hectare
Avoided GHG emissions (CO2 savings)
Environmental Impacts evaluation using impact categories
Carbon emissions due to land use changes
Renewability indicators (exergy or emergy accounting)
Carbon stocks changes
Air, water and soil quality
Land use change
Small holder integration
Impact on communities
690 A. Singh et al. / EEST Part A: Energy Science and Research 29 (2012) 687-700
certain growth conditions dates back to the 1940s. Various reports during the 1950s and 1960s indicated that
starvation for key nutrients (nitrogen or silicon) could lead to this phenomenon. The concept of utilizing the lipid
stores as a source of energy gained serious attention only during the oil embargo of the early 1970s and as the
energy price surges through the decade .
The Aquatic Species Program (from 1978 until 1996) at DOE-NREL (The US department of Energy -
National Renewable Energy Laboratory) represents one of the most comprehensive research efforts to date on
microalgae fuels. During the early years, the emphasis was on using algae to produce hydrogen, but the focus
changed to liquid fuels (biodiesel) in the early 1980s. Advances were made through algal strain isolation and
characterization, studies of algal physiology and biochemistry, genetic engineering, process development, and
demonstration-scale algal mass culture . The algal biofuels research is still limited to the laboratories
because the high efficiency is not be maintained after scaling-up the technology to a large production plant,
while a number of large-scale pilot plants are in operation and focus on CO2 capture from industrial emitters and
demonstrate a good quantity of dry weight production in algal bioreactors .
3. 2. Benefits over first and second generation biofuels
The first-generation biofuels have been mainly extracted from food and oil crops as well as animal fats using
conventional technology . The increasing energy demand generates the competition in food and fuel crops
production for the utilization of arable land, high water and fertilizer requirements, lack of well managed
agricultural practices in emerging economies, biodiversity conservation and regionally constrained market
structures. The sustainability of many first generation biofuels has been increasingly questioned over concerns
such as reported displacement of food crops, effects on the environment and climate change .
The increasing criticism of the sustainability of many first-generation biofuels has raised attention to the
potential of so called second-generation biofuels produced from lignocellulosic feedstocks, agriculture residues,
grasses and municipal wastes, because it produces fewer GHGs and does not compete with food supply needs.
Although significant progress continues to be made to overcome the technical and economic challenges, second-
generation biofuels production still faces major constraints to execute commercial deployment . The logistics
of providing a competitive supply of biomass feedstock to a commercial plant is challenging, as is improving the
performance of the conversion process to reduce costs . Recently, it was reported that the cellulosic ethanol
have slowed down due to the financial crisis and it is not sure when the growth in this field will pick up . At
the same time, the investment in algae as source of biofuel picked up and several big oil companies such as
Exxon Mobil, British Petroleum (BP), Dow Chemical Company planned large investments in algal research
The cultivation of algal biomass for the biofuels production has great promise because algae generate higher
energy yield and require much less space to grow than conventional feedstocks and also the algal biomass
production does not require fertile or arable land. So that algae would not compete with food and could be grown
with minimal inputs using a variety of nutrient and carbon sources, GreenFuel Technologies Corporation called
algae the fastest growing plant in the world . The various possible energy production routes via microalgal
biomass are shown in Fig. 2.
4. Technological development
4. 1. Strain selection
Approximately 22,000-26,000 species of microalgae exist of which only a few have been
identified for successful commercial application . Within the US Department of Energy‟s
Aquatic Species Program (ASP) to develop microalgae as a source of biodiesel more than
3000 strains of microalgae from ponds and oceans have been isolated . The lipid
production varies within a vast range among the algal strains (4-80% dry weight basis) and
the variation is as result of the environmental conditions. For example, in case of
Botryococcus braunii Kützing , the yield of oil per unit area is estimated to be from 5000
to 20,000 gallons/acre/year which is 7–31 times greater than the next best crop, palm oil (635
gallons/acre/year) . The best performing micro algae strain can be obtained by screening
of a wide range of naturally available isolates and the efficiency of those can be improved by
selection, adaptation and genetic engineering . Isolation of suitable microalgae from the
natural environment is the first critical step in developing oil-rich strains for further
A. Singh et al. / EEST Part A: Energy Science and Research 29 (2012) 687-700 691
exploitation in engineered systems for the production of biodiesel feedstock . Doan et al.
 found that high-throughput cell sorting, coupled with flow cytometry can be a powerful
tool to facilitate the rapid and efficient isolation of microalgae strains for onward axenic
culture. The various autofluorescence emitted from microalgae species due to their different
photosynthetic pigments have been monitored in flow cytomertry to identify algae . The
intracellular neutral lipid of isolated microalgae strains can be measured via fluorescence
intensity of Nile Red stained cultures  simultaneously to cell growth. Therefore, flow
cytometry along with cell sorting, could be a very effective tool for screening and
development of microalgal strains for the sustainable production of algal biodiesel.
Depending on species, microalgae produce many different kinds of lipids, hydrocarbons
and other complex oils [56-57]. Not all algal oils are satisfactory for making biodiesel, but
suitable oils occur commonly . A list of lipid, carbohydrate and protein composition of
some microalgae is shown in Table 2. For microalgae that are able to survive
heterotrophically, exogenous carbon sources offer prefabricated chemical energy that often is
stored as lipid droplets . Heterotrophically cultivated Chlorella protothecoides has
accumulated higher lipids (about 55% of dry weight) compared to photoautotrophically (14%
of dry weight) grown cells . Another natural mechanism through which microalgae can
alter lipid metabolism is the stress response owing to a lack of nitrogen availability .
Although nitrogen deficiency appears to inhibit the cell cycle and the production of almost all
cellular components, the rate of lipid synthesis remains higher, which leads to the
accumulation of oil in starved cells  and also promotes the accumulation of the
antioxidant pigment astaxanthin in the green alga Haematococcus pluvialis . Both of
these adaptive responses help to ensure the survival in stress conditions .
Table 2. Chemical composition of some microalgae on the basis of % dry matter [36, 41, 58-61]
Algal species Proteins Carbohydrates Lipids
The ASP recognized that the key to unlocking profitable commercialization of microalgae
lies not only in species selection and optimal cultivation, but also in genetic and metabolic
engineering. Manipulation of metabolic pathways can redirect cellular function toward the
synthesis of preferred products and even expand the processing capabilities of microalgae.
One method of coercing microalgae employs specific environmental factors, such as nutrient
regimens, to induce desired fluxes in metabolism. The metabolic engineering allows direct
control over the organism‟s cellular machinery through mutagenesis or the introduction of
transgenes. The development of a number of transgenic algal strains boasting recombinant
692 A. Singh et al. / EEST Part A: Energy Science and Research 29 (2012) 687-700
protein expression, engineered photosynthesis, and enhanced metabolism encourage the
prospects of designer microalgae .
Another important aspect while selecting the microalgal strains is when microalgae growth
is combined with CO2-biomitigation. This is due the fact that microalgae have much higher
growth rates and CO2 fixation abilities compared to conventional forestry, agricultural and
aquatic plants [67-68]. Several such algae species which included species of Chlorella and
Scenedesmus capable of CO2-biomitigation were listed by Wang et al. . This approach of
microalgal biofuel production becomes more attractive when combined with fixing industrial
exhaust gases (flue gas) and integrating the cultivation of algae with wastewater treatment.
4. 2. Harvesting technology
Harvesting of algal biomass could be the most energy demanding process due to its
concentration, smaller size and surface charge. Cells are more dilute in pond cultures in
comparison to bioreactor cultures and natural oceanic conditions. A number of methods are
available for harvesting algal biomass and Brentner et al.  have compared them in the
study „Combinatorial life cycle assessment to inform process design of industrial production
of algal biodiesel‟. Centrifugation, filtration, and flocculation and/or settling are the main
methods which generally used to harvest the micro-algal biomass.
The choice of method depends on the size and density of algae, target product and the
production process used to get the final product. Filtration is the most commonly used method
but only suitable for large micro algal strains (>70 m) and unsuitable for strains having
diameter less than 30 m. Mohn  demonstrated that filtration processes can achieve a
concentration factor of 245 times the original concentration for Coelastrum proboscideum to
produce a sludge with 27% solids. For harvesting of algal strain having small size cells
membrane microfiltration and ultrafiltration/centrifugation methods can be used .
Flocculation and settling are relatively low cost methods that only require energy for a
short period to mix the cells with a coagulant. Flocculants neutralized or reduces the negative
charge on the algal surface and prevent them sticking together in the suspension . Algae
responses differ significantly with certain flocculants and effectiveness of a particular
flocculant and dosage varied tremendously from one algal species to another. Some algal
species aggregate and settle with an increase in pH that can be controlled with CO2 aeration or
addition of lime . Brennan and Owende  reported that multivalent metal salts like ferric
chloride, aluminium sulphate and ferric sulphate are suitable flocculants [72-73]. Aluminum
sulfate and chitosan could be a promising flocculant as they are produced from crustacean
fishery waste and renewable in nature. Kim et al.  screened a number of flocculants to
harvest Scenedesmus sp. and concluded that flocculation method using consecutive treatment
with calcium chloride and ferric chloride and a bioflocculant from the culture broth of
Paenibacillus polymyxa AM49 was found to be effective for the flocculation of a high density
Scenedesmus sp. and also suggested that a flocculated medium can be effectively reused as a
growth supporting medium without compromising with the algal growth and biomass yield,
thereby significantly reducing the cost of biodiesel production from algae.
The centrifugation method is only feasible for relatively high value products  as it is
very energy intensive process, though continuous centrifugation has been explored which
might be more economic if systems are built on a large scale . Gentle acoustically
(ultrasound) induced aggregation followed by enhanced sedimentation can also be used to
harvest microalgae biomass , this method is successfully used by Bosma et al.  and
achieved 92% separation efficiency and a concentration factor of 20 times. Bruton et al. 
reported that some micro algal strains naturally float at the surface of the water as lipid
A. Singh et al. / EEST Part A: Energy Science and Research 29 (2012) 687-700 693
content increased and can be harvested by flotation method, while the evidence of its
technical and economical effectiveness is very limited . Gravity settling is only suitable for
large micro algal strains (>70 μm)
4. 3. Oil extraction
Each algal cell has a sturdy cell wall which makes oil extraction complicated. The algae also have to be dried
out before the oil extraction . Lipid or oil extraction from microalgae may be one of the least developed
areas among the algal biodiesel production processes . Widjaja et al.  found that the drying temperature
during lipid extraction from algal biomass affect both the lipid composition and content. Freeze drier retain the
original composition of microalgal lipid, while higher temperature drying decreased the content of TAG. Drying
at 60 °C still retained lipid composition with slight decrease in lipid content. Ultrasonication has no significant
effect on extraction, while sufficient pulverization help to extract entire lipid from the cells.
There are several approaches to extract lipids from harvested algal biomass, including solvent extraction,
osmotic shock, ultrasonic extraction, critical point CO2 extraction, etc. Some common extraction methods
explored in the last decade and their effectiveness at recovering lipids and lipid products are summarized by
Mercer and Armenta . Solvent extraction is a quick and efficient extraction method, applied directly on dried
biomass . Solvent extraction entails extracting oil from microalgae by repeated washing or percolation with
an organic solvent. A number of solvents (hexane, ethanol or mixture of hexane–ethanol, benzene, cyclohexane,
etc.) can be used and possible to obtain up to 98% fatty acids extraction . Hexane is a popular choice due to
its relatively low cost and high extraction efficiency . Osmotic shock is a sudden reduction in osmotic
pressure that can rupture the cells in a solution. Ultrasonic waves are used to create cavitation bubbles in a
solvent and when these bubbles collapse near the cell walls, it creates shock waves and liquid jets that break cell
wall and release their contents into the solvent. Supercritical fluid extraction involves the use of substances that
have properties of both liquids and gases (i.e. CO2) when exposed to increased temperatures and pressures. This
property allows them to act as an extracting solvent, leaving no residues behind when the system is brought back
to atmospheric pressure and room temperature .
Lee et al.  compared five methods (viz. autoclaving, bead-beating, microwaves, sonication, and a 10%
NaCl solution) to identify the most effective cell disruption method. The total lipids from Botryococcus sp.,
Chlorella vulgaris, and Scenedesmus sp. were extracted using a mixture of chloroform and methanol (1:1) and
identified microwave oven method as the most simple, easy and effective for lipid extraction from microalgae
among the tested methods. Heger  reported that OriginOil (an algal biofuel company in Los Angeles) has
developed a simpler and more efficient way to extract oil from algae by combining ultrasound and an
electromagnetic pulse to break the algal cell walls. Then the algae solution is force-fed carbon dioxide, which
lowers its pH and separates oil from the algal biomass.
Cravotto et al.  employed ultrasound-assisted extraction (UAE) and microwave-assisted extraction
(MAE) techniques to extract oils from vegetable sources and a cultivated marine microalga rich in
docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and concluded that either alone or combined techniques can greatly improve the
extraction of bioactive substances, achieving higher efficiency and shorter reaction times at low or moderate
costs, with minimal added toxicity. Samori et al.  proposed switchable-polarity solvents (SPS) method to
extract hydrocarbons from dried and water-suspended samples of microalga Botryococcus braunii based on 1,8-
diazabicyclo-[5.4.0]-undec-7-ene (DBU) and an alcohol. The high affinity of the non-ionic form of DBU/alcohol
SPS towards non-polar compounds exploited to extract hydrocarbons from algae, while the ionic character of the
DBU-alkyl carbonate form (obtained with CO2 addition) can be used to recover hydrocarbons from the SPS. On
the basis of the results Samori et al.  concluded that SPS also have the advantage to be recyclable non-
volatile/non-inflammable systems, therefore suited for non-hazardous small plants for biofuel production located
nearby algal cultivation sites.
Widjaja et al.  found that cultivation of algal strains in nitrogen deficient media not only result in higher
lipid accumulation but also gradually change the lipid composition from free fatty acid-rich lipid to lipid mostly
contained TAG. Since accumulation of lipid occurs at nitrogen depletion condition under which the growth slow
down or even no growth. Therefore, compromising between increasing lipid content and harvesting time is
necessary to obtain higher lipid content and productivity. At higher CO2 concentration under normal nutrition get
higher lipid productivity and this can also be obtained by varying not only the length of starvation but also the
length of normal nutrition. Relatively low-grade heat (such as waste heat) could be employed to separate
solvents from oil in some circumstances, greatly increasing the overall economics. Osmotic shock, though
requiring low-energy input, is probably the method with the lowest efficiency and creates a further issue for
some downstream processes, as water content can be a problem requiring energy input to overcome. In one
project under the ASP, solvent extraction costs were three times higher for algal oil than for soybean oil due to
694 A. Singh et al. / EEST Part A: Energy Science and Research 29 (2012) 687-700
high moisture content of the paste in the experiment . Mechanical dewatering (pressing and filtration) can be
cheaper than heating , but the real key is to have as few steps as possible and simple scalable extraction.
4. 4. Biodiesel production
Bio-oils (derived from crop seed, animal feed, algal biomass, etc.) have high viscosity,
high molecular weights, higher flash point (above 200 °C), low volumetric heating values
compared to diesel fuels. It has been found that the use of such bio-oils as diesel fuels in
conventional diesel engines leads to a number of problems due to significant difference in the
injection, atomization and combustion characteristics of these oils in diesel engines. The
problems with substituting triglycerides for diesel fuels are mostly associated with their high
viscosities, low volatilities and polyunsaturated character . Therefore, refinement is
essential in order to turn bio-oils into quality fuel (biodiesel) . Considerable efforts have
been made to develop vegetable oil derivatives that approximate the properties and
performance of the hydrocarbon-based diesel fuels and it can be changed mainly by four
processes, viz. pyrolysis (thermal cracking),
transesterification . Balat  have described and Lin et al.  have summarized the
pros and cons of all these processes. Both studies concluded that transesterification is the
most promising solution to the high viscosity problem and biodiesel produced
from transesterification with methanol quite similar to the conventional diesel in its main
characteristics and compatible with conventional diesel that can be blended in any proportion.
Currently, transesterification is the most accepted process for production of biodiesel from bio
based oils, due to its high conversion efficiency and low cost. Fig. 3 shows energy production
routes via microalgal biomass.
microemulsification, dilution and
Fig. 3. Energy production routes via microalgal biomass.
(Modified from Tsukahara and Sawayama , Wang et al. , Brennan and Owende , Singh et al. ).
The extracted oil from algal biomass can be converted into biodiesel through
transesterification that is a chemical reaction between triacylglycerides (TAGs) and alcohol in
the presence of a catalyst to produce mono-esters that are termed as biodiesel .
Transesterification is a multiple step reaction, including three reversible steps in series, where
triglycerides are converted to diglycerides, then diglycerides are converted to monoglycerides,
and monoglycerides are then converted to esters (biodiesel) and glycerol (by-product) .
A. Singh et al. / EEST Part A: Energy Science and Research 29 (2012) 687-700 695
Microalgae biodiesel produced from transesterification has been found to have analogous
properties (e.g. viscosity, density, flash point, cold filter plugging point, solidifying point and
heating value) to the conventional diesel  and most of these parameters comply with the
limits established by American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM)  and
International Biodiesel Standard for Vehicles (EN14214) .
Some microalgae produce high levels of TAGs but the growth of such strain might be slow
and many marine species produce higher levels of phospholipids than TAGs, which do not
behave optimally during transesterification. There is also the issue to utilize the byproducts
(remaining biomass and glycerol). Glycerol has been used in the soap industry in the past but
the increased amounts being presently produced are not being absorbed in this way,
representing the difficulty of economics of co-products matching the scale of commodities
like transport fuels. New ways of using this by-product, such as for plastic production are
becoming economic. Proteinaceous and polysaccharide remnants can be used in a variety of
ways, the integrative approach of consuming this in anaerobic digesters is one pathway 
and protein-rich residues can be used as fertilizers.
5. Major constraints in commercialization of algal biodiesel
Biodiesel is currently produced from plant and animal oils, but not from microalgae .
One of the biggest challenges in this regard is to reproduce laboratory conditions on a large
scale. In the lab, it is easier to control algal growth and find strains that produce large
quantities of oil . This situation is however likely to change as several companies are
attempting to commercialize microalgal biodiesel [27-28]. Oil productivity, that is the mass of
oil produced per unit volume of the microalgal broth per day, depends on the algal growth
rate and the oil content of the biomass. Microalgae with high oil productivities are desired for
producing biodiesel. These algae can even be nourished on recycled sources and can play a
role in the treatment of wastewater and avoid the disposal problem . However, producing
microalgal biomass is generally more expensive than growing crops. Photosynthetic growth
requires light, carbon dioxide, water and inorganic salts. Temperature must remain generally
within 20 to 30 °C. To minimize expense, biodiesel production must rely on freely available
sunlight, despite daily and seasonal variations in light levels . It has been argued that
growing algae in bioreactors requires fossil fuels for the building of these bioreactors and for
their operational activities .
Manipulation of metabolic pathways can redirect cellular function toward the synthesis of
products and even expand the processing capabilities of microalgae . The crucial
economic challenge for algae producers is to discover low cost oil extraction and harvesting
methods . Singh and Gu  suggested that the utilization of fatter algae with higher oil
content (about 60%) in comparison to lower oil content algae can reduce up to half of the size
and footprint of algae biofuels production systems and reduces the capital and operating costs
and a cheaper and easier process can provided a better ground to commercialize the algal
biodiesel. The algal micro-refineries can avoid the harvesting, extraction and refining systems
by excreting lipids directly from the cells using non-lethal extraction known as milking.
Carotenoids, high value lipids, have also been selectively extracted from the green alga
Chlorella sp. using decane . Such methods have the capability to reduce the production
cost significantly and simplify the biodiesel production process from algal biomass.
6. Future promises
Ongoing advances in cultivation techniques coupled with genetic manipulation of crucial
metabolic networks will further promote microalgae as an attractive platform for the
696 A. Singh et al. / EEST Part A: Energy Science and Research 29 (2012) 687-700
production of numerous high value compounds . Besides growing algae in well defined
conditions and provided with ideal growth substrates, algae can be grown on industrial waste
or by-product. Recently it was shown that alga Schizochytrium limacinum could be grown on
crude glycerol, which is a major byproduct of commercial biodiesel production. The algae
produced from biodiesel-derived glycerol had a composition similar to the commercial algae
The sustainability of a fuel product depends on its environmental, economic and social
impacts throughout the products entire life cycle. The complete life cycle of the fuel product
includes everything from raw material production and extraction, processing, transportation,
manufacturing, storage, distribution and use. A fuel chain and its life cycle stages cause
various harmful impacts on the environment. In addition, the life cycle stages can have
harmful effects or benefits of different economic and social dimensions. For this reason, the
total management of complete fuel chains (cradle-to-grave) from different perspectives is of
crucial importance in order to achieve sustainable fuel products and systems in our society.
For this purpose LCA appears to be a valuable tool and its use for the assessment of the
sustainability of not only fuel products, but also of other commodities has increased
dramatically in recent years . Several LCA-studies has been performed on algal biofuels
(biodiesel, biohydrogen and biogas) [69, 98-101]. The studies suggest that algal biofuel can
be an environmentally friendly solution compared to other types of fuel. The LCA studies can
further be used for identification of main environmental improvements in the technology
development (e.g. recirculation of the sewage and reuse of the remains for animal feed). In
addition to the technological challenges described above the studies indicate that further
development of the technologies from an environmental point of view should focus on
reusing all byproducts and on reducing electricity use during processing and growing.
Biodiesel from microalagae has the potential to replace fossil-based petroleum; seems technically feasible and
conversion of extracted lipid to biodiesel is relatively easy. The commercial-scale production of algal biofuels
requires careful consideration of several issues that can be broadly categorized as: selection of high oil and
biomass yielding algal species, cultivation and harvesting technology, water sources, and nutrient and growth
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