Algal oil as an alternative to fossil fuel has attracted attention since the 1940s, when it was discovered that many microalgae species can produce large amounts of lipids. Economics and energy security were the motivational factors for a spurt in algae research during the 1970s, 1990s, and early 2000s. Whenever crude prices declined, research on algae stopped. The scenario today is different. Even given low and volatile crude prices ($30–$50/barrel), interest in algae continues all over the world. Algae, with their cure-all characteristics, have the potential to provide sustainable solutions to problems in the energy-food-climate nexus. However, after years of effort, there are no signs of algae-to-biofuel technology being commercialized. This article critically reviews past work; summarizes the current status of the technology; and based on the lessons learned, provides a balanced perspective on a potential path toward commercialization of algae-to-oil technology.
Annual Review of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering – Annual Reviews
Published: Jun 7, 2017