Algal Biomass Conversion to Fuels via Combined Algae Processing (CAP): 2020 State of Technology and Future Research

Research output: NRELTechnical Report


The annual State of Technology (SOT) assessment is an essential activity for platform research conducted under the Bioenergy Technologies Office. It allows for the impact of research progress to be quantified in terms of economic improvements in the overall biofuel production process for a particular biomass processing pathway, whether based on terrestrial or algal biomass feedstocks. As such, initial benchmarks can be established for currently demonstrated performance, and progress can be tracked towards out-year goals to ultimately demonstrate economically viable biofuel technologies. NREL's algae state of technology benchmarking efforts focus both on front-end algal biomass production and separately on back-end conversion to fuels through NREL's "combined algae processing" (CAP) pathway. The production model is based on outdoor long-term cultivation data, enabled by comprehensive algal biomass production trials conducted under the Development of Integrated Screening, Cultivar Optimization, and Verification Research consortium (DISCOVR) efforts, driven by data furnished by Arizona State University (ASU) at the Arizona Center for Algae Technology and Innovation (AzCATI) testbed site. The CAP model is based on experimental efforts conducted under NREL research and development projects. This report focuses on back-end conversion of algal biomass through the CAP pathway, highlighting the 2020 updates to minimum fuel selling price (MFSP). Notably, this analysis marks the first time that polyurethane (PU) is included as a value-added coproduct in the SOT case. Relative to prior 2019 benchmarks, the 2020 CAP SOT achieved further MFSP reductions of over $4/gallon gasoline equivalent, reflective of (a) the inclusion of PU co-production, (b) reduced SOT biomass production costs, and (c) higher pretreatment sugar yield data.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages36
StatePublished - 2021

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/TP-5100-79935


  • algal biomass conversion to fuels
  • combined algae processing
  • State of Technology
  • TEA


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