Algal Biomass Conversion to Fuels via Combined Algae Processing (CAP): 2022 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 (BETO). It allows for the impact of research progress (both directly achieved in-house at NREL and furnished by partner organizations) 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 toward out-year goals to ultimately demonstrate economically viable biofuel technologies. NREL's algae SOT 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 Development of Integrated Screening, Cultivar Optimization, and Verification Research (DISCOVR) consortium efforts and driven by data furnished by Arizona State University's (ASU's) Arizona Center for Algae Technology and Innovation (AzCATI) test bed site. The CAP model is primarily based on experimental efforts conducted under NREL research and development projects, with some process parameters provided by partner organizations. Assumptions regarding the wet storage of algae use data provided by Idaho National Laboratory (INL), while parts of the polyurethane production process leverage BETO-funded research from collaborators at Algenesis and the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). This report focuses on back-end conversion of algal biomass through the CAP pathway, highlighting the 2022 updates to minimum fuel selling price (MFSP). This update incorporates improvements to fermentation performance for two biological pathways through carboxylic acid and 2,3-butanediol (BDO) intermediates, as demonstrated through parallel research on the biochemical conversion of corn stover. Improvements are applied to the glucose fraction of the biomass only, while parameters regarding the conversion of the mannose fraction (not a significant component in corn stover) are maintained consistently with prior CAP SOTs. Additional parameters are also updated to reflect the most current understanding of each pathway, including an increase in the catalyst loading requirement in the ketonization step of the acids pathway and a decrease in the fermentation productivity in the BDO pathway. Additionally, the biomass feedstock costs (minimum biomass selling price [MBSP]), yields, and seasonal variability from the upstream cultivation SOT model were also incorporated into downstream Aspen Plus CAP models.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages38
StatePublished - 2023

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/TP-5100-85662


  • algal biomass conversion to fuels
  • combined algae processing
  • state of technology
  • TEA


Dive into the research topics of 'Algal Biomass Conversion to Fuels via Combined Algae Processing (CAP): 2022 State of Technology and Future Research'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this