Algal Biomass Production via Open Pond Algae Farm Cultivation: 2023 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 the National Renewable Energy Laboratory [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 historically focused 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 (DISCOVR) consortium 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 primarily under NREL research and development projects. This report focuses on front-end algal biomass production, documenting the pertinent algal biomass cultivation parameters that were input to the NREL open pond algae farm model. Through partnerships under DISCOVR, collaborators at ASU furnished details on cultivation performance metrics including biomass productivity and harvest densities for recent growth trials done at the AzCATI site. The resulting biomass productivity was calculated at 16.7 g/m2/day (ash-free dry weight [AFDW], annual average) for seasonal cultivation of Picochlorum celeri TG2 and Monoraphidium minutum 26B-AM biomass strains at the ASU site. Picochlorum celeri achieved the best productivity from April to September, with Monoraphidium minutum 26B-AM being used between October and March. Tetraselmis striata LANL1001, usually part of the strain rotation in previous cultivation SOTs, was supplanted by Monoraphidium minutum 26B-AM in this year's outdoor cultivation trials. Finally, building from an industry case study presented in the 2022 SOT report, in the Appendix of this report we provide an update on further improved data furnished by an industry collaborator and resultant impacts on economics reflecting several seasonal scenarios. This case study provides a supplementary datapoint on work being performed elsewhere with a more dedicated focus on improved compositional quality, producing biomass enriched in lipids as may be more optimal for conversion upgrading to fuels and products.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages37
StatePublished - 2024

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/TP-5100-88802


  • algae farm TEA
  • algal biomass
  • state of technology
  • techno-economic analysis


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