De-Risking Pretreatment of Microalgae to Produce Fuels and Chemical Co-Products

Jacob Kruger, Skylar Schutter, Eric Knoshaug, Bonnie Panczak, Hannah Alt, Alicia Sowell, Stefanie Van Wychen, Matthew Fowler, Kyoko Hirayama, Anuj Thakkar, Sandeep Kumar, Tao Dong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Conversion of microalgae to renewable fuels and chemical co-products by pretreating and fractionation holds promise as an algal biorefinery concept, but a better understanding of the pretreatment performance as a function of algae strain and composition is necessary to de-risk algae conversion operations. Similarly, there are few examples of algae pretreatment at scales larger than the bench scale. This work aims to de-risk algal biorefinery operations by evaluating the pretreatment performance across nine different microalgae samples and five different pretreatment methods at small (5 mL) scale and further de-risk the operation by scaling pretreatment for one species to the 80 L scale. The pretreatment performance was evaluated by solubilization of feedstock carbon and nitrogen [as total organic carbon (TOC) and total nitrogen (TN)] into the aqueous hydrolysate and extractability of lipids [as fatty acid methyl esters (FAMEs)] from the pretreated solids. A range of responses was noted among the algae samples across pretreatments, with the current dilute Bronsted acid pretreatment using H2SO4 being the most consistent and robust. This pretreatment produced TOC yields to the hydrolysate ranging from 27.7 to 51.1%, TN yields ranging from 12.3 to 76.2%, and FAME yields ranging from 57.9 to 89.9%. In contrast, the other explored pretreatments (other dilute acid pretreatments, dilute alkali pretreatment with NaOH, enzymatic pretreatment, and flash hydrolysis) produced lower or more variable yields across the three metrics. In light of the greater consistency across samples for dilute acid pretreatment, this method was scaled to 80 L to demonstrate scalability with microalgae feedstocks.
Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)8804-8816
Number of pages13
JournalEnergy and Fuels
Issue number10
StatePublished - 2024

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-5100-89504


  • biomass
  • extraction
  • hydrolysis
  • lipids
  • pretreatment


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