Opportunities for Utilization of Low-Cost Algae Resources: Techno-Economic Analysis Screening for Near-Term Deployment

Research output: NRELTechnical Report


This report presents a comprehensive techno-economic analysis (TEA) for the production, collection, or procurement of several low-cost algae resources that may otherwise be considered "waste" biomass materials today, as well as the utilization of these materials through exemplary conversion processes to produce renewable fuels and chemicals. In contrast to conventional TEA models attributed to large-scale algae "farming" approaches, which may be able to produce substantially more biomass and thus fuels/products at a national scale in the future, this assessment focuses on understanding opportunities and costs for such "waste" algal biomass resources as may be available at considerably lower cost today. Economics for base case assumptions and a range of sensitivity scenarios are presented, employing conversion technologies that are simple and well understood, and thus may be deployed at smaller community scale in the near term, as a means to support and expand a nascent algae industry on the way to employing a larger commercial algae farm approach for commodity-scale production. Specifically, three algal biomass resources are considered in this assessment, as may be sourced from (1) municipal wastewater treatment (WWT) utilizing algae in place of more conventional technologies for nitrogen/phosphorus removal, (2) collection and removal of harmful algal bloom (HAB) biomass as proliferates in certain inland water bodies, and (3) procurement of residual biomass following commercial lipid extraction (EXT) operations performed at smaller scale by industry today focused on higher-value nutraceutical applications. These three resources are evaluated through two conversion pathways: (1) combined algal biomass processing (CAP) through a simple/low-complexity configuration, and (2) anaerobic digestion (AD). The CAP pathway produces liquid fuels and chemical coproducts (polymer for off-site upgrading to bioplastics), whereas the AD pathway produces biogas (specifically renewable natural gas [RNG]) and crop fertilizer coproducts. To streamline the discussion, this report is broken into two sections: Part 1 focuses on WWT-derived biomass, and Part 2 on HAB and EXT biomass.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages87
StatePublished - 2022

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/TP-5100-81780


  • algae
  • anaerobic digestion
  • combined algae processing
  • harmful algal blooms
  • waste resources
  • wastewater treatment


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