Techno-Economic Assessment for the Production of Algal Fuels and Value-Added Products: Opportunities for High-Protein Microalgae Conversion

Matthew Wiatrowski, Bruno Klein, Ryan Davis, Carlos Quiroz-Arita, Eric Tan, Ryan Hunt, Ryan Davis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus Citations


Background: Microalgae possess numerous advantages for use as a feedstock in producing renewable fuels and products, with techno-economic analysis (TEA) frequently used to highlight the economic potential and technical challenges of utilizing this biomass in a biorefinery context. However, many historical TEA studies have focused on the conversion of biomass with elevated levels of carbohydrates and lipids and lower levels of protein, incurring substantial burdens on the ability to achieve high cultivation productivity rates relative to nutrient-replete, high-protein biomass. Given a strong dependence of algal biomass production costs on cultivation productivity, further TEA assessment is needed to understand the economic potential for utilizing potentially lower-cost but lower-quality, high-protein microalgae for biorefinery conversion. Results: In this work, we conduct rigorous TEA modeling to assess the economic viability of two conceptual technology pathways for processing proteinaceous algae into a suite of fuels and products. One approach, termed mild oxidative treatment and upgrading (MOTU), makes use of a series of thermo-catalytic operations to upgrade solubilized proteins and carbohydrates to hydrocarbon fuels, while another alternative focuses on the biological conversion of those substrates to oxygenated fuels in the form of mixed alcohols (MA). Both pathways rely on the production of polyurethanes from unsaturated fatty acids and valorization of unconverted solids for use as a material for synthesizing bioplastics. The assessment found similar, albeit slightly higher fuel yields and lower costs for the MA pathway, translating to a residual solids selling price of $899/ton for MA versus $1033/ton for MOTU as would be required to support a $2.50/gallon gasoline equivalent (GGE) fuel selling price. A variation of the MA pathway including subsequent upgrading of the mixed alcohols to hydrocarbon fuels (MAU) reflected a required solids selling price of $975/ton. Conclusion: The slight advantages observed for the MA pathway are partially attributed to a boundary that stops at oxygenated fuels versus fungible drop-in hydrocarbon fuels through a more complex MOTU configuration, with more comparable results obtained for the MAU scenario. In either case, it was shown that an integrated algal biorefinery can be economical through optimal strategies to utilize and valorize all fractions of the biomass.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number8
Number of pages14
JournalBiotechnology for Biofuels and Bioproducts
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s).

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-5100-79840


  • Biofuels
  • Bioproducts
  • Conversion
  • High-protein
  • Microalgae
  • Techno-economic assessment


Dive into the research topics of 'Techno-Economic Assessment for the Production of Algal Fuels and Value-Added Products: Opportunities for High-Protein Microalgae Conversion'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this