A number of technological challenges need to be overcome if algae are to be utilized for commercial fuel production. Current economic assessment is largely based on laboratory scale up or commercial systems geared to the production of high value products, since no industrial scale plant exits that are dedicated to algal biofuel. For macroalgae (‘seaweeds’), the most promising processes are anaerobic digestion for biomethane production and fermentation for bioethanol, the latter with levels exceeding those from sugar cane. Currently, both processes could be enhanced by increasing the rate of degradation of the complex polysaccharide cell walls to generate fermentable sugars using specifically tailored hydrolytic enzymes. For microalgal biofuel production, open raceway ponds are more cost-effective than photobioreactors, with CO2
and harvesting/dewatering costs estimated to be ~50% and up to 15% of total costs, respectively. These costs need to be reduced by an order of magnitude if algal biodiesel is to compete with petroleum. Improved economics could be achieved by using a low-cost water supply supplemented with high glucose and nutrients from food grade industrial wastewater and using more efficient flocculation methods and CO2
from power plants. Solar radiation of not <3000 h·yr−1
favours production sites 30° north or south of the equator and should use marginal land with flat topography near oceans. Possible geographical sites are discussed. In terms of biomass conversion, advances in wet technologies such as hydrothermal liquefaction, anaerobic digestion, and transesterification for algal biodiesel are presented and how these can be integrated into a biorefinery are discussed.
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