Index   ii

1    Executive Report 1

2    Introduction  2

3    Algae  2

3.1      Algae growth  3

3.2      CO2 fixation  3

3.3      Biofuel and land and water use  3

3.4      Electricity production  4

3.5      Hydrogen production  4

3.6      Energy efficiency  4

4    Economic Evaluation  5

5    Barriers  5

6    Main algae projects  6

6.1      Outside Canada  6

6.2      Inside Canada  6


Appendix 1 - Algae as CO2 fixing  8

Appendix 2 – Canadian Cost to Warm Water  9

Appendix 3 – Crops and Biofuel Production Constraints  10

Appendix 4 - Energy Returned On Energy Invested (EROEI) ratio  11



1          Executive Report


The use of algae for biofuel has been studied for more than 30 years in USA. For economic reasons, research on algae has lost funding to other biofuel sources such as crops; however, current price scenarios for fossil fuels, crops and food as well as improvements in technology have led to resurgence in studies of algae technology and the initiation of pilot projects.


Around the world, more than 200 algae projects are being developed, involving several universities, companies and government agencies in multidisciplinary study groups. The studies focus on genetic combination and manipulation of algae, and improvement in facility engineering costs.


Algae are a highly efficient converter of solar energy into fuel, fertilizers, hydrogen, and oxygen, needing only sunlight, fertilizer, water and carbon dioxide (CO2) to grow. This combination of characteristics gives algae a strong potential for further development.


Additionally, algae have strong advantages over crops for energy production:

·      Use of marginal land, avoiding competition with crops land use;

·      Lower water quantity and quality requirements, avoiding competition for fresh water resources;

·      Continuous consumption and production;

·      Higher energy efficiency than crops; and

·      Feed CO2 can be provided from carbon capture in other industries.


Disadvantages for development of algae projects in Albertan are:



Otherwise, current disadvantages in Albertan project development are:


According to recent feasibility studies and pilot projects in US deserts, technological improvements and increases in fossil fuel prices are making competitive algae technology. In a Canadian context, weather conditions significantly increase energy costs for algae production, and algae technology needs more development in all areas to be economically competitive; however, CO2 fixing gives algae technology a particular interest in those regions with high CO2 emissions.


In Alberta and Canada, a lack of studies for real Canadian conditions is observed; this could be in detriment of this promissory technology and its wide range of application in Alberta and Canada.

2                   Introduction


The US Department of Energy has funded research into algal fuels under the Aquatic Species Program from 1978 to 1996, but then switched resources to other programs such as using maize as a feedstock for bioethanol.


Climate change and rising oil and food prices intensify the search for alternative energy sources. Algae technology appears to provide a complete solution to address these three main issues: climate change and oil and food prices.


Algae’s capacity for CO2 fixation and bio-energy production, as well as other by-products (e.g. oxygen, hydrogen, fertilizers) increase algae’s potential. Several studies and pilot plants are being developed using micro-algae technology.


3          Algae


Thousands of species and sub-species of algae are available today to study their properties and adaptation to different land and weather conditions. Most of these studies are being developed with green algae, which show the most important characteristics associated to the requirements demanded for the energy industry.


The principle for algae growth is photosynthesis, the process used by crops and plants when they grow. The photosynthesis process needs water, nutrients and solar energy for algal growth. In the case of algae, special water requirements are not necessary. Between the more important nutrients that algae need to grow are nitrogen, heavy metals and most importantly, carbon. In the natural photosynthesis process, carbon is taken from CO2 in the atmosphere; for algae, the physical disposition of CO2 injected into the ponds helps controlling the CO2 feeding; this principle does that algae technology could be used for CO2 fixing.


Algae composition depends on the type of algae, but typical components and values are:

·         Lipids, from 1.9 to 32% and used for biofuel production;

·         Proteins, from 49 to 79% and used as by product for animal feed;

·         Carbohydrates, from 9 to 25% and used as by product for animal feed; and

·         Ash, from 4 to 7%.


An algae producer has three primary processing options:

·      dry and pelletize; to feed various markets, protein extractions and nutritional products;

·      extract oils for biofuels;

·      hydrogen or oxygen production; and

·      use the algae like biomass to produce electricity and use the remaining solids for fertilizer.

The characteristic of each algae specimen and the addition of fertilizer could optimize different constraints such as CO2 consumption or the proportion of protein, carbohydrates and lipids produced. This proportion could be maximized according with the goal for the use of algae. Several studies are being carried out with different goals for the use of algae.

In industrial algae use, large pond surfaces are necessary, requiring commercial-scale facilities. Facility location becomes an important consideration. Some possibilities include building adjacent to coal-fired power plants or oilsands projects to be close to a source of CO2, or next to ethanol plants to decrease transportation of the algae once it's grown. Others are considering utilizing wastewater produced by municipalities, although that particular possibility has potential drawbacks for the control of algae contaminant.

In Canada, special concerns for algae production are:


3.1              Algae growth


A lot of factors affect the growth rate of algae, including energy radiation (e.g. solar intensity and sun inclination), kind of algae, nutrients and water temperature.  There are two different parameters to measure algae growth:


Algae have a very quick growth rate compared with crops and needs to be harvested once a day under normal conditions. This growth allows continuous algae production, which means a continuous CO2 consumption, and a continuous energy and by-products production.


3.2              CO2 fixation


Algae can act as a sink for CO2 because they absorb it during photosynthesis. The rule of thumb is that it takes two million tons of algae to be able to capture one million tons of CO2.


Typical values for CO2 fixation are 2.5 gCO2/L/d (0.65 to 4 gCO2/L/d)


The relationship between CO2 and algae growth is:


Appendix 1 provides a detailed description of data for the application of fixing CO2 from a typical Coal-Fired Power Plant.


3.3              Biofuel and land and water use


The use of crops for biofuels presents some important concerns (Appendix 3); algae production, with its more efficient use of resources, eliminates or minimizes many of the concerns associated with crop use for biofuels:


The average yearly yield for algae can be as high as 47,000 litres of biodiesel per hectare.  In comparison, a hectare of soybeans can typically only produce 655 litres, with corn capable of producing only 3930 litres of ethanol per hectare (Appendix 3 provides comparisons with others crops).


3.4              Electricity production


Biomass produced by algae can be used to feed a biomass power plant. A typical algal mass has a heating value of 16.3 to 20.9 MJ/Kg (7,000-9,000 BTU/lb), which is better than lignite[1]; but the heating value of algal oil and lipids is 37.2 MJ/Kg (16,000 BTU/lb), which is better than anthracite1.


For comparison, the heating values of different sources are:

Natural Gas: 52 MJ/Kg

Heavy Fuel Oil: 42 MJ/Kg

Coal: Bituminous 28 MJ/Kg, Sub-Bituminous 20 MJ/Kg and Lignite 15 MJ/Kg

Algae: 19 MJ/Kg


For the example given in the appendixes, Algae could produce 24.8 MW/Km2 (6.9 to 42.6 MW/Km2) when is used for biomass for electricity generation.


3.5              Hydrogen production


Algae can be used as a biological source for the production of hydrogen. When algae are deprived of sulphur, they will switch from the production of oxygen (normal photosynthesis) to the production of hydrogen. Up to 0.15 Kg of hydrogen could be produced by Kg of dry Algae.


3.6              Energy efficiency


Crops have around 1.05 Energy Returned On Energy Invested (EROEI) ratio (from 0.8 to 1.2). Algae increase this energy efficiency ratio up to 1.3 (Appendix 4).



4          Economic Evaluation


Algae technology is improving cost and efficiency in biofuel production. Algae is touted as a cheaper alternative to traditional biofuel feedstock, producing 30 times more oil with one hundredth the water per hectare required in comparison to traditional crops. Despite the benefits of algae technology, investors have balked at the prohibitive capital costs, which can run up to M$ 1.5 per hectare. Future projects in the USA aim to reduce the capital cost by a factor of sixteen.


According to National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), typical USA algae project has:

Capital Cost: 145 M$/Km2

Operation and Maintenance cost: 27 M$/Km2/y


Canadian environmental conditions add:

Capital Cost:

            Quonset cover and warm up and light installation: 51 M$/Km2

Operation cost:

            Electricity for lighting and gas to warm water: 43 M$/Km2/y


These combine to provide the following cost comparison for algae projects in the USA and Canada:


Capital Expenditure


Canada (Alberta)

Capital Cost [M$/Km2]



Operation and Maintenance [M$/Km2/y]





Canada (Alberta) [M$/Km2/y]





CO2 saving




By Products




Oil or Electricity production





5          Barriers


Essentially, in Canada algae has four main concerns:


Industry is working on cost reduction and improvement in the following areas:


6          Main algae projects

6.1                 Outside Canada


There are more than 200 algae projects around the world in different stages and with different goals. The main targets in order of application are:

·         Biofuel production;

·         CO2 fixation; and

·         Hydrogen production.


The LiveFuels Alliance leads by Sandia National Laboratories, a U.S. Department of Energy National Laboratory, follows a collaborative project that will sponsor dozens of labs and hundreds of scientists within the next three years making it the largest endeavor focused on commercial biocrude from algae.

The biggest challenge is to make algae biocrude for less than $60 a barrel.


XL Renewables, Inc, has developed a low-cost algae system for the large-scale production of algae biomass called Withrow 40. Based on 16 ha (40 acres) fields that grow and harvest the algae, the XL project provides to algae farm a constant flow of CO2 enriched air to stimulate growth. The project will be open to the public on November 1, 2008 and sales will begin January 1, 2009.


NRG Energy, which is field testing the technology at one of its coal-fired plants in Louisiana, is using naturally-occurring algae to capture and reduce flue gas CO2 emissions. The energy-rich algae are harvested daily and can be converted into a broad range of bio-fuels or high-value animal feed supplements.


AlgaeLink and KLM expect to conduct test flights this fall relative to algae biofuel. AlgaeLink will also open two plants this year in the Netherlands and Spain. KLM hopes to have 12 of their Fokker-50 planes (7% of their air fleet) running on the fuel by 2010, with the eventual goal of running their entire fleet of airplanes on fuel made from algae.


6.2                 Inside Canada


In Canada, some laboratories are studying algae genomes for their growth in Canadian conditions and developing a mapping of algae growth base on different fertilizers and nutrients. Some enterprises have been developing some kind of algae study:

-          SFN Biosystems Inc.

-          Innoventures Canada Inc.

-          Lipidipod Inc.

-          Proges S.A., a enterprise based in Caribbean region, but studying an algae project in Fort McMurray


Renewables and Alternatives Unit, Alberta Department of Energy, is supporting two projects:

-          I-CAN’s project

-          SFN Biosystems Inc.’s project


In contrary to what happens in other jurisdictions, in all analyzed algae project in Alberta it was observed until now:

-          lacks of pre study of algae technology as well as pre-engineering of the project,

-          lacks of base knowledge and optional studies; and

-          lacks of complete analysis from Canadian conditions.



Algae are a highly efficient converter of solar energy into fuel for cars, homes, fertilizers, hydrogen, oxygen and power generators, needing only sunlight, water and CO2 to grow. The more interesting applications for algae projects today are biofuel production and CO2 consumption.


The emergence of algae biomass as a renewable source of vegetable oils, proteins and carbohydrates decreases demand pressures on corn and soybeans. Algae compete with crops in biofuel production with a lot of advantages:


And some disadvantages are present in this technology:


Economical and technical analysis of algae technology relates it more with biodiesel production than CO2 consumption. The CO2 consumption appears like a by-product of this technology considering the high land extension required for CO2 fixing.


Canadian weather conditions do not help to the development of this technique in Canada, scenario that is commonly not considered in the feasibilities studies of algae projects in Canada.

Appendix 1 - Algae as CO2 fixing


Taking Coal-Fired Genesee #3 Power Plant as application, we have:

·         Power Capacity: 450 MW

·         CO2 emission: around 842 kgCO2/MWh


For pond requirements:

·         14.3 cm of depth

·         11 cm of algae


The following figure shows the side long in Km for the necessary pond as function of the percentage of the fixed CO2.





Appendix 2 – Canadian Cost to Warm Water


Following figure shows the cost in $M/Celsius degree for warm up the water in the algae pond as function of the percentage of the fixed CO2 for the case in Appendix 1.






CO2 @ 15 $/tCO2

Oil @ 135 $/bbl

Gas @ 12 $/GJ

Electricity @ 90 $/MWh

Appendix 3 – Crops and Biofuel Production Constraints


There are several concerns about the use of crops for biofuels[2]. The most common concern are the relationship of biofuels with increases in food prices[3], the use of fertile lands to produce energy without efficient energy programs, and the emphasis on the difference between rich and poor countries and increasing world poverty. In addition, there are some technical concerns about the use of crops for biofuels:

·         Low efficiency; the relationship between energy obtained and energy inverted to produce biofuel is around 1.05 (0.8 to 1.2);

·         Increase in the use of oil; crop harvest requires extensive use of agricultural machinery, which is a major user of oil derivatives. Also, the use of biofuels in this agricultural machinery decreases biofuel energy efficiency and the full replacement of oil by biofuels is impossible today

·         Capacity limitations:

o   Canadian oil consumption:  840 M bbl/y (450 M bbl/y for transportation sector)

o   Alberta oil consumption: around 110 M bbl/y

o   The following table presents the land surface necessary as percentage of Canadian land use, to replace, by different crops, the total oil consumption for transportation in Canada. For example, for Sunflower, a surface of 780 km x 780 km, or 6.1% of Canada’s land surface (or the similar Alberta’s land surface) would be needed compared to only 0.1% for algae.




Oil equivalent [tonne/ha]

Surface to produce 450 Mbbl/year [km2]

Canadian land cultivated [%]






















Sugar beet

























o   The following table presents the necessary percentage of Alberta’s land surface to replace, by different crops, total oil consumption in Alberta. For example, for Sunflower, a surface of 385 km x 385 km, or 22.4 % of Alberta’s land surface would be needed compared to only 0.3% for algae.




Oil equivalent [tonne/ha]

Surface to produce 110 Mbbl/year [km2]

Albertan land cultivated [%]






















Sugar beet
























Appendix 4 - Energy Returned On Energy Invested (EROEI) ratio


Energy Return On Energy Investment (EROEI) is an important concept to understand and a concept that is severely lacking in our current political debate on new energy sources.


EROEI is simply defined as = 1+ Energy Produced / Energy Used

This definition is based in the relationship between produced and consumed energy for a technology; it stresses in how much energy as balance we can obtain for each technology.


This coefficient has strong arguments of both detractors and supporters; these two positions remember the attention that we need to have in its utilization. Detractors say:

In other way, supporters trust in this simple and powerful ratio at the extreme of explaining the fall or surfacing of cultures (e.g. Roman or several theories for the future of the nations).


Nowadays, with the coming out of new or improved technologies, the use of EROEI such as a simple technology comparison is much extended. The following tables present the range of EROEI for the more common technologies evaluated at this moment.






Oil and gas (domestic wellhead)




8 to 27

Coal (mine mouth)





Oil shale

0.7 to 13.3

Coal liquefaction

0.5 to 8.2

Geopressured gas

1.0 to 5.0

Ethanol (sugercane)

0.8 to 1.7

Ethanol (corn)


Ethanol (corn residues)

0.7 to 1.8

Methanol (wood)


Solar space heat (fossil backup)

Flat-plate collector


Concentrating collector






The EROEI for electricity production:






U.S. average


Western surface coal- No scrubbers


Coal (mine mouth)

Western surface coal- scrubbers




Nuclear (light-water reactor)



Power satellite


Power tower



1.7 to 10


Liquid dominated


Hot dry rock

1.9 to 13



These tables could orient a lot of conclusions, some of them are:



[1] Coal quality is characterized in the following growing order according to their heat capacity: Peat, Lignite, Sub-bituminous, Bituminous, Anthracite and Graphite. Electricity sector in Alberta usually consume sub-bituminous coal.


[2] UK announced in G8 meeting in Japan, the reduction in the expansion rate for biofuels.

[3] The increase in the food price is due the 75% to the use of biofuels, according to World Bank report.