Executive Summary

The 2009 Algal Industry Survey provides baseline information about our emerging algal industry. Respondents were positive about the future of the industry and optimistic about algae’s potential to help solve critical social and economic problems.

Most industry participants believe algal production will focus on four biofuels; biodiesel, jet fuel, ethanol and gasoline. During microalgae appear to be the favored feedstock followed by freshwater algae and genetically modified strains. Most growers will use carefully selected algal strains from natural settings while others will choose height lipid species from algal collections or genetically modified strains. Algal producers are experimenting with a diverse set of production models with about a third using open ponds, another third using semi-closed ponds or polycultures. About 30% of producers plan to use closed or semi-closed systems. About 40% indicated double producers will produce algae all over the earth, with the mid-latitudes and tropics beating the favored production areas.

Production models seem to vary based on the production objectives, type of feedstock and location. International producers tend to use open ponds while U.S. producers are planning to use closed or semi-closed cultivated algal production systems. International producers are using naturally selected algae species while U.S. producers are planning to use a combination of species selection and genetically modified organisms that maximize the production of algal oil.

The industry’s most critical production challenges are harvest and extraction, production systems, component separation followed by algal species selection, culture stability and contamination issues. Critical industry issues are stable production systems, trained personnel, strain selection and costs. Nine technical challenges include credible producer claims, access to capital, in an electoral property and train personnel. Supply-chain challenges include processing, growing systems, component separation, design and construction and nutrient supplies. Besides the production of liquid transportation fuels, respondents believe algae will play a major role in carbon capture and recycle, water remediation and feed for fish, fowl and animals.

About 50% of ABO survey respondents believe that a focused algaculture program could replace ethanol production in 10 years and 88% in 20 years. About a third believes algal oil can displace U.S. oil imports in 20 years and 56% estimate 30 years. Roughly a third of respondents believe that algae will never replace oil imports.

Besides biofuels the main coproducts from algal biomass will be animal feed, fish feed, carbon capture suit in sequestration followed by chemical and unique compounds, fertilizers and nutraceuticals. The most likely social and economic issues algal production will address include liquid transportation fuel, displacing oil imports, carbon capture, clean polluted water, animal and fish feed and nutrient recovery.

Recommendations to move the industry forward include better access to information, substantial increases in public and private funding for algal R&D, stronger education and training, more information on production issues and better networking and collaboration. Industry participants want to see demonstration projects, decision support systems and independent reviews of algal production systems.

Future of algal industry research needs to drill down on production, supply chain and social and economic issues. Improved information on industry needs will support industry participants and provide critical information needed for public policy decisions and support.

Survey results follow.

Other: Economics, temperature control, mutants, environmental impacts, and bio-safety.

Other: Costs, energy ratio and nutrients.

Other: Regulations, educate politicians, need success models, too much false hype and take-off agreements.

Other: Buyers, letters of credit, funding models, subsidies like other renewable.

49% believe ethanol can be replaced in 10 years, 82% believe ethanol can be replaced in 20 years.

29% believe oil imports can be displaced in 20 years, 56% believe imports can be replaced in 30 years.
One-third of respondents believe oil imports can never be replaced with algae.

Other: Bioplastics, biochar, polysaccharides, phycibiliproteins, cosmetics, new compounds.

15. What three key things need to happen to move the algal industry forward?

The dominate words used to enhance the industry were success models, funding sources, government support, education, credible claims, cost reduction, communication and cooperation. and production. The industry needs government investment because the initial investments and risks are very high. The recommendations are grouped and ordered based on how often respondents recommended the action.

Success models

  • Success stories (5)
  • Multi-year pilot farms
  • Viable economic model
  • Proof of cost effective large scale production techniques
  • Cost competitive algae-to-fuel systems need to be demonstrated
  • Commercial scale production
  • Show economically feasible, sustainable working systems


  • Access to capital (12)
  • Level playing field with other fuels
  • Financing models

Technology development

  • Technical standards; standards for reporting yields
  • Solve harvest and separation technologies (7)
  • Development of all steps of the process chain
  • Scaling of bioreactors
  • Understand the entire algae biology
  • Species selection
  • Discovery of valuable byproducts
  • Robust lifecycle analysis
  • Development of standards for terminology, measurements, etc so that when one of says or writes something we all know what it means.
  • Stop trying to create perfect algae
  • Support much more outdoor tests and experiences
  • Development of new culture technologies
  • Develop low energy separation and processing techniques
  • Move the focus from biology to process engineering

Academic and industry training

  • Doing what you are doing now-Action
  • Education and training (9)
  • Manpower training (7)
  • Spread of knowledge
  • Educate public and politicians (4)

Government support

  • Cap and trade
  • Concerted, focused and coordinated lobbying at government level
  • Increase Congressional Advocacy and obtain incentives
  • Grants for more basic R&D
  • Parity with other biofuels
  • True investment in research and commercialization from Federal Government 20-year commitment of public funding at $200M/year
  • Decades of sustained and increasing government and industry R&D and scale-up financing regardless of fluctuating oil prices.
  • Water remediation funding – or EPA enforcement
  • States need dedicated research programs
  • Algae need to become an industrial commodity
  • Increase funding for basic science on algae

Regulatory approval

  • Educate EPA, USDA, etc.
  • Technical standards
  • Level playing field with other biofuels
  • Speed regulatory approvals

Credible claims

  • End hype! (5)
  • Stop the PR machines
  • Science Based, Fact driven algae industry development
  • Minimize grandstanding, maximize credibility
  • Challenging of outrageous production claims

Reduce costs

  • Develop low-cost growing systems (9)
  • Lower costs (14)
  • The cost of production at the very large scale needs to be drastically reduced

Communication and cooperation

  • Better communication among different working groups
  • Collaboration between and among companies
  • Too many individual efforts, IP driving this issue
  • Collaboration among the different supply chain participants
  • Knowledge of Best Practices

Good recommendations

  • Carbon dioxide pipeline!
  • Patent pooling
  • Find the black swan
  • Rational approach to IP
  • Parity with corn/soy for algal biofuels
  • Optimize carbon capture

What algal information would most benefit you? (These came from last year’s survey.)

Respondents indicated a desire for better information on algae, insights on financing, support for education and training, production information and stronger collaboration. Additional requests included the ideas below.

  • Industry summary. The algal industry may follow the lead of other forms of renewable energy such as solar and wind to create a summary of the industry.
  • Demonstration units. The algal industry should build and operate demonstration facilities so that people can see algal production.
  • Decision support. Information on production, extraction and processing are too distributed and need to be more accessible.
  • Products and coproducts. What is the total product array for algal biomass and what production strategies are used to maximize each product?
  • Real production numbers. Actual rather than theoretical production numbers would be a huge breakthrough.
  • Ideal strains. What are the ideal strains for various products and what are sources for these strains.
  • Market trends. What are market trends in the algal industry?
  • Independent reviews. Are there independent reviews of algal production methods?

15. Where do you get your news about algae?

  • Google News Alerts
  • Blogs, internet, Linked-In
  • Biofuels Digest
  • Conferences
  • Algal Biomass Organization
  • Journals and research papers
  • John Benemann
  • Mark Edwards
  • NAO
  • Oilgae.com
  • SIO algae commercialization series
  • Biomass Magazine
  • CleanTech network
  • GreenTech media

Other. Project developer, inventor, consultant, engineering, lobbyist, airline, systems integrator.

Other: Not American, conference cost, conference first, not enough membership benefits.

Other: I want to support the fledgling industry. I have a personal altruistic, sustainable, biological alliance, survivalist, agenda, job board, meet people with similar interests.

Other: Political outreach, job board, exchange information and build knowledge.

24. What ABO benefits offer the most value to you?

  • Networking (22)
  • Meetings and conferences (16)
  • Exposure to industry and competitors
  • Exchange of technical information
  • Information on production costs and methods
  • Government relations and support
  • Collective advocacy
  • News about algae commercialization developments
  • Information portal (should be)
  • Education and training

25. What additional ABO actions would you like to see? Please include the ABO web site.

  • Newsletter (17)
  • Information portal, latest developments, credible information
  • Technical standards, reviews and analysis
  • Tours real and virtual
  • Case studies with real data
  • Yield claims verification, evaluation
  • Financing presentations and opportunities, networking for funding
  • Meaningful info on website
  • Discussion topic boards, open access
  • Stronger policy presence, Federal and State, PAC
  • Media engagement
  • Regular membership outreach (e.g., newsletter with links to relevant industry articles and website database of archived articles)
  • More active government relations program
  • Meeting in the Mid-West or East Coast
  • Specific interest breakout groups
  • Algae help wanted classifieds

Acknowledgments. Several key people assisted in the development of the survey including:
Mark Allen, CEO and President, A2BE
Milton Sommerfeld, Professor, ASU
Jim Sears, CTO and Chief Scientist, A2BE Jeff Mettais, Marketing Officer, A2BE
Greg Mitchell, Research Biologist, Scripps Institution of Oceanography
Qiang Hu, Assoc. Prof. Arizona State University
Keith Cooksley, Prof. Montana State UniversityPhillip Pienkos, Nat. Renewable Energy Labs
Elizabeth Willett, Mars Symbioscience
Survey Administration: Mary Rosenthal, Mark Edwards and Debra Quella.