BioEnergy Research

, Volume 5, Issue 1, pp 49-60

First online:

Current Large-Scale US Biofuel Potential from Microalgae Cultivated in Photobioreactors

  • Jason C. QuinnAffiliated withMechanical Engineering, Colorado State University Email author 
  • , Kimberly CattonAffiliated withCivil and Environmental Engineering, Colorado State University
  • , Nicholas WagnerAffiliated withMechanical Engineering, Colorado State University
  • , Thomas H. BradleyAffiliated withMechanical Engineering, Colorado State University

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Current assessments of the commercial viability and productivity potential of microalgae biofuels have been forced to extrapolate small-scale research data. The resulting analyses are not representative of microalgae cultivation and processing at industrial scale. To more accurately assess the current near-term realizable, large-scale microalgae productivity potential in the USA, this paper presents a model of microalgae growth derived from industrial-scale outdoor photobioreactor growth data. This model is combined with thermal models of the photobioreactor system and 15 years of hourly historical weather data from 864 locations in the USA to more accurately assess the current productivity potential of microalgae. The resulting lipid productivity potential of Nannochloropsis is presented in the form of a map that incorporates various land availability models to illustrate the near-term feasible cultivation locations and corresponding productivity potentials for the USA. The discussion focuses on a comparison of model results with productivity potentials currently reported in literature, an assessment demonstrating the scale of Department of Energy 2030 alternative fuel goals, and a critical comparison of productivity potential in several key regions of the USA.


Biofuels GIS Microalgae Model Productivity potential