Biotechnology Letters

, Volume 41, Issue 2, pp 193–201 | Cite as

Biogas from microalgae: an overview emphasizing pretreatment methods and their energy return on investment (EROI)

  • Aline de Luna Marques
  • Ofélia de Queiroz Fernandes Araújo
  • Magali Christe CammarotaEmail author


Studies have reported enhancements in methane yield from pretreatment methods that benefit the anaerobic digestion (AD) of microalgae. However, energy return on investment (EROI), i.e., methane production enhancement achieved over energy input, may be unfavorable. Aiming to quantify EROI of AD microalgae pretreatment, about 180 experiments applied to 30 microalgae biomasses were compiled through an extensive literature survey, classified into 4 pretreatments (physical, enzymatic, chemical, and hybrid), and analyzed. Most of these pretreatments enhanced methane yield, especially the enzymatic alternative. EROI was evaluated for the most efficient pretreatments. Only in one thermal pretreatment the energy resulting from the increase in methane production exceeded the energy demanded by the biomass pretreatment (EROI 6.8) and other two thermal pretreatments presented EROI 1. The other pretreatments presented EROI < 1, concluding that none of the evaluated methods was energy-efficient. Feasibility of pretreatment requires advancements in low energy-demanding strategies and outstanding biomass densification.


Microalgae Pretreatment Anaerobic digestion Biogas Energy balance EROI 



This work was supported by grants from the Brazilian National Council for Research and Development (CNPq), and Carlos Chagas Filho Foundation for Research Support in the State of Rio de Janeiro (FAPERJ), which are acknowledged by the authors.

Supporting information

Supplementary Table 1—Results of solubilization and methane yield after different pretreatments of biomass.

Supplementary Figures 1 to 5—Correlations solubilization- methane yield for thermal, ultrasound, alkaline, enzymatic, and combined pretreatments of whole microalgae biomass.

Supplementary material

10529_2018_2629_MOESM1_ESM.docx (1.4 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 1474 kb)


  1. Alzate ME, Muñoz R, Rogalla F, Fdz-Polanco F, Pérez-Elvira SI (2012) Biochemical methane potential of microalgae: influence of substrate to inoculum ratio, biomass concentration and pretreatment. Bioresour Technol 123:488–494. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Alzate ME, Muñoz R, Rogalla F, Fdz-Polanco F, Pérez-Elvira SI (2014) Biochemical methane potential of microalgae biomass after lipid extraction. Chem Eng J 243:405–410. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Arnold AA, Genard B, Zito F, Tremblay R, Warschawski DE, Marcotte I (2015) Identification of lipid and saccharide constituents of whole microalgal cells by 13C solid-state NMR. Biochim Biophys Acta 1848:369–377. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Banerjee A, Maiti SK, Guria C, Banerjee C (2017) Metabolic pathways for lipid synthesis under nitrogen stress in Chlamydomonas and Nannochloropsis. Biotechnol Lett 39:1–11. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bohutskyi P, Betenbaugh MJ, Bouwer EJ (2014) The effects of alternative pretreatment strategies on anaerobic digestion and methane production from different algal strains. Bioresour Technol 155:366–372. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Cho S, Park S, Seon J, Yu J, Lee T (2013) Evaluation of thermal, ultrasonic and alkali pretreatments on mixed-microalgal biomass to enhance anaerobic methane production. Bioresour Technol 143:330–336. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Ferreira-Leitão VS, Cammarota MC, Aguieiras ECG, de Sá LRV, Fernandez-Lafuente R, Freire DMG (2017) The protagonism of biocatalysis in green chemistry and its environmental benefits. Catalysts. Google Scholar
  8. González-Fernández C, Muñoz R (2018) Microalgae-based biofuels and bioproducts: from feedstock cultivation to end products. Woodhead Publishing, United KingdomGoogle Scholar
  9. González-Fernández C, Sialve B, Bernet N, Steyer JP (2012) Comparison of ultrasound and thermal pretreatment of Scenedesmus biomass on methane production. Bioresour Technol 110:610–616. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Jankowska E, Sahu AK, Oleskowicz-Popiel P (2017) Biogas from microalgae: review on microalgae’s cultivation, harvesting and pretreatment for anaerobic digestion. Renew Sustain Energ Rev 75:692–709. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Keymer P, Ruffell I, Pratt S, Lant P (2013) High pressure thermal hydrolysis as pre-treatment to increase the methane yield during anaerobic digestion of microalgae. Bioresour Technol 131:128–133. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Lambert JG, Hall CAS, Balogh S, Gupta A, Arnold M (2014) Energy, EROI and quality of life. Energ Policy 64:153–167. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Lewandowski DA (1999) Design of thermal oxidation systems for volatile organic compounds. CRC Press, Washington DCGoogle Scholar
  14. Lu J, Gavala HN, Skiadas IV, Mladenovska Z, Ahring BK (2008) Improving anaerobic sewage sludge digestion by implementation of a hyper-thermophilic prehydrolysis step. J Environ Manag 88:881–889. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Mahdy A, Mendez L, Ballesteros M, González-Fernández C (2014a) Enhanced methane production of Chlorella vulgaris and Chlamydomonas reinhardtii by hydrolytic enzymes addition. Energ Convers Manag 85:551–557. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Mahdy A, Mendez L, Blanco S, Ballesteros M, González-Fernández C (2014b) Protease cell wall degradation of Chlorella vulgaris: effect on methane production. Bioresour Technol 171:421–427. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Mankins JC (2009) Technology readiness assessments: a retrospective. Acta Astronaut 65:1216–1223. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Marsolek MD, Kendall E, Thompson PL, Shuman TR (2014) Thermal pretreatment of algae for anaerobic digestion. Bioresour Technol 151:373–377. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Murphy JD, Drosg B, Allen E, Jerney J, Xia A, Herrmann C (2015) A perspective on algal biogas. IEA BioenergyGoogle Scholar
  20. Narancic T, Davis R, Nikodinovic-Runic J, O’Connor KE (2015) Recent developments in biocatalysis beyond the laboratory. Biotechnol Lett 37:943–954. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Ometto F, Quiroga G, Psenǐckǎ P, Whitton R, Jefferson B, Villa R (2014) Impacts of microalgae pre-treatments for improved anaerobic digestion: thermal treatment, thermal hydrolysis, ultrasound and enzymatic hydrolysis. Water Res 65:350–361. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Orr VC, Plechkova NV, Seddon KR, Rehmann L (2016) Disruption and wet extraction of the microalgae Chlorella vulgaris using room-temperature ionic liquids. ACS Sustain Chem Eng 4:591–600. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Passos F, Ferrer I (2014) Microalgae conversion to biogas: thermal pretreatment contribution on net energy production. Environ Sci Technol 48:7171–7178. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Passos F, Ferrer I (2015) Influence of hydrothermal pretreatment on microalgal biomass anaerobic digestion and bioenergy production. Water Res 68:364–373. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Passos F, García J, Ferrer I (2013a) Impact of low temperature pretreatment on the anaerobic digestion of microalgal biomass. Bioresour Technol 138:79–86. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Passos F, Solé M, García J, Ferrer I (2013b) Biogas production from microalgae grown in wastewater: effect of microwave pretreatment. Appl Energy 108:168–175. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Passos F, Uggetti E, Carrère H, Ferrer I (2014) Biogas production from microalgae grown in wastewater: effect of microwave pretreatment. Bioresour Technol 172:403–412. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Passos F, Carretero J, Ferrer I (2015) Comparing pretreatment methods for improving microalgae anaerobic digestion: thermal, hydrothermal, microwave and ultrasound. Chem Eng J 279:667–672. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Scholz MJ, Weiss TL, Jinkerson RE, Jing J, Roth R, Goodenough U, Posewitz MC, Gerken HG (2014) Ultrastructure and composition of the Nannochloropsis gaditana cell wall. Eukaryot Cell 13:1450–1464. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Schwede S, Rehman Z-U, Gerber M, Theiss C, Span R (2013) Effects of thermal pretreatment on anaerobic digestion of Nannochloropsis salina biomass. Bioresour Technol 143:505–511. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Tchobanoglous G, Burton FL, Stensel HD (2003) Wastewater engineering, treatment and reuse. McGraw Hill Higher Education, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  32. Thumann A, Mehta P (2008) Handbook of energy engineering. The Fairmont Press, LilburnGoogle Scholar
  33. Ward AJ, Lewis D (2015) Pre-treatment options for halophytic microalgae and associated methane production. Bioresour Technol 177:410–413. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Zhang Y, Li L, Kong X, Zhen F, Wang Z, Sun Y, Dong P, Lv P (2017a) Inhibition effect of sodium concentrations on the anaerobic digestion performance of Sargassum species. Energy Fuels 31:7101–7109. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Zhang M, Lin Q, Rui J, Li J, Li X (2017b) Ammonium inhibition through the decoupling of acidification process and methanogenesis in anaerobic digester revealed by high throughput sequencing. Biotechnol Lett 39:247–252. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Zhang H, Ou Y, Chen T, Yang L, Hu Z (2018) Harvesting Chlorella vulgaris via rapid sedimentation induced by combined coagulants and tapered shear. Biotechnol Lett 40:697–702. CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of ChemistryFederal University of Rio de JaneiroRio de JaneiroBrazil

Personalised recommendations