U.S. Department of Energy - Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

Bioenergy Technologies Office

Algal Biofuels

Algae image

The Bioenergy Technologies Office's (BETO's) Algae Program is carrying out a long-term applied research and development (R&D) strategy to increase the yields and lower the costs of algal biofuels by working with partners to develop new technologies, to integrate technologies at commercially-relevant scales, and conduct crosscutting analyses to understand the potential and challenges of an algal biofuel industry that is capable of annually producing billions of gallons of renewable diesel, gasoline, and jet fuels. These activities are integrated with BETO's longstanding approach to accelerate the commercialization of lignocellulosic biofuels.

Our strategy aims to help break down critical technical barriers and promote sustainable and affordable algal biofuels. The Algae Program's projects systematically address barriers along the algal biofuel supply chain to help advance the state of technology forward toward demonstrating cost-competitiveness with fossil fuels.

Within the Algae Program, BETO focuses on activities in production, logistics, and algal integrated biorefineries. More information on the Algae Program can be found on the Algae Program's Related Links page.

Energy 101: Algae-to-Fuels

The term "algae" refers to a great diversity of organisms—from microscopic cyanobacteria to giant kelp. Most algae convert sunlight into energy in a similar manner as plants; however, the genetic diversity of the many different kinds of algae gives researchers an incredible number of unique properties that can be harnessed to develop promising algal biofuel technologies.

The key to algae's potential as a renewable fuel source lies in the high productivities of algal biomass that can be grown in a given area; some researchers say algae could be 10 or even 100 times more productive than traditional bioenergy feedstocks. Achieving the potential for these high productivities in real-world systems is a key challenge to realizing the promise of sustainable and affordable algal biofuels. Once harvested, algae can be readily processed into the raw material to make fuel for cars, trucks, trains, and planes.

View the Energy 101: Algae-to-Fuels video below to learn how algae can be converted into fuel. Additional information can be found by viewing our project partners' videos, such as Sapphire Energy's company video and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory's video on the microalgae-to-biofuels process.

To enhance its algae portfolio, BETO hosted two Algal Biofuels Strategy workshops to discuss R&D needed to achieve affordable, scalable, and sustainable algae-based biofuels.

A full text version of this video is also available.