The increasing energy demand in the World is drawing attention to the need for developing new supply pathways based on inexhaustible sources with reduced environmental impacts1. If managed sustainably, biofuels are renewable energy resources for heat, power and transportation that can contribute to less GHG emissions and atmospheric contaminants than fossil fuels. However, as of 2020, the adoption of biofuels falls short of the predicted expectations to align with the sustainable development scenario (SDS). For example, according to the International Energy Agency, transport biofuel consumption needs to almost triple by 2030 (to 298 Mt oil equivalent) to be on track with the SDS2. This equates to 9% of global transport fuel demand, compared with the current level of around 3%. To increase the adoption of biofuels and meet the SDS targets, it is mandatory to achieve performance breakthroughs and cost reductions for large-scale production of advanced biofuels.
Microalgae are some of nature’s finest examples of solar energy conversion systems, transforming carbon dioxide into complex organic molecules through photosynthesis. They are capable of achieving solar energy to biomass conversion efficiencies up to one order of magnitude higher than oleaginous crops, and there is biotechnology potential to further increase conversion efficiency. Due to their outstanding photosynthetic yields and ability to grow in non-arable lands, non-potable water sources (e.g. wastewater, seawater), and a wide range of environmental conditions, there is much interest in the use of microalgae biomass as a source of truly sustainable bioenergy feedstock. Despite this potential, no commercial facilities for biofuel production from microalgae have been implemented in the EU. The dilute concentrations of microalgae in the growth media impact negatively on the biofuel life cycle energy balance as it takes much energy to harvest, concentrate and dry the biomass.