March 24, 2023

Microalgae Hydrothermal Liquefaction and Biocrude Upgrading: 2022 State of Technology


A preliminary techno-economic analysis (TEA) was developed for the fiscal year (FY) 2022 state of technology (SOT) assessment to evaluate the benefits and risks of using demonstrated, high-productivity algae strains for fuels generation, including sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). In 2022, the marine algal strain, Picochlorum celeri, which demonstrated the highest outdoor biomass productivities reported to date in the DOE-funded open-pond raceway testbed at the Arizona Center for Algae Technology and Innovation (AzCATI) (Krishnan et al. 2021), was tested for continuous hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL) processing at PNNL. HTL testing results demonstrated a biocrude yield of 0.33 g/g algae on an ash-free dry weight (AFDW) basis from P. celeri. The hydrotreatment testing of the HTL biocrude from P. celeri was also conducted to investigate the production of jet fuel from marine algal biomass. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first report of jet fuel production from autotrophically grown marine algal biomass. The current hydrotreating testing demonstrated approximately 22.7 wt% of the hydrotreated oil within the typical boiling-point range of jet fuel (150–250 oC). Initial testing of the jet fuel cut (JFC) showed that the physical properties under investigation were within typical ranges for petroleum-based jet fuels. The experimental work of this study closes the gap between outdoor algae cultivation and algae conversion to critical transportation fuels using the same algae strain for both cultivation and conversion testing. The continuous HTL and the upgrading testing described herein demonstrate the potential of producing sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) from algae cultivated in open-pond systems using the primary inputs of sunlight and carbon dioxide.

Published: March 24, 2023


Zhu Y., Y. Xu, A.J. Schmidt, M.R. Thorson, D.J. Cronin, D.M. Santosa, and S.J. Edmundson, et al. 2023. Microalgae Hydrothermal Liquefaction and Biocrude Upgrading: 2022 State of Technology Richland, WA: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.