Microalgal production systems: Global impact of industry scale-up
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Microalgal biotechnology has been commercially viable for several decades, but only for a restricted range of applications (Benemann et al. 1987). Owing to the relatively high capital cost of microalgal production systems, successful applications have generally focussed either upon niche areas in which both modern agriculture and microbial fermentation systems lack a competitive advantage or upon unique microalgal products, for which no competition exists. Although the largest existing algae farms are still for health food production (e.g. Spirulina production in China) and natural products (e.g. Dunaliella in Australia for β-carotene), those undergoing the most rapid expansion are currently aimed at biofuel production and associated R&D. The microalgal industry is growing rapidly, and while microalgal biofuel technologies generally remain in the basic and applied R&D stage (IEA 2011a), commercial-scale facilities are starting to come online. For photoautotrophic production, these include Sapphire Energy’s 120ha (300ac) Integrated Algal Biorefinery (IABR) facility currently under construction in New Mexico, USA (Sapphire 2011; US D.O.E. Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy 2011), while Solazyme’s factories have focused on heterotrophic conversion of sugars to oils and other products (Solazyme 2011; Dillon 2011).
Microalgal Biotechnology: Integration and Economy
Environment and Resource Economics