Biofuel from Algae – Energy Security for the Future

Published on 16 Oct, 2014

Biofuel is any fuel that can be obtained from organic matter through the process of biological carbon fixation. Algae is as an efficient resource for extraction of crude oil, which can further be processed into biofuel. If cultivated in an orderly manner, algal cells can develop up to 80% oil content. Hence, biofuel produced from algae could be useful in the coming years as a major renewable energy resource for sustainable development.

The global biofuel production reached 500 million barrels in 2012 and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 16% to 1.6 billion barrels by 2020.

Consistent Patent Filing Activity in Last Five Years

There is significant research focus in developing technologies to cultivate algae as a sustainable resource to meet fuel requirements and for various processes to extract oil from algae. The maximum number of patents (2,245) was filed in 2012.

Biofuels Patent Filing in last six years

The US and Australia dominate the research space, accounting for approximately 25% and 21% of overall patents filed, respectively, over the last six years. A significant number of patents were filed in Australia largely due to the arid region in Western Australia, which provides for an ideal condition for algal growth.

Top Companies Focus on Different Aspects of Biofuel Production

Several biotech companies, such DSM, Novozymes and Roche Ltd, operate in the biofuel segment. In terms of patent filings, Novozymes is the leader, with 300 patents in the last five years, followed by BASF Group.

Company Number patents filed (2008 onwards) Key Focus Areas
Novozymes Inc 300 Compositions of materials used to extract oil from algae.
BASF Group 226 Specialized fermentation processes used to extract fuel.
Roche Ltd 209 Methods of enhancing yield-related traits in plants by modulating nucleic acid expressions.
Exxonmobil Corp. 113 Hydro-treatment of bio component feeds to produce usable forms of biofuel
DSM Company 87 Methods and processes used to extract oil from algae

Source: Aranca analysis based on Thomson Innovation Data

Future Research to Focus on Efficient Extraction of Biofuel and Methods Thereof

Research is focused on livestock processes used to treat and purify crude oil and materials used in the extraction process. In recent times, research has shifted toward the developing chemical compositions for the extraction of oil from algal livestock.

Our analysis indicates future research in this area would be focused on improving the efficiency of the catalysts used to extract oil from algae and also on methods of extracting oil from algae. Some specific solutions include:

  • Chemicals, such as polypeptides or enzymes, used for faster digestion of cellulose to extract oil from algae.
  • Optimizing temperature, pressure, and process time to synthesize usable forms of biofuel.
  • Surface agents, such as arylated methyl esters of fatty acids or a mixture of fatty acids, for efficient extraction of crude oil.