Evaluation of Microalgae Biofuel Production Potential and Cultivation Sites Using Geographic Information Systems: A Review

B. Sharma, E. Brandes, A. Khanchi, S. Birrell, E. Heaton, F. E. Miguez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Geographic Information System (GIS) tools have been used to strategically locate bioenergy facilities and optimize the relationship between biomass supply and demand, aiming to minimize overall fuel production costs. Microalgae, also termed third generation bioenergy feedstocks, are discussed for their potential to meet future energy demands. This study reviews literature on GIS applications to locate algae cultivation sites and estimate algae biofuel potential. To highlight the diversity of results, a quantitative comparison for the US studies is presented. We found two major assumptions that primarily limited the algae biofuel production potential estimates: (1) the production technology (open pond or photobioreactor), and (2) the number and type of resources considered, such as land type, CO2, water source, water quality, etc. All studies used binary (a location is either unsuitable or suitable) suitability models to determine areas for algae production. Most studies considered water, land, and CO2 resources, while some also accounted for infrastructure, soil properties, and work force requirements. We found that potential cultivation area in the USA is most sensitive to the constraints of CO2 availability and land cost. This review explains the wide range of algal biofuel potential estimates (from 0.09 to over 600 billion L yr−1) by identifying underlying assumptions, methodologies, and data. The highly variable outputs indicate the need for a comprehensive analysis of different criteria individually and in combination to estimate realistic biofuel potential. The results suggest that with models becoming increasingly detailed in considering resources and conversion/production technologies, further decrease in estimated theoretical production potential is expected under available technology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1714-1734
Number of pages21
JournalBioenergy Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Biofuel
  • Biofuel potential
  • Geographic Information Systems
  • Microalgae
  • Spatial analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Energy (miscellaneous)


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