Prospects of Algae Biofuels in Middle East

Algae biofuels have the potential to become a renewable, cost-effective alternative for fossil fuels with reduced impact on the environment. Algae hold tremendous potential to provide a non-food, high-yield, non-arable land use source of renewable fuels like biodiesel, bioethanol, hydrogen etc. Microalgae are considered as a potential oleo-feedstock, as they produce lipids through photosynthesis, i.e. using only CO2, water, sunlight, phosphates, nitrates and other (oligo) elements that can be found in residual waters.

Algae also produce proteins, isoprenoids and polysaccharides. Some strains of algae ferment sugars to produce alcohols, under the right growing conditions. Their biomass can be processed to different sorts of chemicals and polymers (Polysaccharides, enzymes, pigments and minerals), biofuels (e.g. biodiesel, alkanes and alcohols), food and animal feed (PUFA, vitamins, etc.) as well as bioactive compounds (antibiotics, antioxidant and metabolites) through down-processing technology such as transesterification, pyrolysis and continuous catalysis using microspheres.

Microalgae are the fastest growing photosynthesizing organism capable of completing an entire growing cycle every few days. Up to 50% of algae’s weight is comprised of oil, compared with, for example, oil palm which yields just about 20% of its weight in oil. Algae can be grown on non-arable land (including deserts), most of them do not require fresh water, and their nutritional value is high. Extensive R&D efforts are underway worldwide, especially in North America and Europe, with a high number of start-up companies developing different options for commercializing algae farming.

Prospects of Algae Biofuels in the Middle East

The demand for fossil fuels is growing continuously all around the world and the Middle East is not an exception. The domestic consumption of energy in the Middle East is increasing at an astonishing rate, e.g. Saudi Arabia’s consumption of oil and gas rose by about 5.9 percent over the past five years while electricity demand is witnessing annual growth rate of 8 percent. Although Middle Eastern countries are world’s leading producers of fossil fuels, several cleantech initiatives have been launched in last few years which shows the commitment of regional countries in exploiting renewable sources of energy.

Algae biofuels is an attractive proposition for Middle East countries to offset the environmental impact of the oil and gas industry. The region is highly suitable for mass production of algae because of the following reasons:

  • Presence of large tracts of non-arable lands and extensive coastline.
  • Presence of numerous oil refineries and power plants (as points of CO2 capture) and desalination plants (for salt reuse).
  • Extremely favorable climatic conditions (highest annual solar irradiance).
  • Presence of a large number of sewage and wastewater treatment plants.
  • Existence of highly lipid productive microalgae species in coastal waters.

These factors makes it imperative on Middle East nations to develop a robust Research, Development and Market Deployment plan for a comprehensive microalgal biomass-based biorefinery approach for bio-product synthesis. An integrated and gradual appreciation of technical, economic, social and environmental issues should be considered for a successful implementation of the microalgae-based oleo-feedstock (MBOFs) industry in the region.

About Radhouan Ben-Hamadou

Dr. Radhouan Ben-Hamadou (Eng., PhD) is an oceanographer and ecohydrologist researcher at the Centre of Marine & Environmental Research (CIMAR-CCMAR) / University of Algarve (Portugal). He acts as Deputy Director of the UNESCO International Centre for Coastal Ecohydrology (UNESCO-ICCE). Lately he has been engaged in promoting the Ecohydrology paradigm, based on functional relationships between hydrology and biota, for an integrated approach joining IWRM and ICZM. He is a founder of the International Society of Ecohydrology (IS-ECOHYD). His activities stressed on issues related to the enhancement of the carrying capacity (robustness) of ecosystems against human impacts and developing sustainable water resource management tools based on ecosystem properties. Dr. Radhouan has been heavily engaged recently in Water management and Bio-Energy related technologies and knowledge transfer to the MENA region. He can be reached on or
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2 Responses to Prospects of Algae Biofuels in Middle East

  1. Paul Hu Lim says:

    Dr Radhouan Ben Hamadou, yes you are right this is a brilliant way forward.

    My Colleagues in Applied Biofuels (Malta) Limited –

    Mr J Micallef and Mr P Hurrell would like to extend an invitation to make contact.

    Their developments include utilising Farmed Macro_Algae grown in Shallow-Brackish-Water in Desertified Lands and also near Cooling Basin Facilities to attenuate CO2 adsorption to grow these Algae.

    By using Hybrids cross-bread naturally growing and harvesting such Algae 8 times and more a year (or continuously) so that we can extract Biomass with near 92% Cellulose, or an alternative with 97+% Hemi-Cellulose means we can tailor a product to be used in particular Fuels…Ethanol is easy, Propanol perhaps if we find a real need, Butanol, yes and it is very easily made, C5 abd C6 as in Jet Fuel can then be determined by a simple extension of Butanol.

    Importantly generating 20 times as much Ethanol per hectare than Sugar Cane is a real benefit.

    Contacts… or

  2. gary tulie says:

    Do not forget also macro-algae otherwise known as seaweeds.

    In some ways, these are much easier to farm and process. (you can separate these by simply pulling them out of the water, and far less problem with contamination by less productive strains) they are also ideal when combined with aeration for the final stage of sewage treatment – mopping up any residual nitrates etc.

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