In the years since the discovery of significant concentrations of lipids in certain species of algae, estimates for the potential of the single-cell water-borne plant have varied wildly. What is agreed is the substantial potential for algae to become a valuable resource in the portfolio of second generation biofuels. The tiny plants can produce at least 15 times more oil per hectare than alternatives like jatropha, rapeseed and palm, and are 20 times as productive as corn and soy. Today, high-end food supplements are still the main algal product, but some estimate their fuels could compete with petroleum at US$60 per barrel.

But with the range of technologies available and a ground swell of R&D investment cash, confidence among developers is high that algae-derived biofuels will soon be able to compete with fossil fuels.