The combination of a 100% increase in diesel fuel prices since 2002 and a new photobioreactor technology has renewed interest in producing biodiesel, a direct petroleum diesel fuel substitute, from microalgae. A new photobioreactor technology in which the microalgae are grown on vertically suspended membranes promises to increase algal productivity per acre ten-fold compared to microalgae ponds, and 400-fold compared to soybeans. This paper describes the general photobioreactor concept and assesses the economic viability of such technology given the current crude oil prospects. The majority of the data necessary for assessment are obtained from published articles, with experimental results providing the remaining necessary information. Analysis results indicate that the photobioreactor would need to be constructed and operate on the order of dollars per square foot per year.

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