A question many people are asking is whether algae farming and algae oil ever is going to be a economically viable options. Some will say NO, other say “perhaps in time”, while a third group says that it already is. The truth depends a little on what you consider as economically viable. For example, some people claim that algae farming are economically viable even if it operates at a loss if it is cheaper than the alternative: to clean CO2 out of the emissions from a factory by using a filtration systems. To put it in other words: algae farming is economically viable if the cost of running algae farms is a justifiable cost considering the bigger financial picture.
On the other side we have more pessimistic analyses that say that algae oil wont become a viable alternative before the oil price hits $800 per barrel. Studies of this type do however usually have to work with the very small amounts of data available in the public domain outside the research companies and it safe to assume that the actual coast of making algae oil and when it can become economic viable is much lower as the companies, for reasons of competition, often need to keep their breakthroughs to themselves before they are ready to reveal new innovative systems and discoveries.
Some believe that we are a long way from being able to create viable photo bioreactors that can operate at a profit in developed countries but that it might already be possible to operate them profitable in poor countries with low wages. In high wage countries it seems hard to make algae oil that can compete with petroleum products any time soon.
One of reasons why it is so difficult to say whether or not algae biofuel will be economically viable or not is the speed with which this research field is moving forward and all the new and more efficient ways of farming algae, producing oil, improving algae strains etc that are discovered . Right now, just a few small breakthroughs may be enough to radically change all calculations.