The large scale production of microalgae is generally performed with solar energy (photoautotrophic metabolism) in open ponds (raceways), closed systems (photobioreactors) or fermentors.
Open ponds are generally circular with nested loops and are 30 cm deep (Chisti, 2007). However, ponds can have several non neglectable disadvantages. Indeed, as they are open, evaporation and contaminants (protozoa, bacteria or other microalgae) could affect the microalgae productivity (Blanco et al., 2007).
Photobioreactors are continuous culture systems which can achieve concentration of microalgae up to 6.7 g/L (Bai et al., 2011; Chisti, 2007; Ranjbar et al., 2008) in fresh or sea water. Different models of photobioreactors (indoor or outdoor) have been developed including tubular, flate plate, airlift, bubble column and stirred tank (L. Xu et al., 2009). Even if the closed photobioreactor has a higher harvesting efficiency (more biomass) and a good control on culture parameters (temperature, pH, CO2 concentration etc.) (Suh & Lee, 2003), its capital costs remain higher (around 10 times) than those of open ponds (Carvalho et al., 2006). However, the combination of ponds and photobioreactors can be profitable because microalgae can be grown in open ponds while reducing contamination by undesired species (Huntley & Redalje, 2008). In this culture process, the first step of microalgae production is conducted in a controlled temperature (e.g. by a sea water bath (16-18˚C)) photobioreactor. Microalgae are then transferred into an open pond for a 5 days second culture step (Huntley & Redalje, 2007; Huntley & Redalje, 2008).
Fermentors are mainly used to produce heterotrophic microalgae using an organic source of carbon such as glucose, fructose, galactose acetate, glycerol and acetic acid (Cantin, 2010). These bioreactors can reach high biomass concentration (150 g/L) without rheological problems (Wu & Shi, 2008). However, heterotrophic production costs of microalgae in fermentors remains relatively high (Wei et al., 2009).