Coupling an anaerobic digester to a microalgal culture has received increasing attention as an alternative process for combined bioenergy production and depollution. In this article, a dynamic model for anaerobic digestion of microalgae is developed with the aim of improving the management of such a coupled system. This model describes the dynamics of inorganic nitrogen and volatile fatty acids since both can lead to inhibition and therefore process instability. Three reactions are considered: Two hydrolysis–acidogenesis steps in parallel for sugars/lipids and for proteins, followed by a methanogenesis step. The proposed model accurately reproduces experimental data for anaerobic digestion of the freshwater microalgae Chlorella vulgaris with an organic loading rate of 1 gCOD L−1 d−1. In particular, the three-reaction pathway allows to adequately represent the observed decoupling between biogas production and nitrogen release. The reduced complexity of this model makes it suitable for developing advanced, model-based control and monitoring strategies. Biotechnol. Bioeng. 2012; 109:415–425. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.