Microalgae are capable of accumulating high levels of lipids and starch as carbon storage compounds. Investigation into the metabolic activities involved in the synthesis of these compounds has escalated since these compounds can be used as precursors for food and fuel. Here, we detail the results of a comprehensive analysis of Chlamydomonas reinhardtii using high or low inorganic carbon concentrations and speciation between carbon dioxide and bicarbonate, and the effects these have on inducing lipid and starch accumulation during nitrogen depletion. High concentrations of CO2 (5%; v/v) produced the highest amount of biofuel precursors, transesterified to fatty acid methyl esters, but exhibited rapid accumulation and degradation characteristics. Low CO2 (0.04%; v/v) caused carbon limitation and minimized triacylglycerol (TAG) and starch accumulation. High bicarbonate caused a cessation of cell cycling and accumulation of both TAG and starch that was more stable than the other experimental conditions. Starch accumulated prior to TAG and then degraded as maximum TAG was reached. This suggests carbon reallocation from starch-based to TAG-based carbon storage. Biotechnol. Bioeng. 2013; 110: 87–96. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.