Many phototrophic microorganisms contain large quantities of high-value products such as n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and carotenoids but phototrophic growth is often slow due to light limitation. Some phototrophic microorganisms can also grow on cheap organic substrate heterotrophically. Heterotrophic cultivation can be well controlled and provides the possibility to achieve fast growth and high yield of valuable products on a large scale. Several strategies have been investigated for cultivation of phototrophic microorganisms without light. These include trophic conversion of obligate photoautotrophic microorganisms by genetic engineering, development of efficient cultivation systems and optimization of culture conditions. This paper reviews recent advances in heterotrophic cultivation of phototrophic cells with an emphasis on microalgae.