The carbon footprint and non-renewable energy demand of algae-derived biodiesel


We determine the environmental impact of different biodiesel production strategies from algae feedstock in terms of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and non-renewable energy consumption, we then benchmark the results against those of conventional and synthetic diesel obtained from fossil resources. The algae cultivation in open pond raceways and the transesterification process for the conversion of algae oil into biodiesel constitute the common elements among all considered scenarios. Anaerobic digestion and hydrothermal gasification are considered for the conversion of the residues from the wet oil extraction route; while integrated gasification–heat and power generation and gasification–Fischer–Tropsch processes are considered for the conversion of the residues from the dry oil extraction route. The GHG emissions per unit energy of the biodiesel are calculated as follows: 41 g e-CO2/MJb for hydrothermal gasification, 86 g e-CO2/MJb for anaerobic digestion, 109 g e-CO2/MJb for gasification–power generation, and 124 g e-CO2/MJb for gasification–Fischer–Tropsch. As expected, non-renewable energy consumptions are closely correlated to the GHG values. Also, using the High Dimensional Model Representation (HDMR) method, a global sensitivity analysis over the entire space of input parameters is performed to rank them with respect to their influence on key sustainability metrics. Considering reasonable ranges over which each parameter can vary, the most influential input parameters for the wet extraction route include extractor energy demand and methane yield generated from anaerobic digestion or hydrothermal gasification of the oil extracted-algae. The dominant process input parameters for the dry extraction route include algae oil content, dryer energy demand, and algae annual productivity. The results imply that algal biodiesel production from a dried feedstock may only prove sustainable if a low carbon solution such as solar drying is implemented to help reducing the water content of the feedstock.

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Keywords: Algae, Biodiesel, Carbon footprint, Life cycle assessment, Uncertainty analysis,

Associated Project: Engines

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