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Evaluating the potential of renewable diesel production from algae cultured on wastewater: techno-economic analysis and life cycle assessment

1 Biological and Ecological Engineering, Oregon State University, Corvallis OR 97331, USA
2 Agricultural and Biological Engineering, University of Illinois Urbana Champaign, Urbana IL 61801, USA

Topical Section: Energy and Environmental science

Algae, a renewable energy source, has an added advantage of consuming nutrients from wastewater and consequently aiding in wastewater treatment. The algae thus produced can be processed using alternative paths for conversion to fuels. However, due to high moisture content of algae, wet algae processing methods are being encouraged to avoid the dewatering cost and energy. Hydrothermal liquefaction is one such technology that converts the algae into high heating value bio-oil under high temperature and pressure. This bio-oil can be further upgraded to renewable diesel (RD) which can be used in diesel powered vehicles without any modifications. The objective of this study is to evaluate the economic viability and to estimate the energy use and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions during life cycle of RD production from algae grown in wastewater using hydrothermal liquefaction. Economic analysis of RD production on commercial scale was performed using engineering process model of RD production plant with processing capacity of 60 Mgal wastewater/day, simulated in SuperPro designer. RD yields for algae were estimated as 10.18 MML/year with unit price of production as $1.75/RD. The GHG emissions during life cycle of RD production were found to be 6.2 times less than those produced for conventional diesel. Sensitivity analysis indicated a potential to reduce ethanol production cost either by using high lipid algae or increasing the plant size. The integrated economic and ecological assessment analyses are helpful in determining long-term sustainability of a product and can be used to drive energy policies in an environmentally sustainable direction.
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