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Microalgal biomass production pathways: Evaluation of life cycle environmental impacts

Zaimes, GG and Khanna, V (2013) Microalgal biomass production pathways: Evaluation of life cycle environmental impacts. Biotechnology for Biofuels, 6 (1). ISSN 1754-6834

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Background: Microalgae are touted as an attractive alternative to traditional forms of biomass for biofuel production, due to high productivity, ability to be cultivated on marginal lands, and potential to utilize carbon dioxide (CO2) from industrial flue gas. This work examines the fossil energy return on investment (EROIfossil), greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and direct Water Demands (WD) of producing dried algal biomass through the cultivation of microalgae in Open Raceway Ponds (ORP) for 21 geographic locations in the contiguous United States (U.S.). For each location, comprehensive life cycle assessment (LCA) is performed for multiple microalgal biomass production pathways, consisting of a combination of cultivation and harvesting options. Results: Results indicate that the EROIfossil for microalgae biomass vary from 0.38 to 1.08 with life cycle GHG emissions of -46.2 to 48.9 (g CO2 eq/MJ-biomass) and direct WDs of 20.8 to 38.8 (Liters/MJ-biomass) over the range of scenarios analyzed. Further anaylsis reveals that the EROIfossil for production pathways is relatively location invariant, and that algae's life cycle energy balance and GHG impacts are highly dependent on cultivation and harvesting parameters. Contrarily, algae's direct water demands were found to be highly sensitive to geographic location, and thus may be a constraining factor in sustainable algal-derived biofuel production. Additionally, scenarios with promising EROIfossil and GHG emissions profiles are plagued with high technological uncertainty. Conclusions: Given the high variability in microalgae's energy and environmental performance, careful evaluation of the algae-to-fuel supply chain is necessary to ensure the long-term sustainability of emerging algal biofuel systems. Alternative production scenarios and technologies may have the potential to reduce the critical demands of biomass production, and should be considered to make algae a viable and more efficient biofuel alternative. © 2013 Zaimes and Khanna; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.


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Item Type: Article
Status: Published
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Zaimes, GGggz2@pitt.eduGGZ2
Khanna, Vkhannav@pitt.eduKHANNAV0000-0002-7211-5195
Date: 25 June 2013
Date Type: Publication
Journal or Publication Title: Biotechnology for Biofuels
Volume: 6
Number: 1
DOI or Unique Handle: 10.1186/1754-6834-6-88
Schools and Programs: Swanson School of Engineering > Civil and Environmental Engineering
Refereed: Yes
ISSN: 1754-6834
Date Deposited: 30 Sep 2016 14:22
Last Modified: 22 Jun 2021 11:55


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