Publication Detail

A Comparison of On-Site Nutrient and Energy Recycling Technologies in Algal Oil Production



Sustainable Transportation Energy Pathways (STEPS)

Suggested Citation:
Zhang, Yizhen, Alissa Kendall, Juhong Yuan (2014) A Comparison of On-Site Nutrient and Energy Recycling Technologies in Algal Oil Production. Resources, Conservation, and Recycling 88, 13 - 20

Research on biofuel production pathways from algae continues because among other potential advantages they avoid key consequential effects of terrestrial oil crops, such as competition for cropland. However, the economics, energetic balance, and climate change emissions from algal biofuels pathways do not always show great potential, due in part to high fertilizer demand. Nutrient recycling from algal biomass residue is likely to be essential for reducing the environmental impacts and cost associated with algae-derived fuels. After a review of available technologies, anaerobic digestion (AD) and hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL) were selected and compared on their nutrient recycling and energy recovery potential for lipid-extracted algal biomass using the microalgae strain Scenedesmus dimorphus. For 1 kg (dry weight) of algae cultivated in an open raceway pond, 40.7 g N and 3.8 g P can be recycled through AD, while 26.0 g N and 6.8 g P can be recycled through HTL. In terms of energy production, 2.49 MJ heat and 2.61 MJ electricity are generated from AD biogas combustion to meet production system demands, while 3.30 MJ heat and 0.95 MJ electricity from HTL products are generated and used within the production system.

Assuming recycled nutrient products from AD or HTL technologies displace demand for synthetic fertilizers, and energy products displace natural gas and electricity, the life cycle greenhouse gas reduction achieved by adding AD to the simulated algal oil production system is between 622 and 808 g carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e)/kg biomass depending on substitution assumptions, while the life cycle GHG reduction achieved by HTL is between 513 and 535 g CO2e/kg biomass depending on substitution assumptions. Based on the effectiveness of nutrient recycling and energy recovery, as well as technology maturity, AD appears to perform better than HTL as a nutrient and energy recycling technology in algae oil production systems.