State of technology review – Algae bioenergy

[USA] This IEA Bioenergy report provides an international update on the status and prospects for using microalgae and macroalgae as feedstocks for producing biofuels and bioenergy products. The report’s scope covers algae-based options for producing liquid and gaseous biofuels, and also algae-based bioenergy in the more general context of integrated biorefineries.

The IEA Bioenergy Executive Committee supported this report’s compilation and it is co-authored by members of IEA Bioenergy Tasks 34, 37, 38, 39 and 42.

Key messages

Algae exhibit high photosynthetic efficiencies and yields (~55 tonnes ha-1 yr-1, up to twice that of terrestrial plants) and remain an attractive target for improving the sustainability of future bioenergy production.

The single biggest barrier to market deployment of algae remains the high cost of cultivating and harvesting the algal biomass feedstocks, currently a factor of 10-20 too high for commodity fuel production.

A decline in the price of petroleum, coupled with on-going low prices for natural gas and absence of consistent policies on carbon pricing, causes a significant challenge in the development of cost-competitive production of algae-based bioenergy products like gaseous and liquid fuels.

Nearer term opportunities exist to use algae in an integrated biorefinery context to make higher value food, feed, nutraceutical and oleochemical bio-products, to help drive development of economic bioenergy production.

Alternative market opportunities for algal biomass, e.g. food and feed applications, will cause land use competition.

Resource (water, land, sunlight) and nutrient requirements (N, P) remain key issues for economic and environmental sustainability, where integration with wastewater provides near-term opportunities.

Recent technology developments facilitate the use of all algal biomass components; no longer is algal biomass production focused solely on achieving high lipid yield.

Numerous permutations of process operations are described in the literature; three categories are promising for future commercial development of algal biomass; 1) conversion into lipid, protein and carbohydrate fractions; 2) thermochemical hydrothermal liquefaction; and 3) biogas production from whole algal biomass

Algae-based production to produce bioenergy products like liquid or gaseous fuels as primary products is not foreseen to be economically viable in the near to intermediate term and the technical, cost and sustainability barriers are reviewed

Macroalgae have significant potential as a biogas, chemicals and biofuels crop in temperate oceanic climates in coastal areas. Their commercial exploitation also remains limited by cost and scalability challenges.

There is a clear and urgent need for more open data sharing and harmonization of analytical approaches, from cultivation to product isolation, to TEA and LCA modelling, to facilitate identification and prioritization of barriers to low cost bioenergy production.

View the review here:

or click here to download: IEA-Bioenergy-Algae-report-update-Final-template-20170131.


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