Comparative life cycle assessment of a commercial algal multiproduct biorefinery and wild caught fishery for small pelagic fish

  • William J. Barr
  • Amy E. Landis



The purpose of this study was to compare the environmental impacts of omega-3 fatty acid (n-3), high protein feed and biofuel production from algae to the impacts of the production of those products from fish.


The functional unit was the production of one metric ton of omega-3 fatty acids from algae (fish) and the accompanying co-products of biofuel and high protein feed. This was a cradle to gate LCA. Four scenarios were used in this model. The algae multiproduct model (MPM) scenario was the baseline using only unit operations currently in use at the reference facility (Cellana LLC). A low-energy centrifuge replaced the existing conventional centrifuge (MPM (LE)) to reduce energy consumption. The MPM was improved in a different manner, employing membrane filtration prior to centrifugation (MPM (MF)). These three scenarios were compared to the conventional production of the same products from fish (conventional product model: CPM). This life cycle assessment investigated the following impacts: ozone depletion potential, global warming potential, smog formation potential, acidification potential, and eutrophication potential.

Results and discussion

The environmental impacts of producing omega-3 fatty acids from algae were higher than producing omega-3 fatty acids from fish if membrane filtration was not used. Membrane filtration reduced most of the environmental impacts of the algae system by more than 50%. Fuel consumption was the only factor that caused the fish systems to change by greater than 10% from the baseline. Productivity, membrane filtration electricity, and annual operating days could each affect the environmental impacts of the algae system by greater than 10% from the baseline. Improvements to the algae system depend on improvements to cultivation and harvesting, with the impacts from processing being very small.


This study presented results comparing the environmental impacts from a multiproduct system from algae and from fish. The results of this study can serve as a benchmark for the environmental impacts of an algal multiproduct biorefinery compared to the conventional production of those same products from fish. Areas of improvement have been identified for the algae production system for dewatering and cultivation. The amount of n-3 had little impact on the n-3 market but had a significant effect on the existing algal n-3 market. The amount of fuel and feed produced had a negligible effect on both markets.


Algae Biofuel Life cycle assessment Omega-3 fatty acids 



The authors gratefully thank funding from the Arizona State University Lightworks, Arizona Center for Algae Technology and Innovation, ASU Dissertation Fellowship, NSF CBET (#0932606/1241697 and 124697) and More Graduate Education at Mointain States Alliance program. The authors also thank Cellana LLC for providing input data for this life cycle assessment.

Supplementary material

11367_2017_1395_MOESM1_ESM.docx (124 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 123 kb).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built EnvironmentArizona State UniversityTempeUSA
  2. 2.Department of Civil EngineeringColorado School of MinesGoldenUSA

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