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Biodiesel from Algae

  • Armen B. Avagyan
  • Bhaskar Singh
Chapter

Abstract

The purpose of this chapter is to analyze the benefits of algae for biodiesel production and sustainable development. The production of various types of biofuel greatly depends on feedstock availability and the implemented technological options. Microalgae biomass production accounts for 65–85% of the overall cost of biofuel manufacturing. Among the bioenergy feedstocks, areal lipid/biomass productivity for algae is one of the highest. This chapter provides a detailed analysis of microalgae and macroalgae cultivation and harvesting, with a description of the complexities involved in algal biofuel production.

The phototrophic microalgae pathway is not effective in terms of cost and environmental impacts, and can be used only for high-value purposes other than biofuel production unless significant technological interventions are put in place. Different approaches such as nitrogen or phosphate starvation/depletion, genetic modification, polyculture cultivation, and a biorefinery for cost reduction have been assessed but many uncertainties remain. Heterotrophic and mixotrophic cultivation of microalgae is an alternative to photoautotrophic cultivation with the potential of improving the economic feasibility of algal lipid-based products.

Macroalgae cultivation may be done at off-shore, near-shore, or on-shore sites. Harvesting of wild seaweed and seagrass can have unfavorable environmental effects. The main barriers for off-shore growth of macroalgae are the high costs of biomass production (about $1/kg). Integrated aquaculture that involves macroalgae cultivation with finfish and mollusks facilitates better economic return.

Biodiesel production from algae usually involves the conversion of lipids from algae through indirect transesterification in two steps (2-TE). The first step typically is the dewatering of algae and drying of algal biomass, followed by the extraction of lipids that are then transesterified for the synthesis of biodiesel. Lipid extraction methods may include mechanical (press/expeller, bead milling, electroporation, salvation), physical (ultrasonic, microwave, pulsed electric field, lyophilization, thermal), chemical (solvents, soxhlet extraction, supercritical fluids), and biological (enzymes) applications. Direct transesterification (D-TE) is a one-step process, based on the catalytic conversion of lipids of algal biomass to FAMEs or biodiesel, which is 15–20% more efficient than the indirect process. An alternative to the solvent method is the use of supercritical water, methanol, ethanol, CO2, and their mixtures. The advantages of extraction using supercritical solvents include decreased waste generation, use of nontoxic or non-hazardous materials, and energy efficiency. However, D-TE has some obstacles, particularly the moisture content of algae, that hinder application of this method in commercial production. Biodiesel produced from microalgae has advanced combustion efficiency, cetane number, flash point, and inherent lubricity (about 66% greater than petrodiesel) but also has high viscosity and cloud and pour points, a lower energy content and oxidative stability, and slightly increased NOx emissions compared with petroleum-derived diesel. Therefore, several methods, such as in-cylinder controls, lean-NOx catalysts, and selective catalyst reduction, are aimed at reducing NOx emissions to acceptable levels.

Macroalgae can be converted into bio-oil, and its lipids can then be separated for biodiesel production. However, the high lipid content of some microalgae compared to that of macroalgae has centered attention on the use of microalgae in the production of biodiesel. Also, it remains doubtful that sufficient seaweed can be harvested to provide significant quantities of transport fuel and to overcome the technological barriers to energetic and commercial feasibility.

Keywords

Algal cultivation technology Biodiesel Biomass-to-biodiesel Bioremediation Economics Environmental policy Climate change Macroalgae Microalgae Mixotrophic Heterotrophic and phototrophic growth Life cycle assessment Pollution Waste Wastewater 

Abbreviations

AD

anaerobic digestion

CCS

carbon capture and storage

CO2e

equivalent carbon dioxide

dw

dry weight

EROI

energy return on investment

FAME

fatty acid methyl ester

FFA

free fatty acid

GHG

greenhouse gases

h

hour

ha

hectare

HRAP

high-rate algal pond

ILUC

indirect land use change

K

potassium

l

liter

LCA

life cycle assessment

LULUCF

land use, land use change, and forestry

MJ

megajoule

NOx

oxides of nitrogen

P

phosphorus

PBR

photo-bioreactor

PUFAs

polyunsaturated fatty acids

s

second

SC-CO2

supercritical carbon dioxide

STR

stirred tank bioreactor

t

ton

TAG

triacylglycerol

TN

total nitrogen

TS

total solid

VOCs

volatile organic compounds

VS

volatile solids

wt%

weight percent

ww

wet weight

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Armen B. Avagyan
    • 1
  • Bhaskar Singh
    • 2
  1. 1.President and Sole FounderR&I Center of Photosynthesizing OrganismYerevanArmenia
  2. 2.Department of Environmental SciencesCentral University of JharkhandRanchiIndia

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