September 27, 2010

Study Finds Algae Biodiesel Life Cycle Analysis Better Than Petroleum Diesel, Soy Biodiesel

The transformation of algae into a biofuel – from the photobioreactor where it’s grown to the factories where it’s processed – is more environmentally friendly than the process for petroleum diesel or soy biodiesel, according to a groundbreaking Colorado State University study.

The research, by Professors Thomas Bradley and Bryan Willson, relied on data from the world renowned Engines and Energy Conversion Laboratory at Colorado State and spinoff Solix Biofuels Inc. With technical support from the university, Solix has developed a technology production platform for the large-scale commercialization of microalgae-based biofuels and co-products. The company has expanded into a multi-acre test facility on the Southern Ute Indian Reservation in Durango.

The study appears in this week’s Journal of Environmental Science and Technology. The work was financially supported by Solix and the Colorado Center for Biorefining and Biofuels, which is part of a statewide collaboration between the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, CSU, Colorado School of Mines and CU-Boulder.

“There has been some research indicating that algae might be more energy intensive, but this study is the first to directly compare the complete manufacturing process of algae, petroleum diesel, and soybean biodiesel,” Bradley said. “We made an apples-to-apples comparison and the results show that algae is net beneficial - it reduces greenhouse gas emissions more than soy biodiesel and is more scalable and it has lower energy consumption than soy biodiesel.”

Bradley and the team assessed the entire “life cycle” of the algae-to-biodiesel process including such factors as the energy used to grow algae, the diesel burned by trucks used to move the algae biodiesel from processing facilities to the pump to the energy used to make fertilizer for growth.

“We have access to the most up-to-date data and industrial-scale understandings of how this works in the real world,” Bradley said. “We’re very lucky to be doing this work here at Colorado State University.”

“We’re doing system-level analysis that can help policymakers and people who are trying to design our next energy system and help them make decisions about how to do this,” Bradley said. “We’re trying to understand the impact of this new algae energy system that everybody’s interested in.”

Also working on the paper were doctoral students Liaw Batan and Jason Quinn.

Source : Press Release

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