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Date of Award


Document Type

Master's Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science in Chemical Engineering (MS)

College, School or Department Name

Department of Chemical Engineering

First Advisor

David Shonnard


Robert Handler


Algae are considered a promising source of biofuels in the future. However, the environmental impact of algae-based fuel has high variability in previous LCA studies due to lack of accurate data from researchers and industry. The National Alliance for Advanced Biofuels and Bioproducts (NAABB) project was designed to produce and evaluate new technologies that can be implemented by the algal biofuel industry and establish the overall process sustainability. The MTU research group within NAABB worked on the environmental sustainability part of the consortium with UOP-Honeywell and with the University of Arizona (Dr. Paul Blowers). Several life cycle analysis (LCA) models were developed within the GREET Model and SimaPro 7.3 software to quantitatively assess the environment viability and sustainability of algal fuel processes. The baseline GREET Harmonized algae life cycle was expanded and replicated in SimaPro software, important differences in emission factors between GREET/E-Grid database and SimaPro/Ecoinvent database were compared, and adjustments were made to the SimaPro analyses. The results indicated that in most cases SimaPro has a higher emission penalty for inputs of electricity, chemicals, and other materials to the algae biofuels life cycle. A system-wide model of algae life cycle was made starting with preliminary data from the literature, and then progressed to detailed analyses based on inputs from all NAABB research areas, and finally several important scenarios in the algae life cycle were investigated as variations to the baseline scenario. Scenarios include conversion to jet fuel instead of biodiesel or renewable diesel, impacts of infrastructure for algae cultivation, co-product allocation methodology, and different usage of lipid-extracted algae (LEA). The infrastructure impact of algae cultivation is minimal compared to the overall life cycle. However, in the scenarios investigating LEA usage for animal feed instead of internal recycling for energy use and nutrient recovery the results reflect the high potential variability in LCA results. Calculated life cycle GHG values for biofuel production scenarios where LEA is used as animal feed ranged from a 55% reduction to 127% increase compared to the GREET baseline scenario depending on the choice of feed meal. Different allocation methods also affect LCA results significantly. Four novel harvesting technologies and two extraction technologies provided by the NAABB internal report have been analysis using SimaPro LCA software. The results indicated that a combination of acoustic extraction and acoustic harvesting technologies show the most promising result of all combinations to optimize the extraction of algae oil from algae. These scenario evaluations provide important insights for consideration when planning for the future of an algae-based biofuel industry.