Life Cycle Analysis of Algal Biofuel Production – UROP Symposium

Life Cycle Analysis of Algal Biofuel Production

Jalen Dominique Hurley

Research Mentor(s): Taehoon Han
Program: CCSFP
Authors: Jalen Hurley, Taehoon Han, PhD


Due to the burning of fossil fuels, the average global temperature continues to rise, and the impacts of climate change are being felt currently. High category hurricanes and large wildfires are a few examples of their impact. To slow the frequency of these events, scientists and engineers from all disciplines have been developing new and efficient ways to replace those fossil fuels that we as humans depended on for over two hundred years.

This brings me to the project I’ve been working on which is developing fuel using the experimental study of the algal biofuel process, then conducting a life cycle analysis of the biofuel that we created to see if it does indeed lead to less carbon dioxide (greenhouse gas) emissions than traditional fossil fuels. Some reasons the decision was made to make algae the source is because it’s easy to grow, there isn’t a need to dig underground for it like fossil fuels that release more carbon dioxide into the air. Also, it is not eliminating a possible food source for humans like soy as some protestors have claimed.

The process will start by turning the algae into biocrude which is called hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL). It involves boiling the algae in water at 320°C for at least 30 minutes. After HTL comes the upgrading “UPG” meaning putting the biocrude into a chamber reactor combined with hydrogen gas and a catalyst called Nickel on silica/alumina (Ni/S–A), heat up to 350° C for at least four hours to deoxidize the biocrude and crack the long chain hydrocarbons, turning into biofuel.

After filtering out the remaining catalyst after upgrading using a centrifuge, we are able to use an excel based calculation sheet called the GREET (Greenhouse gasses, Regulated Emissions, and Energy use in Transportation) model that studies the life cycle impacts of different products and more importantly in this case, fuels.

The data suggests that algal fuel production successfully reduces carbon dioxide emissions. How much more efficient will be discussed as well.

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