Integrated Evaluation of Cost, Emissions, and Resource Potential for Algal Biofuels at the National Scale

Ryan Davis, Christopher Kinchin, Daniel Fishman, Edward Frank, Michael Johnson, Susanne Jones, Richard Skaggs, Erik Venteris, Mark Wigmosta

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

118 Scopus Citations


Costs, emissions, and resource availability were modeled for the production of 5 billion gallons yr-1 (5 BGY) of renewable diesel in the United States from Chlorella biomass by hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL). The HTL model utilized data from a continuous 1-L reactor including catalytic hydrothermal gasification of the aqueous phase, and catalytic hydrotreatment of the HTL oil. A biophysical algae growth model coupled with weather and pond simulations predicted biomass productivity from experimental growth parameters, allowing site-by-site and temporal prediction of biomass production. The 5 BGY scale required geographically and climatically distributed sites. Even though screening down to 5 BGY significantly reduced spatial and temporal variability, site-to-site, season-to-season, and interannual variations in productivity affected economic and environmental performance. Performance metrics based on annual average or peak productivity were inadequate; temporally and spatially explicit computations allowed more rigorous analysis of these dynamic systems. For example, 3-season operation with a winter shutdown was favored to avoid high greenhouse gas emissions, but economic performance was harmed by underutilized equipment during slow-growth periods. Thus, analysis of algal biofuel pathways must combine spatiotemporal resource assessment, economic analysis, and environmental analysis integrated over many sites when assessing national scale performance.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)6035-6042
Number of pages8
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number10
StatePublished - 20 May 2014

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-5100-61167


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