With their fast growth rate and ability to accumulate a high percentage of their weight as lipid and carbohydrate, microalgae potentially represent an ideal feedstock for the production of biodiesel and bioethanol. In addition, microalgae offer several environmental benefits, and do not compete with food production for land, fresh water, and nutrients. Therefore, the main goal of this work is to provide a quantitative, systematic and harmonized assessment of current bio-energy potential. The analysis is conducted by considering all the main steps in detail, from cultivation to biodiesel production, and by deriving an overall estimation of energy consumption for biodiesel production. Energy consumption uncertainty is also quantified and discussed. A systematic review of all the main technologies available for all the main processing steps towards the production of biodiesel from microalgae is presented, focusing on the derivation of the Net Energy Ratio (NER) of each combination of technologies, complemented by an uncertainty analysis of the data used and those obtained in the present work. A wide scatter in the data available in the literature has been identified, highlighting the need for an uncertainty analysis. If the average overall energy consumption per unit of biodiesel mass is considered, all the routes adopting a raceway pond have a lower energy consumption, but if the uncertainty on the overall energy consumption is also considered, the minimum value of the range of NER values for some of the routes adopting a photobioreactor is comparable to the NER value obtainable by using raceway ponds. Thus, the present framework proposes a harmonized and comprehensive methodology to compare and contrast technologies for the production of biodiesel from microalgae, and is applied in this paper to identify, with an appreciation of the uncertainty, the most promising combinations of technologies.
- net energy ratio