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Open Access Production of Biodiesel and Biogas from Algae: A Review of Process Train Options

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Algae are an attractive biofuel feedstock because of their fast growth rates and improved land use efficiency when compared with terrestrial crops. Process train components needed to produce algal biofuels include (1) cultivation, (2) harvesting, and (3) conversion into usable fuel. This paper compares various process train options and identifies knowledge gaps presently restricting the production of algal biodiesel and algae-derived biogas. This analysis identified energy-intensive processing and the inability to cultivate large quantities of lipid-rich algal biomass as major obstacles inhibiting algal biodiesel production. Anaerobic digestion of algal biomass requires fewer process train components and occurs regardless of lipid content. In either scenario, the use of wastewater effluent as a cultivation medium seems necessary to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and maximize water use efficiency. Furthermore, anaerobically digesting algal biomass generated from low-technology wastewater treatment processes represents an appropriate technology approach to algal biofuels that is poorly investigated. Coupling these processes can improve global health by improving sanitation, while providing a cleaner burning biogas alternative to indoor biomass cooking systems typical of less-developed areas.

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Keywords: algae; anaerobic digestion; appropriate technology; biodiesel; biofuel; biogas; cultivation; wastewater

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2011-04-01

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  • Water Environment Research (WER) is published monthly, including an annual Literature Review. A subscription to WER includes access to the latest content back to 1992, as well as access to fast track articles. An individual subscription is valid for 12 months from month of purchase.

    Water Environment Research (WER) publishes peer-reviewed research papers, research notes, state-of-the-art and critical reviews on original, fundamental and applied research in all scientific and technical areas related to water quality, pollution control, and management. An annual Literature Review provides a review of published books and articles on water quality topics from the previous year.

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