Algogroup : towards a shared vision of the possible deployment of algae to biofuels.

Abstract : A strong interest has been focused from several years on the algae pathway for energy production, especially for transportation fuels called third generation biofuel or G3 biofuel, and mainly from microalgae route, considering it could be a high potential alternative strategy for renewable energy and fuel production. Algae, and especially microalgae, present significant advantages compared with land resources, such as much higher productivity and lack of competition with food applications. Nevertheless, based on current knowledge, the production of an algae biomass for energy remains a difficult target to reach, due to the numerous existing hurdles such as the energetic yield and the economic positioning, without neglecting the environmental and societal aspect. Unlike first generation (G1) and a few second generation biofuel (G2) processes, G3 biofuel processes are far from the industrialization step. In 2010, under the initiative of IFP Energies nouvelles, Airbus, Safran, EADS IW and the "Académie des Technologies", launched a French national study of the potential of the algae sector as resources for the so called G3 biofuel production. This study was called "Algogroup" and led by IFP Energies nouvelles. The objective was to obtain a shared vision of the deployment possibilities. It led to the creation of this Algogroup task force with the previous partners, adding Sofiprotéol, INRA, IFREMER, CEVA and the Agrimip pole to combine all available knowledge and determine the responses which could be given to the existing questions. The Algogroup objective was to facilitate vision sharing between participating organisations and industrials on the technical improvements, the probabilities of success, the R&D needs and the development perspectives, while paying close attention to the obstacles which have to be alleviated to improve the positioning of the algae pathway. To reach this target, Algogroup has explored several axes, which enabled a thorough analysis of the potentials and limits of the technology: from the species selection to the harvesting (lipid extraction/recovery), including environmental and economical aspects. This paper focuses on some main aspects of the Algogroup study related to economical positioning and environmental terms, specially Life Cycle Analysis (LCA).Alarge share of the work was dedicated to microalgae, but since it was also considered important to examine the potential role of macroalgae, a specific analysis was conducted on this aspect. It has enabled the group to issue some recommendations such as a need for an integrated approach, need for tools to run comprehensive technico-economic assessments, including co-products valorisation. Despite the limited amount of reliable information currently available on the algofuel sectors, especially in terms of environmental balance, numerous challenges still remain to be taken up to make these sectors credible and profitable, both technically, economically and environmentally. On the economic aspect the estimated costs for future microalgae biofuels remain in a very broad range from $2/Gal to $7/Gal. There remains great potential to decrease microalgae oil production costs, but this has to be considered very carefully given the large amount of underlying assumptions. Moreover, as yet underlined, microalgae biofuels are not currently being produced at a commercial scale, thus these are only potential scenarios, which will have to be confirmed. And finally, several technologies can be used to produce microalgae oil and location possibilities are proposed. Another key point is that, in a large majority of scenarios, the economic viability of the pathway relies on the valorisation of what one usually calls co-products. Valorisation of co-products is not considered a valid option in the long-term as no market identified today could absorb the quantities associated to a new fuel market. Besides, environmental studies have demonstrated that the energetic balance was not favourable at present, based on current processes, but the variation range of the results let some space for significant improvements. The balance of greenhouse gas emissions was favourable, and there also the variation range was very wide. As regards the other environmental impact categories, however, the uncertainties are too great to draw any conclusions. Because of the heterogeneity of approaches and results for the development of the algae pathway, we must bear in mind that without reliable and robust assessments of these sectors it will not be possible to direct their technical development sustainably.Macroalgae as a resource for biofuels production are very far from being a commercial reality, but do present some advantages such, for green algae, exhibiting several similarities with current G1 and G2 feedstock, being producers of starch and unlignified cellulose. Nevertheless, they also contain other specific compounds. Red and brown macroalgae are currently the most produced species, but their composition calls for the development of new transformation processes. Although technically feasible at lab-scale, the economic viability of such processes is being endangered by the complexity of the processes involved and the numerous steps required as well as by non-technical issues such as competition with other markets like green chemistry. To have a true share of the future fuel mix, macroalgae production needs to be increase by a dozentime fold. This increase should not be done without social acceptance or at the expenses of the environment. This issue was adressed for microalgae, but data on macroalgae are currently lacking to be able to conduct Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) on this very specific environment. There are also additional problems to be taken into account, such as the lack of legislation or conflicts of usage with existing sea activities for example. Potential for high tonnage production seems real, but the challenge is to federate existing actors and new ones to build a new agro-industry.As a conclusion, no true leveraging option, leading to significant breakthroughs has really emerged asa short term solution, but wide spaces for significant improvement could be envisaged and more laboratory and pilot works have to be achieved before being able to move to a higher scale, leading to the first step toward industrial production.
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Oil & Gas Science and Technology - Revue d'IFP Energies nouvelles, Institut Français du Pétrole, 2013, 68 (5), pp.875-898
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Xavier Montagne, Pierre Porot, Caroline Aymard, Cécile Querleu, Anne Bouter, et al.. Algogroup : towards a shared vision of the possible deployment of algae to biofuels.. Oil & Gas Science and Technology - Revue d'IFP Energies nouvelles, Institut Français du Pétrole, 2013, 68 (5), pp.875-898. 〈hal-00909195〉

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