Microalgae technologies and processes for biofuels/bioenergy production in British Columbia - Current technology, suitability and barriers January 2009

Extensive review of the literature and information obtained from industry insiders resulted in the identification of cost parameters for expected biomass yields, algal oil content, capital, labour and operational costs. A thermodynamic model was developed that uses hourly solar insulation and temperature values in British Columbia (BC) to predict maximum biomass yields for the two phototrophic technologies. Using this model, the resulting cost per litre of algae oil produced was determined.
The results of the economic analysis for each scenario, expressed both in terms of costs ($) per kg of biomass produced and in cost per litre of oil produced are reported. One option to produce ethanol in PBR was also included. For comparison, the cost per kg of canola, and cost per litre of canola oil are included.
The base case costs for the three different production processes are shown. Raceways have total production costs of $14.44 per litre of algal oil. The majority of this cost is capital (49%) and labour costs (27%). However, operational costs, such as power and fertilizer, are also substantial (25%). PBRs have higher production cost of $24.60 per litre of algal oil. As with raceways, the majority of this cost is capital (63%). Fermenters have the lowest production cost of $2.58 per litre of algae oil. This time the majority of cost is operational (78%) – mainly from the power (31%) and the organic carbon substrate (23%).
Even under optimistic scenarios currently none of the processes examined in this study can achieve price parity with fossil fuels. Furthermore, while fermentation appears closest, achieving cost-effective algal biomass production through fermentation still requires significant R&D to generate greater yields and oil content.

By: A.O. Alabi (Seed Science Ltd), M. Tampier (ENVINT), E. Bibeau (Univ of Manitoba)