Integrating Microalgal Production with Industrial Outputs - Reducing Process Inputs and Quantifying the Benefits
Journal article, 2016
The cultivation and processing of microalgal biomass is resource- and energy-intensive, negatively affecting the sustainability and profitability of producing bulk commodities, limiting this platform to the manufacture of relatively small quantities of high-value compounds. A biorefinery approach where all fractions of the biomass are valorized might improve the case for producing lower-value products. However, these systems are still likely to operate very close to thresholds of profitability and energy balance, with wide-ranging environmental and societal impacts. It thus remains critically important to reduce the use of costly and impactful inputs and energy-intensive processes involved in these scenarios. Integration with industrial infrastructure can provide a number of residual streams that can be readily used during microalgal cultivation and downstream processing. This review critically considers some of the main inputs required for microalgal biorefineries - such as nutrients, water, carbon dioxide, and heat - and appraises the benefits and possibilities for industrial integration on a more quantitative basis. Recent literature and demonstration studies will also be considered to best illustrate these benefits to both producers and industrial operators. Additionally, this review will highlight some inconsistencies in the data used in assessments of microalgal production scenarios, allowing more accurate evaluation of potential future biorefineries.