Guiding technology development using LCA: The case of bio-based adipic acid production
Paper in proceedings, 2015
Moving from a fossil-based to a bio-based economy requires the development of new technologies for the production of bio-based chemicals and materials. These technologies may become part of novel biorefinery concepts that combine the production of bulk and fine chemicals. This paper presents a life cycle assessment (LCA) of such a novel concept in which forest residues and micro-algae are used as feedstock for the combined production of adipic acid and high value-added chemicals.
Adipic acid is mainly used as a precursor in the production of nylon, and its current fossil-based production process emits significant quantities of nitrous oxide (N2O), a highly potent greenhouse gas. There is thus a great potential to reduce the global warming potential of the production of adipic acid, and consequently nylon.
The novel biorefinery concept is the main target of a multi-disciplinary R&D project. The concept is in a very early stage of development which mostly consists of experimental lab work. There are some challenges that must be overcome to evaluate the concept using life cycle assessment at this early development stage. Scaling up lab results to an industrially relevant process capacity needs to be addressed in order to e.g. account for changes in yield. This can be done using process modeling and simulation. The total scale of production is another aspect which is important for the assessment of bio-based products, because the environmental impact of biomass production is not linearly dependent on the amount harvested. Furthermore, the results of the assessment need to be communicated in a meaningful way to the stakeholders who have different backgrounds and are often not familiar with LCA.
The paper will discuss these challenges for the case of bio-based adipic acid production using the novel biorefinery concept, and will present results from the assessment and compare these to the case of fossil-based adipic acid production.
Life cycle assessment