Distinct microalgae species for food—part 1: a methodological (top-down) approach for the life cycle assessment of microalgae cultivation in tubular photobioreactors
Journal of Applied Phycology
Specific microalgae species are an adequate source of EPA and DHA and are able to provide a complete protein, which makes them highly interesting for human nutrition. However, microalgae cultivation has also been described to be energy intensive and environmentally unfavorable in pilot-scale reactors. Moreover, production in cold temperature zones has not been sufficiently investigated. In particular, the effects of tube materials and cultivation season length have rarely been previously
... n previously investigated in the context of a comparative LCA of microalgae cultivation. A computational "top-down" model was conducted to calculate input flows for Nannochloropsis sp. and Phaeodactylum tricornutum cultivation in a hypothetical tubular photobioreactor. Cultivation processes were calculated according to detailed satellite climatic data for the chosen location in Central Germany. This model was applied to a set of different scenarios, including variations in photobioreactor material, tube diameter, microalgae species, and cultivation season length. Based on these data, a life cycle assessment (LCA) was performed following ISO standard 14040/44. The impact assessment comprised the global warming potential, acidification, eutrophication, cumulative energy demand, and water scarcity. The results showed that a long cultivation season in spring and fall was always preferable in terms of environmental impacts, although productivity decreased significantly due to the climatic preconditions. Acrylic glass as a tube material had higher environmental impacts than all other scenarios. The cultivation of an alternative microalgae species showed only marginal differences in the environmental impacts compared with the baseline scenario. Critical processes in all scenarios included the usage of hydrogen peroxide for the cleaning of the tubes, nitrogen fertilizer, and electricity for mixing, centrifugation, and drying. Microalgae cultivation in a tubular photobioreactor in a "cold-weather" climate for food is sustainable and could possibly be a complement to nutrients from other food groups. The added value of this study lies in the detailed description of a complex and flexible microalgae cultivation model. The new model introduced in this study can be applied to numerous other scenarios to evaluate photoautotrophic microalgae cultivation in tubular photobioreactors. Thus, it is possible to vary the facility location, seasons, scale, tube dimensions and material, microalgae species, nutrient inputs, and flow velocity. Moreover, single processes can easily be complemented or exchanged to further adjust the model individually, if, for instance, another downstream pathway is required.