Some energy services and industrial processes-such as long-distance freight transport, air travel, highly reliable electricity, and steel and cement manufacturing-are particularly difficult to provide without adding carbon dioxide (CO) to the atmosphere. Rapidly growing demand for these services, combined with long lead times for technology development and long lifetimes of energy infrastructure, make decarbonization of these services both essential and urgent. We examine barriers and opportunities associated with these difficult-to-decarbonize services and processes, including possible technological solutions and research and development priorities. A range of existing technologies could meet future demands for these services and processes without net addition of CO to the atmosphere, but their use may depend on a combination of cost reductions via research and innovation, as well as coordinated deployment and integration of operations across currently discrete energy industries.
Biofuels derived from microalgae have the potential to replace petroleum fuel and first-generation biofuel, but the efficacy with which sustainability goals can be achieved is dependent on the lifecycle impacts of the microalgae-to-biofuel process. This study proposes a detailed, industrial-scale engineering model for the species Nannochloropsis using a photobioreactor architecture. This process level model is integrated with a lifecycle energy and greenhouse gas emission analysis compatible with the methods and boundaries of the Argonne National Laboratory GREET model, thereby ensuring comparability to preexisting fuel-cycle assessments. Results are used to evaluate the net energy ratio (NER) and net greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) of microalgae biodiesel in comparison to petroleum diesel and soybean-based biodiesel with a boundary equivalent to "well-to-pump". The resulting NER of the microalgae biodiesel process is 0.93 MJ of energy consumed per MJ of energy produced. In terms of net GHGs, microalgae-based biofuels avoids 75 g of CO(2)-equivalent emissions per MJ of energy produced. The scalability of the consumables and products of the proposed microalgae-to-biofuels processes are assessed in the context of 150 billion liters (40 billion gallons) of annual production.
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