Integrated sustainability assessment of Dunaliella-based algae biorefinery concepts

An integrated life cycle sustainability assessment led by IFEU – Institute for Energy and Environmental Research Heidelberg, Germany, analysed the sustainability impacts of the newly devised processes studied in the D-Factory project. It joins detailed analyses of technological, environmental, economic and social aspects (by University of Greenwich, UK, IFEU, Hafren Investments Ltd, UK, and RISE – Research Institutes of Sweden, respectively) into an overall picture and derives common conclusions and recommendations. It is based on scenarios for 2025 to support decisions to be made during the implementation process.

The full integrated sustainability assessment report can be downloaded here.

The following lessons learned can be extracted from the conclusions and recommendations: Dunaliella cultivation and processing requires high expenditures.

  • Processes need to be and can be optimised.
  • Sustainability assessment helps to identify suitable measures.
Whether 9-cis beta-carotene provides a new health benefit or not determines degree of required optimisations. Sustainability impacts seem acceptable for a new pharmaceutical unless avoidable or excessive but for ‘only’ a natural nutraceutical higher expectations regarding sustainability should be fulfilled.
  • Verify the novel medical value of 9-cis beta-carotene in an adequate clinical trial.
  • Test not only the pure substance but also 9-cis beta-carotene in mixtures.
In the analysed scenarios, downstream processing causes by far highest burdens, risks and costs.
  • The modular high-performance countercurrent chromatography (HPCCC) system newly devised within this project should be realised in a relevant environment and evaluated for sustainability impacts.
  • As a fallback option, if 9-cis beta-carotene shows sufficient pharmaceutical efficacy already in extracts, they should not be purified further to avoid environmental burdens and social risks.
Site selection is crucial in particular for Dunaliella cultivation.
  • Integrate with existing salt activities.
  • Flue gas needs to be, and waste heat should preferably be, available e.g. from a power plant.
  • Do not use arable land (exceptions subject to conditions).
  • Guarantee sufficient availability of freshwater.
Social risks need to be managed
    High social risks are not a no-go but entail obligations. E.g. closely monitor situation to avoid negative social impacts.
  • Select suppliers according to social reporting standards such as GRI.
  • Solar power can make a big difference.
  • Use as much of own renewable energy, in particular photovoltaics, as possible for algae cultivation.
Feed production makes some money and enormously improves land use related environmental burdens.
  • Continue to establish defatted powder as chicken/fish feed.
  • Research feed value of all other lower value biomass streams.
  • Convert all algae constituents to products.
  • Continue to research use of defatted powder in novel foods as substitute of fish-based ingredients.
Boundary conditions are important for sustainability.
  • Support approval processes as required because regulatory barriers may prevent realisation by SMEs.
  • In the future, solar power may compete for land and CCU/CCS may compete for remaining CO2 sources. Therefore, a coordination of policies is required.

For more details on integrated life cycle sustainability assessments contact: heiko.keller@ifeu.de or guido.reinhardt@ifeu.de.