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Modeling and analysis bring the algae industry steps closer to a marketable future

ATP3 partners Amy Landis and Ryan Davis discuss LCA & TEA Programs

As part of the network’s dedication to bringing algae solutions and products to market, the Algae Testbed Public-Private Partnership (ATP3) is working with analysts to detect financial and operational barriers to algae based business models and assess the current state of technology.

Using data generated by the national network of ATP3 testbeds, ATP3 is engaging techno-economic analysis and life cycle assessment stakeholders to examine the economic and environmental impacts of algae based biofuels and bioproducts. This data can be used to validate current models and assess the economic feasibility and environmental sustainability of algae based products.

Techno-economic analysis (TEA) for algal based biofuels and bio-products serves to quantify a fuel or other product selling price (e.g., $/gal) based on modeled process performance data.

Life cycle assessment (LCA) is a well-established sustainability tool for measuring the total environmental impacts of a product or process. For example, LCA can quantify greenhouse gas emission reductions required by regulatory policies.

While both TEA and LCA are essential decision-support tools to utilize on the path towards a successful, competitive algae industry, access to the appropriate expertise to design, run and interpret the models, as well as the necessary real-world data to exercise those models can be difficult to obtain for academics and algae entrepreneurs alike.

ATP3 hopes to help advance algae-based products and biofuels by providing open and free data to the algae community via the Department of Energy’s Open Energy Information Initiative (OpenEI.org). As part of this mission, ATP3 also engages directly with those interested in TEA and LCA.

Ryan Davis, a TEA specialist at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the ATP3 modeling lead, and Amy Landis, an LCA specialist at Arizona State University both weigh in on the importance of their respective fields and the value of the type of data being generated and supplied by ATP3.

TEA

Techno-Economic Analysis combines modeling techniques from engineering and finance to deliver actionable insights to managers and researchers.  The calculations made from TEA present a path forward towards ultimately achieving economic viability by quantifying the biggest ‘bang for the buck’ cost drivers to help prioritize future research targets, focusing on the economic implications for measured experimental data or technology progress, assuming the technology were run at commercial scale, Davis said.

Most importantly, these insights can be provided long before ground has been broken to create facilities. TEA is intended to even reveal what costs are for pre-commercial technologies and what it would take to achieve a price cost that would be competitive with conventional technology.

“TEA is also useful for the algae industry to compare multiple process options in the rapidly evolving technology space for algal harvesting and conversion,” Davis said.

Having the ability to compare commercialization methods and technologies are ideal for start-up companies who need to identify their range of production variability.

LCA

Data generated by ATP3 will also support analysts ability to model the environmental impacts of a given production system from “cradle to grave” across the entire lifespan of the product produced.

“LCA can be used to identify opportunities to improving the environmental footprint and areas where future research will be beneficial for algae industries,” Landis said. “For example, LCA helps to understand the benefits of co-product utilization. LCA helps to identify ‘hotspots’ or bottlenecks in the production where significant energetic or environmental savings could be achieved.”

Davis said the modeling done through TEA and LCA work together to present a comprehensive picture for where algal biofuel technologies stand today (based on publicly available data) and shine a light on where biofuel technologies need to progress in order to be economically viable and environmentally sustainable.

“The ATP3 network has placed a high priority on understanding the type of data that modelers need (both internal and external to the consortium), and in putting forward large efforts towards a comprehensive system framework for data collection and sharing” Davis said.

For more information about ATP3 services and data, visit www.atp3.test. To learn about the data provided by ATP3 and to learn how to access it, read more at  https://atp3.org/news/atp3-2014-cultivation-trials-begin/.

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June 3, 2014- NREL Process Research Engineer, Ryan Davis, works on a target model for commercial scale cellulosic biofuel production. (PHOTO illustration by Dennis Schroeder / NREL)
Amy Landis discusses data modeling at the second annual ATP3 meeting at Sandia National Laboratory facilities in Livermore, California.