Date: December 2, 2011

The Ohio Aerospace Institute (OAI) and Life Cycle Associates (LCA) have developed calculation tools to evaluate the energy and emissions impacts and techno-economic aspects of aviation fuels produced from algae and are now releasing the tools for public use. The calculation tools are designed for easy use by all stakeholders, with no previous modeling experience needed. The tools were created as part of a larger research project to develop “Renewable Hydrocarbon Fuels for Military Applications” conducted by OAI and a consortium of academic researchers, algae developers, technology developers, fuel processors and regulators. Funding was provided by the U.S. Air Force under contract FA8650-09-D-2945. The Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) of 2007 mandates the use of alternative fuels that have a lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emission than petroleum on a life cycle basis.

Fuel stakeholders need sustainability assessment tools that integrate several important features to meet the requirements for effective fuel regulation and transparency. Evaluation tools must be flexible and modular, robust, verifiable and produce disaggregated results. Modeling frameworks with these characteristics are easy to use, audit (track inputs to results) analyze multiple scenarios efficiently and to expand to include additional fuel pathways and scenarios.

LCA developed a life cycle model (LCM) using a novel matrix calculation approach to evaluate algae-to-fuel pathways, including all of the desired functionality and features desired by stakeholders. The LCM calculates disaggregated results for each input in the fuel pathway by combining input parameters and life cycle inventory (LCI) data; the input parameters define the quantity of resources (energy and chemicals) required for production and the LCI data characterizes the life cycle energy and emissions associated with each input. The model was parameterized for pilot scale production and the model can be used to calculate results for a wide range of pilot and commercial scale pathways. LCA has provided the LCM to consortium of algae stakeholders and the Air Force and now the model is available to everyone.

OAI has developed a techno-economic model which, when provided with key algae plant specifications and cost parameters and relevant product and co-product market data by users, renders key performance metrics, cash flow projections and financial ratios — all pertinent to determining the commercial feasibility of a proposed algae plant. The model accommodates such variables as: plant and pond acreage; pond depth; building costs; lipid production; growth cycles; interest rates; debt and equity financing ratios; market prices for algal crude and valuable co-products; and inflation rates and is uniquely flexible in its application and operation.

Under this AFRL project, LCA and OAI have developed these tools to provide a ready-to-use calculation framework to allow individual users to assess their own carbon intensity, life cycle energy use, and economic viability of their approach. Individual users may contact LCA and OAI for access to the models and assistance or training in their use. For additional information, contact