A multi-objective optimization-extended techno-economic assessment: exploring the optimal microalgal-based value chain†
The use of fossil-based products induces a large environmental burden. To lighten this burden, green technologies are required that can replace their fossil-based counterparts. To enable the development of economically viable green technologies, an optimization towards both economic and environmental objectives is required. To perform this multi-objective optimization (MOO), the environmental techno-economic assessment (ETEA) methodology is extended towards a MOO-extended ETEA. The development of this MOO-extended ETEA is the main objective of this manuscript. As an example of a green technology, the concept of microalgae biorefineries is used as a case study to illustrate the MOO-extended ETEA. According to the results, all optimal value chains include open pond cultivation, a membrane for medium recycling and spray drying. The optimal economic value chain uses Nannochloropsis sp. in a one-stage cultivation to produce fish larvae feed, while the optimal environmental design uses Dunaliella salina or Haematococcus pluvialis to produce carotenoids and fertilizer or energy products, by means of anaerobic digestion or gasification. The crucial parameters for both environmental and economic feasibility are the content, price and reference impact of the main end product, the growth parameters and the biomass and carotenoid recovery efficiency alongside the different process steps. By identifying the economic and environmentally optimal algal-based value chain and the crucial drivers, the MOO-extended ETEA provides insights on how algae-based value chains can be developed in the most economic and environmentally-friendly way. For example, the inclusion of a medium recycling step to lower the water and salt consumption is required in all Pareto-optimal scenarios. Another major insight is the requirement of high-value products such as carotenoids or specialty food to obtain and economically and environmentally feasible algal-based value chain. Due to the modular nature of the MOO-extended ETEA, multiple processes can be included or excluded from the superstructure. Although this case study is limited to current microalgae biorefinery technologies, the MOO-extended ETEA can also be used to assess the economic and environmental effect of more innovative technologies. This way, the MOO-extended ETEA provides a methodology to assess the economic and environmental potential of innovative green technologies and shorten their time-to-market.