Biorefinery as a Promising Approach to Promote Microalgae Industry: An Innovative Framework

Significance Statement

Microalgae, which grow in aquatic environments, are widely used as feedstock for traditional applications in cosmetics, pharmacy and nutrition sectors. In response to energy crisis, such as global warming and climatic changes, biofuels a renewable and alternative energy types have become the spotlight of research in an effort to search for sustainable development. Microalgae, which constitute lipids, carbohydrates and proteins in large amounts, have come under increased research interest with regard to the production of biofuels. The microalgae has advantages such as high photosynthetic efficiency, high lipid content, noncompetition for farmlands, and toleration to wastewaters during cultivation, applications appear to be strongly economically convenient only in conjunction with wastewater treatment.

Dr. Liandong Zhu from University of Vaasa in Finland mapped an innovative biorefinery for microalgae industry development in an effort to search for a better understanding of microalgae-based biofuel production scenarios and paths forward for microalgal research and commercialization. The research is now published in Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews.

Prior to this research, many studies have been carried out to analyze the economic feasibility of commercializing microalgae production for biofuel use. Commercialization of microalgae production as fuel is feasible from the technical point of view, but from the economical point of view, it is yet to reach an acceptable level. The author pointed out that large scale microalgae cultivation can only be achieved by combining technical breakthroughs and innovative pathways.

To make microalgae production more economical, the microalgae product market sizes and their values needs to be reviewed, that is the cost gap between microalgae biofuels and fossil fuels must be reduced or closed and also cater for the leftovers after high values of microalgae biofuels are produced.

He also suggested multi-production through microalgae biorefinery. The microalgae biorefinery which involve different system integration and engineering technologies will not only produce multiple products but also maximize the value derived from different microalgae components.

To examine the feasibility of this work, two assessments were carried out that is relative net energy ratio and cost-effective assessment. The net energy ratio is calculated from energy lifecycle assessment perspective as the ratio of total energy produced to the energy required for all relative plant construction and operation. And the higher the net energy ratio, the positive the biorefinery chain will be.

This study also mapped out an innovative frame work which includes cultivation technologies developed on the basis of the desired end product, exploring new markets for high values, integration of both traditional microalgal industry and biofuel corporate, and creating of policy beneficial to microalgal biofuel development.

Finally the author concluded in his study that high-value products can help drive the economy through systematic integration and engineering application in microalgae biorefinery.

Biorefinery as a Promising Approach to Promote Microalgae Industry An Innovative Framework 1 - renewable energy global innovations

Biorefinery as a Promising Approach to Promote Microalgae Industry An Innovative Framework 2 - renewable energy global innovations

About the author

Dr. Liandong Zhu is an assistant professor at the Faculty of Technology of the University of Vaasa and Vaasa Energy Institute, Finland. Through Talent Program, he has also been selected as a professor in several leading Chinese universities. In January 2014 he graduated from the University of Vaasa as a doctor in the area of biofuels. He is also the recipient of the Åbo Akademi Award and Chinese Government Award for Outstanding Self-financed Student Abroad.

His background is environmental engineering and his doctoral and current research resides in biodiesel production by integration of microalgae cultivation with wastewater treatment. Until now, he has published more than 50 papers in many esteemed peer-reviewed scientific journals, such as Water Research, Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Energy, Bioresource Technology, Applied Energy, Biofuels, Bioproducts and Biorefining (Biofpr) and Ecological Engineering. In total, the current impact factor (IF) of his papers has reached up to 101 points. According to Google Scholar, his papers have been well cited and the current H-index reaches 13. According to the Web of Science (ESI), three of his papers were marked as highly cited papers.

In addition, Dr. Zhu serves as the Lead Guest Editor of the BioMed Research International, Associate Editor of the JSM Environmental Science & Ecology and the reviewer for more than 40 journals including Environmental Science & Technology, Water Research, Energy, Applied Energy, etc.

Currently Dr. Zhu is working on TransAlgae project, receiving funding from EU’s Botnia-Atlantica Programme: Dr. Zhu’s previous research has also been well reported by two local Finnish newspapers (Pohjalainen and Ilkka) on their cover pages. Dr. Zhu’s research interests fall into the scopes of wastewater treatment, biofuels, waste recycling, and sustainable development. Dr. Zhu welcomes all kinds of cooperation in research, project application, publications and academic exchange or visits.

Journal References

Liandong Zhu1,2, Biorefinery as a Promising Approach to Promote Microalgae Industry: An Innovative Framework, Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 41 (2015) 1376– 1384.

Zhu, Huo, Shakeel and Li , Algal biorefinery for sustainable development and the challenges. Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers, Energy 169 November 2016 Issue EN4, Pages 179–186.

Show Affiliations
  1. Faculty of Technology, University of Vaasa, FI65101 Vaasa, Finland
  2. Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Aalto University, FI00076 Espoo, Finland


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