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Examining the impacts of switchgrass derived biofuels on U.S. biofuel policy and the potential environmental ethical dilemmas

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Overall, biofuels play a significant role in future energy sourcing and deserve thorough researching and examining for their best use in achieving sustainable goals. National and state policies are supporting

Overall, biofuels play a significant role in future energy sourcing and deserve thorough researching and examining for their best use in achieving sustainable goals. National and state policies are supporting biofuel production as a sustainable option without a holistic view of total impacts. The analysis from this research connects to policies based on life cycle sustainability to identify other environmental impacts beyond those specified in the policy as well as ethical issues that are a concern. A Life cycle assessment (LCA) of switchgrass agriculture indicates it will be challenging to meet U.S. Renewable Fuel Standards with only switchgrass cellulosic ethanol, yet may be used for California's Low Carbon Fuel Standard. Ethical dilemmas in food supply, land conservation, and water use can be connected to biofuel production and will require evaluation as policies are created. The discussions around these ethical dilemmas should be had throughout the process of biofuel production and policy making. Earth system engineering management principles can help start the discussions and allow anthropocentric and biocentric viewpoints to be heard.

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  • 2014

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Computational sustainability assessment of algal biofuels and bioproducts for commercial applications

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To date, the production of algal biofuels is not economically sustainable due to the cost of production and the low cost of conventional fuels. As a result, interest has been

To date, the production of algal biofuels is not economically sustainable due to the cost of production and the low cost of conventional fuels. As a result, interest has been shifting to high value products in the algae community to make up for the low economic potential of algal biofuels. The economic potential of high-value products does not however, eliminate the need to consider the environmental impacts. The majority of the environmental impacts associated with algal biofuels overlap with algal bioproducts in general (high-energy dewatering) due to the similarities in their production pathways. Selecting appropriate product sets is a critical step in the commercialization of algal biorefineries.

This thesis evaluates the potential of algae multiproduct biorefineries for the production of fuel and high-value products to be economically self-sufficient and still contribute to climate change mandates laid out by the government via the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) of 2007. This research demonstrates:

1) The environmental impacts of algal omega-3 fatty acid production can be lower than conventional omega-3 fatty acid production, depending on the dewatering strategy.

2) The production of high-value products can support biofuels with both products being sold at prices comparable to 2016 prices.

3) There is a tradeoff between revenue and fuel production

4) There is a tradeoff between the net energy ratio of the algal biorefinery and the economic viability due to the lower fuel production in a multi-product model that produces high-value products and diesel vs. the lower economic potential from a multi-product model that just produces diesel.

This work represents the first efforts to use life cycle assessment and techno-economic analysis to assess the economic and environmental sustainability of an existing pilot-scale biorefinery tasked with the production of high-value products and biofuels. This thesis also identifies improvements for multiproduct algal biorefineries that will achieve environmentally sustainable biofuel and products while maintaining economic viability.

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  • 2016