Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Engineering Science (Interdepartmental Program)

Document Type



Microalgal harvesting strategies for biodiesel production have been a major setback in the industry with high energy estimates of $3400/ton biomass by centrifugation. The present study utilized effective mass and energy balances to reduce these large operating costs. The energy for Stage 1 centrifugation was reduced by 82% when harvesting 28.5% of biomass at 18 L/min as opposed to 95% harvesting at 1 L/min. This strategy was further confirmed using electrocoagulation (EC) with Nannochloris and Dunaliella algae with perforated aluminum and iron electrodes at low (< 6 mg/L) metal ion concentrations. Despite 20% lower harvesting efficiencies, the iron electrodes were more energy and cost efficient with operating costs less than $0.03/L oil when flocculating and settling Nannochloris and Dunaliella cultures. Furthermore, a continuous multistage algae harvester using EC and dissolved air flotation (DAF) for Stage 1 harvesting and centrifugation for Stage 2 dewatering was designed. It was determined throughout the testing that greater EC costs for improved harvesting efficiencies were necessary to offset the large energy requirements of the DAF. The multistage system dewatered a low density (100 mg/L) Nannochloris to 20% solids for a final energy requirement of 1.536 kWh/kg algae ($138/ton). Using the data collected from this research and existing literature, a life cycle analysis was assembled to judge the sustainability of microalgal biofuels in Louisiana. High and low energy estimates for culturing (mixing, CO2, nutrients), harvesting, lipid extraction and energy conversion were compared with the current research. Scaling the EC/DAF system for a full size facility was expected to reduce the harvesting costs to 1.133 kWh/kg algae, resulting as $0.44/L oil for a culture with 20% lipids. Despite this improvement in harvesting costs, the production of algal for the sole purpose of biodiesel was not economically viable. Considering a system with a growth rate of 15 g/m2/day and lipid content of 20%, the energy inputs exceeded the outputs from biodiesel production by 36% under the most ideal conditions. However, incorporating additional revenue through wastewater treatment and biogas production from residual biomass could improve sustainability and profitability of algal biodiesel to an 18.5% energy surplus at its current state.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Theegala, Chandra