CO2 capture and recycle using microalgae was demonstrated at a coal-fired power plant (Duke Energy’s East Bend Station, Kentucky). Using an in-house designed closed loop, vertical tube photobioreactor, Scenedesmus acutus was cultured using flue gas as the CO2 source. Algae productivity of 39 g/(m2 day) in June–July was achieved at significant scale (18,000 L), while average daily productivity slightly in excess of 10 g/(m2 day) was demonstrated in the month of December. A protocol for low-cost algae harvesting and dewatering was developed, and the conversion of algal lipids—extracted from the harvested biomass—to diesel-range hydrocarbons via catalytic deoxygenation was demonstrated. Assuming an amortization period of 10 years, calculations suggest that the current cost of capturing and recycling CO2 using this approach will fall close to $1,600/ton CO2, the main expense corresponding to the capital cost of the photobioreactor system and the associated installation cost. From this it follows that future cost reduction measures should focus on the design of a culturing system which is less expensive to build and install. In even the most optimistic scenario, the cost of algae-based CO2 capture is unlikely to fall below $225/ton, corresponding to a production cost of ~$400/ton biomass. Hence, the value of the algal biomass produced will be critical in determining the overall economics of CO2 capture and recycle.

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Published in Applied Petrochemical Research, v. 4, issue 1, p. 41-53.

© The Author(s) 2014.

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author(s) and the source are credited.

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The Kentucky Department of Energy Development and Independence, Duke Energy and the University of Kentucky are thanked for financial support.