The Scaled-up Process Design and Economic Analysis of an Electrofuels Platform for Producing Botryococcene as an Alternative Transportation Fuel

Open Access
Myers, John Austin
Area of Honors:
Chemical Engineering
Bachelor of Science
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Wayne Roger Curtis, Thesis Supervisor
  • Enrique Daniel Gomez, Honors Advisor
  • Biofuel
  • Alternative Fuel
  • Electrofuels
  • Process Design
  • Economic Analysis
In 2010, as part of the effort to replace fossil fuels with more sustainable and environmentally-friendly energy sources, the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) launched an initiative to develop a novel fuel production platform. The initiative, entitled “Electrofuels: Versatile Transportation Energy Solutions”, proposed a platform in which microbes would be used to create liquid biofuels from photovoltaic-based electricity and CO2. With an initial investment of over $44 million at stake, the pragmatic decision was made by members of the Wayne Curtis Lab to construct a scaled-up process design and conduct a preliminary economic analysis to identify critical project focal areas as well as to estimate the overall platform cost. The designed production facility described in this thesis was scaled to produce 5,000 barrels of oil per day, a size comparable to ethanol producing facilities in 2013. The process design was modeled using both Microsoft Excel and AspenTech software, and was based on principals of material balance, measured kinetic and yield parameters, mass transfer, and various other equipment parameters. Additionally, with the platform still in its infancy, the process modeling involved making several assumptions, the values of which were chosen to be optimistic yet within reason. However, even with these optimistic assumptions, the economic analysis demonstrated that at a price of $205/bbl, the platform will not be able to compete with the low cost of crude oil for the foreseeable future, in large part because of the high costs associated with photovoltaic cells. Since the electrofuels platform represents what was hoped to be a promising alternative fuel platform, this high price suggests that our current hope to attain alternative liquid fuels at prices comparable to current fossil fuels prices may be overly optimistic. As such, the real question in regards to whether or not the electrofuels platform can achieve economic success in the future is whether it can compete with other renewable energy platforms. This report discusses the details of a hypothetical process design and the associated economic analysis.