Political, economic and ecological reasons have recently been leading to efforts to replace fossil hydrocarbons and their products in a sustainable way. In order to replace fossil-based polymers, photoautotrophically produced polyhydroxybutryrates (PHBs), which are intracellular carbon storage products of nutrient-deprived microorganisms, seem to be a promising, biobased and biodegradable alternative. Although laboratory and pilot scale experiments have already been performed, no economic evaluation has been carried out so far. Consequently, valid claims on PHB production costs and the influence of different parameters, such as intracellular PHB-content, choice of cultivation system or location, cannot be made. In this study potential demonstration plants, equipped with different photoautotrophic cultivation systems and located at two sites, were designed to identify key parameters for a successful economic realization and implementation. Material and energy balances were determined to reveal specific PHB production costs for four different scenarios. Raw material and operating supply costs, expenditures for plant construction and operation as well as product amounts were determined using literature data for specified results from laboratory and pilot scale experiments. The lowest calculated PHB production price (24 Euro kg−1) accomplished in a thin-layer-system plant located in Southern Europe with 60% PHB-content of the produced biomass is significantly higher than the current market price of heterotrophically produced PHB. The most important cost factors in all scenarios are cultivation and harvesting costs accounting for 62 to 72% of the total specific production costs, followed by maintenance costs with a cost share of 11 to 14%. Therefore, the choice of a suitable cultivation system is the key driving factor for an economic PHB-production due to the currently high investment costs for photosynthetic biomass production systems. Specific production costs for a Southern compared to a Central European location amount to almost half of the costs.
- Efficiency in Industrial Processes and Systems