A new process evaluation methodology of microalgae biodiesel has been developed. Based on four evaluation criteria, i.e. the net energy ratio (NER), biodiesel production costs, greenhouse gases (GHG) emission rate and water footprint, the model compares various technologies for each step of the process, from cultivation to oil upgrading. An innovative pathway (hybrid raceway/PBR cultivation system, belt filter press for dewatering, wet lipid extraction, oil hydrotreating and anaerobic digestion of residues) shows good results in comparison to a reference pathway (doubled NER, lower GHG emission rate and water footprint). The production costs are still unfavourable (between 1.94 and 3.35 €/L of biodiesel). The most influential parameters have been targeted through a global sensitivity analysis and classified: (i) lipid productivity, (ii) the cultivation step, and (iii) the downstream processes. The use of low-carbon energy sources is required to achieve significant reductions of the biodiesel GHG emission rate compared to petroleum diesel.
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