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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Re-evaluating the Biodiesel Production Process: A Cradle-to-Cradle Approach

Montine Swikert

Re-evaluating the Biodiesel Production Process: A Cradle-to-Cradle Approach

With significantly reduced fossil fuel supplies, an ever-increasing population, escalating greenhouse gas concentrations driving global warming, and the accumulating effects of pollution and waste degradation, there is a need for considerable increase in energy, transport fuels and products derived from renewable resources which can no longer be a lip-service issue.  Switching from a fossil fuel based economy to one driven by renewable resources however, cannot be achieved simply at the level required to effectively combat climate change without a marked shift in the way humanity consumes natural resources and disposes of waste. One of the major arenas where this paradigm shift must take place is in the industrial sector; where linear process designs perpetuate the consumption of natural resources as well as the generation and disposal of products, by-products, and wastes.

With respect to renewable resources, biomass – and consequently biofuels production –has a great potential to assimilate the principles of industrial ecology. Linear biofuels production processes can be redesigned into cyclical systems where wastes are reused as raw materials for other processes or converted into usable energy. Due to the diverse nature of the biofuels’ industry, the scope of this paper will focus on one type of biofuel (biodiesel) as a case study. The study assesses the integration of an established biofuel production process with emerging algal biomass production as well as different conversion opportunities. The combination presents enormous synergistic effects from industrial ecology and minimization of natural resource use.

The primary objective of this study was to develop a process design that offers the potential to make large-scale biodiesel production more sustainable by using an industrial ecology method approach, while generating multiple value-added, renewable energy products. The process is assessed for its theoretical and technical feasibility, flexibility and ability to address current environmental, social, and economic challenges. These challenges include issues of “food versus fuel”, “land use and change”, and “high volume-low cost”.


Course Overview


The need to engage in better problem definition through careful dialogue with all stakeholder groups and a proper recognition of context.


An ability to work with specialists from other disciplines and professional groups acknowledging that technical innovation and business skills also must be understood, nurtured and combined as precursors to the successful implementation of sustainable solutions.


An understanding of mechanisms for managing change in organisations so future engineers are equipped to play a leadership role.


An awareness of a range of assessment frameworks, sustainability metrics and methodologies such as Life Cycle Analysis, Systems Dynamics, Multi-Criteria Decision making and Impact Assessment.