Biorefinery and product development
Biorefinery refers to the process of converting biomass into feedstocks that can be used in the manufacturing of a whole range of products for food, feed, fuel, materials, pharma and chemical applications. This approach is analogous to the refinery of crude oil where a range of products is manufactured from a single feedstock to optimize value. Currently, most biorefinery approaches only recover one or a few product types from plant materials.
Under harsh conditions, single components are derived from biological feedstocks (ranging from agricultural crops to straw and microalgae). In the se ‘demolition’ conditions, cells are completely destroyed and many of the other valuable ingredients (e.g. proteins, polysaccharides, vitamins) present
in the biomass lose their functionality. Furthermore, this approach creates very complex mixtures of biomolecules, which make separation of valuable components a big challenge. AlgaePARC is currently exploring mild separation processes, in which the biomass is carefully disentangled. Mild separation enables us to obtain many more valuable biomolecules from the microalgal biomass. This enhances the economic value of the biomass, and at the same time has a positive effect on the ecological impact of the bioproducts that are developed. Moving from a ‘demolition’ towards a ‘disentanglement’ approach requires a biorefinery platform that includes a detailed characterization of the cellular structure (cell wall structure, composition and location of the cellular components) and a combination of dedicated mild-separation processes (harvesting, cell disruption, extraction and fractionation technologies). The refinement of biomass to obtain high value products is performed in several
As most of the microalgae cultivation processes end with a very dilute microalgal suspension, one of the first steps in the biorefinery process is water removal. AlgaePARC is involved in improving classic dewatering techniques such as filtration and centrifugation, but also exploring novel concepts such as
Disentanglement of the microalgae cells to obtain functional ingredients needs to be done in a mild way. To investigate and fine-tune the release of the different components from within the cytoplasm and from specific cellular organelles, new technologies are being developed. Electric or steam pulses, possibly combined with enzymes that degrade cell walls and c
ell membranes, can be used to gradually release cell components present in the cytoplasm, making them available for the subsequent biorefinery steps.
Our research focuses on exploring the benefits and side-effects of using novel ionic liquids to take lipids, proteins and carbohydrates out of algae extracts, while maintaining the functionality of these compounds.
For further separation of the different components (e.g. separating proteins from carbohydrates and lipids) different fractionation techniques are needed, such as novel functional matrices (e.g. membranes, beads).
Together with our industrial partners we are exploring the potential of the various refined microalgal raw materials and making the first steps towards product development.