Current microalgal downstream processing technologies are often too expensive to achieve commercial benefits or even price parity. Therefore, the need to simplify the unit operations and quickly maximize the number of recovered products becomes evident. This can be achieved by integrating microfluidic chip architecture with external fields to extract and fractionate multiple microalgal components continuously. Although these technologies have been proven in cell transformation, retention, and sorting, a wide range of applications such as microalgal biorefining have not been explored.
The purpose of this research is to combine electric and acoustic fields with microfluidic technologies to develop a gentle, sustainable, less labor-intensive, and less time-consuming on-a-chip multi-product extraction and separation platform.
The main focus is thus on using external fields to continuously concentrate microalgal cells, extract their components and separate them into pure components on-a-chip. The focus is on several microalgal species, including Haematococcus pluvialis, Chlorella vulgaris, Dunaliella salina, and the cyanobacterium Spirulina platensis. These microalgae species are rich in biomolecules such as specific pigments, carbohydrates, and proteins, interesting for applications such as novel food, feed, and nutraceuticals. Thus, the differences of structure such as cell density, compressibility, size, and the presence or absence of a cell wall need to be considered. These characteristics will further define the specific strategy of the downstream processing (cell milking or mild acoustic disruption).