Mild disintegration of green microalgae and macroalgae
An increased worldwide protein demand for food and feed and the necessity to release the water soluble proteins in the first stage of the cascade biorefinery require the development of mild protein extraction technologies. Cell disintegration is the first hurdle and is considered as one of the most energy consuming steps. Therefore, this thesis focused on the development of a mild, scalable and energy efficient disintegration technology for green microalgae and macroalgae (seaweed) aimed on extraction of water soluble components (like proteins and carbohydrates).
For microalgae disintegration, two main technologies were investigated. First of all the conventional technology bead milling and second a novel approach using Pulsed Electric Field (PEF). In Chapter 2 a benchmark was set by means of bead milling for the release of water soluble protein from the green microalgae Chlorella vulgaris. Overall, protein yields between 32 and 42% were achieved, while the energy consumption was reduced with 85% by selective protein extraction to values as low as 0.81 kWh kgDW-1. Remarkably, the benchmark was much better than expected.
In Chapter 3 the bead mill was further optimized by decreasing the applied bead size, furthermore the applicability of bead milling on two additional microalgae species (Neochloris oleoabundans, Tetraselmis suecica) was shown. In addition, to be able to better understand the disintegration mechanism, the so-called stress model was applied. This model describes the comminution process in a bead mill as function of the amount of bead contacts and the force of each impact. The release kinetics could be improved and thereby the specific energy consumption could be reduced to 0.45‒0.47 kWh kgDW-1 by using 0.3 mm beads for all algae.
Chapter 4 describes a screening on the applicability of PEF, over a broad range of operating conditions, for the extraction of water soluble proteins from the microalgae C. vulgaris and N. oleoabundans. No substantial protein yields were observed under the investigated conditions. This led to the conclusion that PEF is not suitable to release water soluble proteins, not even at specific energy consumptions much higher than those for the benchmark, bead milling.
In Chapter 5 it was attempted to improve the performance of PEF by investigating the synergistic effect with the processing temperature. The PEF experiments were performed using a pilot scale continuous flow electroporation unit in which the processing temperature was controlled between 25 – 65 °C. The results showed that under the tested conditions, the combined PEF-Temperature treatment did not cause substantial disintegration of the algal cells to effectively release water soluble proteins.
In addition to the microalgae, macroalgae were subject of investigation in the search for new protein sources in Chapter 6. Four batch technologies were used to disintegrate the green macroalgae Ulva lactuca, being; osmotic shock, enzyme incubation, PEF and High Shear Homogenization (HSH). In descending order the highest protein yields per treatment; HSH (~40%) > enzyme degradation (~25%) > osmotic shock (~20%) > PEF (~15%).
In the final chapter the main results and remaining bottlenecks are discussed and a future outlook on microalgae disintegration is presented. To date, bead milling is the only technology able to disintegrate fresh microalgae at specific energy consumptions below 10% of the total energy available from the algae and release substantial amounts of water soluble protein. The future outlook was based on a techno-economic evaluation, which showed that the cultivation costs are limiting the economic feasibility of microalgae biorefinery. Future focus should be on the cultivation.