Novel Bioprocessing of Microalgae for Environmentally Enhanced Algal Biodiesel Production
Lipid-bearing microalgae have been widely researched and proven to be a promising feedstock for biofuel production. In early research stages, tremendous effort was focused on microalgal biology, strain screening, cultivation under different conditions, and harvesting from the cultivation broth. The post-harvest processing of microalgae, i.e., dewatering, oil extraction, and conversion to biofuels, is now the logical next step in microalgae-to-biofuel research. Microalgae processing, even after being harvested, requires extensive research and development before microalgae as a renewable feedstock can be efficiently and economically converted to biofuels. Due to the challenges in various aspects, such as the wide range of strains of microalgae, varying levels of lipids content, high water content, etc., microalgae post-processing is still under
exploration in the research stage. In this hatch project, we will be exploring novel processes that will convert the microalgae directly to algal biodiesel by thermochemical processing, without first drying the microalgae and extracting their lipids or the in situ methanolysis. Methanol under sub- and super-critical conditions will be used as the solvent and the reactant to extract and then transesterify the lipids in the microalgae into algal biodiesel. Lipid extraction and transesterification are performed simultaneously in a single step, which simplifies the processing and leads to a more economical technology. The process parameters will be investigated thoroughly and the process efficiency will be evaluated prudently in this hatch project. The expected outcome from this project is the development of a feasible technology that converts lipids in microalgae into biodiesel in situ
without pre-extracting the lipids. Successful implementation of this hatch project will put the biofuel research program at the University of Idaho (UI) in a competitively superior position with other national and international research programs, ensure UI's leading position in the field of biofuels research and utilization, and greatly contribute to the understanding of microalgae-to-biofuel processing and providing practical yet cutting-edge technologies for the biofuel industry.