In situ Transesterification of Microalgal Oil to Produce Algal Biodiesel
Lipid-bearing microalgae have been widely researched and proven to be a promising feedstock for biofuel production. Tremendous effort was focused on microalgal biology, strain screening, cultivation under different conditions, and harvesting as the initial stage. 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.
In this project, we will explore a novel process that will convert the algal oils in the microalgae directly by thermochemical processing, without first extracting lipids. Methanol under sub-or supercritical condition is used as the solvent to extract the lipids out of algae; meanwhile, methanol as a reactant esterifies free fatty acids and transesterifies the triglycerides into biodiesel in situ. These two steps are performed simultaneously in a single step, which simplifies the processing and is more economical. The process parameters will be investigated and the process efficiency will be evaluated. The expected outcome from this project will be an approval of feasible technology that converts lipids in microalgae into biodiesel in situ without pre-extracting lipids out of microalgae.