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NCER Grantee Research Project Results

Extended Surfactants for Sustainable Aqueous Lipid Extraction From Algal Biomass

EPA Grant Number: FP917177
Title: Extended Surfactants for Sustainable Aqueous Lipid Extraction From Algal Biomass
Investigators: Vardon, Derek Richard
Institution: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
EPA Project Officer: Zambrana, Jose
Project Period: August 23, 2010 through August 22, 2013
Project Amount: $74,000
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2010)
Research Category: Academic Fellowships , Fellowship - Science & Technology for Sustainability: Energy

Description:

Objective:

Algae offer a promising solution for renewable energy and pollution mitigation when used as a feedstock for biofuel production; however, sustainable algal biofuel production has yet to be realized due to the significant energy inputs required to dewater and extract oils from algae. To overcome this challenge, this research seeks to develop novel extended surfactants to extract and recover algae oil in an aqueous environment.

Synopsis
Algae offer a promising solution for renewable energy and pollution mitigation when used as a feedstock for biofuel production; however, sustainable algae biofuel production has yet to be realized due to the significant energy inputs required to dewater and extract oils from algae. To overcome this challenge, this research seeks to develop novel extended surfactants to extract and recover algae oil in an aqueous environment.

Approach:

The potential of extended surfactants for aqueous algal lipid extraction will be evaluated by conducting microemulsion phase behavior studies with surfactants and lipid profiles from various algal strains. Baseline lipid profiles for each species will be obtained by lyophilizing the biomass to preserve the chemical structure. The ideal surfactant concentration and extraction conditions will then be identified to maximize the yield and quality of lipid extract. Operating parameters such as reaction time, temperature, and biomass-to-surfactant ratio can be varied to reduce the amount of surfactant required and reach the critical microemulsion concentration. Performance of selected extended surfactants will then be compared against conventional organic solvents used for algal lipid extraction. Recovery and recyclability of the surfactant and separated culture water will then be examined to model the process sustainability. Loss of surfactant is expected during the recovery process and will be quantified to determine the input life cycle. The performance of the recovered surfactant will also be tested to measure the extract yield, lipid quality, and molecular integrity over repeated cycles. The recycled culture water will also be examined to determine its affect on cell growth parameters. Based on these factors, energy consumption and water recycle models will be generated to predict the scalability of lipid extraction methods using extended surfactants.

Expected Results:

From this study I expect to identify extended surfactants that can effectively recover convertible lipids from high-moisture algal biomass when compared to typical organic solvents. This novel method will reduce the energy input and water consumption when dewatering and drying algal biomass, and mitigate the environmental, health, and safety hazards of industrial extraction solvents. The saline growth environment of algae can also allow for culture water recycle to enhance the sustainability of biomass production and processing.

Potential to Further Environmental/Human Health Protection
Extended surfactants offer an environmentally benign method to extract and recover lipids from high-moisture algal biomass while alleviating the energy and water consumption concerns associated with dewatering. By developing algal biofuel technology, advancements can be made to provide a carbon-neutral fuel source compatible with the current diesel engines and fuel distribution infrastructure. Furthermore, the ability to integrate algal production into wastewater treatment systems offers a synergistic means to provide both nutrient remediation and the co-generation of renewable biofuels.

Supplemental Keywords:

algae, biofuels, green chemistry, lipid extraction, surfactants,

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The perspectives, information and conclusions conveyed in research project abstracts, progress reports, final reports, journal abstracts and journal publications convey the viewpoints of the principal investigator and may not represent the views and policies of ORD and EPA. Conclusions drawn by the principal investigators have not been reviewed by the Agency.

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