Contact: Dr David lea Smith and Prof Chris Howe, Biochemistry
Mentor: Adrian Swinburne
The research team led by Prof Chris Howe has developed a solution to the high cost and energy requirement of processing algal biomass.
While microalgae are used widely in a range of applications in industrial biotechnology, from production of bioactives such as Omega 3, pigments and antioxidants; chemicals such as hydrocolloids, and bioenergy/biofuels, the first step in the recovery, purification or use of these products is disruption of the algae. The 2013 UK roadmap for Algal technologies indicated that a multitude of companies were interested in using algal biomass but were held back by the high cost and limited production capacity. A key challenge highlighted was lowering the cost and energy requirements of growth, harvesting and processing. The research team have found that a commonly occurring waste product from a related industrial process is effective in solubilising disrupting algae without the need to employ high energy intensity technologies, making the process more efficient, low cost and environmentally sustainable. The resultant algae biomass/waste material mixture can also be used as a biological feedstock for growth of microorganisms and subsequent production of industrial chemicals or biofuels.
This technique can also be applied to the solubilisation of plant biomass and solubilisation of macroalgae (seaweed) from which extracts are used in cosmetics.
The challenge for the i-Team is to investigate the algal technologies industry to identify areas where it would provide a competitive advantage to production of products arising from these technologies to have a low cost, efficient solubilisation disruption process which does not require specialised equipment. By talking to experts from a range of industries, they will be asked to recommend the next areas of focus for the research team, as they move this technology towards a commercial reality.