Updated: Jul 23, 2020
One of the PhycoMExUK team, Ed Jones, has recently released a paper investigating the pre-treatment of macroalgal biomass in order to move towards a more cost effective, sustainable biorefinery.
The long term goal is to create a viable and sustainable macroalgal biorefinery that is able to process seaweed straight from the sea; salt, plastic, heavy metals and all. We now know that there are reasonable methods available which are capable of dealing with plastics and heavy metals, incorporating them into the useful output fractions. However, the presence of salt is a potential barrier to this otherwise effective process, both in the effectiveness of biological and chemical seaweed processing and causing havoc for engineering equipment.
Dewatering, washing and drying are often the crucial primary steps in processing marine biomass such as macroalgae. The high costs of these processes can make the thought of viable marine biorefinery commercialisation seem unrealistic. This recent investigation assesses simple pre‐treatments for macroalgal biomass in saltwater, thereby reducing the freshwater footprint, and removing the need for an energy‐intensive and expensive washing and drying stage.
The University of Bath team have devised an initial fractionation process that provides “a crucial missing step towards creating a true salt-based marine biorefinery”. By using acidic and alkaline catalysts, the process is able to break down wet and salty seaweed biomass. The resulting soluble aqueous fraction can be used for further fermentation processes which can produce palm oil substitutes and a solid phase which is suitable for hydrothermal liquefaction processing into other useful products such as fertilisers and biofuels.
This exciting paper shows, for the first time, that an entirely salt‐based biochemical conversion route is a possibility and demonstrates that the presence of saltwater can be a benefit, rather than a hindrance, to achieving a successful, more cost-effective macroalgal‐based biorefinery.
Read more about the teams innovative work here: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/jun/30/how-do-you-deal-with-9m-tonnes-of-suffocating-seaweed-aoe
And find the full paper here: Saltwater based fractionation and valorisation of macroalgae