Microalgae are among the most interesting eukaryotic photosynthethic microorganisms able to use solar energy, nutrients and carbon dioxide to convert them into proteins, carbohydrates, lipids and other valuable organic compounds including carotenoids. Astaxanthin is one of the most interesting antioxidant molecules which has attracted crescent interest due to its positive effects on health and the numerous applications in different sectors, from nutraceutical to cosmetic and aquaculture. Even though the astaxanthin properties are well-known, its price still remains high if associated to the algal form, exceeding ~6000 Eur/Kg. This can be explained by considering the process expenses related to the extraction and purification steps of microalga intracellular metabolites. In fact, the downstream stage of this biotechnological process often accounts for more than 60–70% of total production costs. Optimized extraction and purification operations might contribute to microalgae market with the advantage to commercialize a natural existing astaxanthin form.
The aim of this paper is the evaluation of the use of commercial activated carbon Darco™ G-60 for the purification of astaxanthin from an extraction broth. Astaxanthin was firstly extracted from Haematococcus pluvialis red phase supplied by Micoperi Blue Growth, an Italian Company that is working for a long time and it is specialized in the microalgae growth. Extraction was performed by Accelerated Solvent Extractor (ASE®200 DIONEX) at 100 bar and 67°C by using ethanol as green solvent with the main advantage to separate all the unipolar fractions as well as insoluble fractions from astaxanthin extracts (fibers, carbohydrate, ashes).
In the second step, astaxanthin was purified with a column filled with activated carbon. Experimental tests by changing the mass of activated carbon were carried out (50mg, 100mg and 200mg)and with a flow rate in the range 0.9-1.0ml/min. All the experimental tests were carried out at room temperature (20°C). Results showed that by using activated carbon, it is possible to obtain an adsorption capacity of DARCO G60 in the range 21,9-23,9 mg/g.