Exploitation of Microalgae Biomass Under an Integrated Biorefinery Approach
Lima, Serena
Biundo, Antonino
Caputo, Giuseppe
García-López, Elisa Isabel
Marcì, Giuseppe
Agrimi, Gennaro
Pisano, Isabella
Scargiali, Francesca

How to Cite

Lima S., Biundo A., Caputo G., García-López E.I., Marcì G., Agrimi G., Pisano I., Scargiali F., 2023, Exploitation of Microalgae Biomass Under an Integrated Biorefinery Approach, Chemical Engineering Transactions, 105, 205-210.


As known, microalgae are an appealing source of chemicals and high-value compounds which find application in nutraceuticals, cosmetics and pharmaceutics. Fatty acids (FA), in particular, have drawn attention to the possibility of employing them as a source of biodiesel alternatively to fossil fuels. In addition, several lipid derivatives have been found in microalgae and may be employed in several biotechnological applications. Hydroxy fatty acids can be substrates for several industrial applications thanks to their functionalization, which increases their reactivity and, for this reason, can be used as functional building blocks to produce a multitude of bio-based materials. Recently, a promising method for the chemical modification of unsaturated-FAs (U-FA) has appeared. In fact, U-FA may be modified by members of the hydratase enzyme family to produce saturated and unsaturated hydroxy fatty acids with high stereo- and regio-selectivity. These enzymes are able to introduce a water molecule to the double bond present in the free fatty acids (FFA) Oleic Acid (OA), Linoleic Acid (LA), producing 10-hydroxy fatty acids (10-hydroxy-FAs).
Furthermore, the carbohydrate component of the microalgal biomass may be converted into furfuryl compounds and, in particular in 5-hydroxyl methyl furfural (5-HMF). This is one of the chemical bio-compound different from petroleum-derived ones with the highest added value and may be obtained through lignocellulosic biomasses or hexoses sugars through acid catalysis. It is defined platform molecule because it is the precursor of several compounds for the chemical industry.
In this work, we aimed to optimize a circular bioprocess by performing, starting from the same biomass, two different processes: the biotransformation of microalgal FFAs through the employment of a genetically modified E. coli on one side, and the conversion of the remaining biomass in furfuryl products. The first process allowed the production of very interesting lipid derivatives with biotechnological applications, including 10 hydroxy-stearic acid and 10-hydroxy-octadecenoic acid. The second process was obtained through heterogeneous catalysis based on niobium phosphate. This procedure represents a high-innovative application of microalgal biomass and allows the simultaneous exploitation of FAs and carbohydrates. This may result in an increase in the commercial value of microalgal biomass.