In the SeaSolv project, Wageningen University & Research (WUR), together with international partners, have developed an innovative waste-free method for the multi-product biorefining of valuable nutrients from seaweeds. This uses a new class of solvents known as deep eutectic solvents (DES).
Seaweeds are promising but underutilized green feedstocks in Europe. They are mainly commercially exploited for food and to produce phycocolloids (thickening agents). But industrial production is complex and inefficient and uses acid and alkaline conditions, many chemicals, and a lot of water and energy. This generates a considerable amount of waste, as other components are destroyed during the extraction of the phycocolloids. Even some of the phycocolloids themselves are degraded.
Meanwhile, several new extraction techniques have been developed, for instance using ultrasound, microwaves, enzymes, homogenization, and supercritical extraction. These are still in their infancy and have many drawbacks: they are expensive, have low yields, affect the final product and are difficult to scale up.
With SeaSolv, a more sustainable and cost-effective process is being developed that will allow the seaweed industry to significantly reduce its carbon footprint. The DES class of sustainable solvents offers many advantages, including low price, low toxicity and often biodegradability. They can be “customized” and are even switchable during a desired process.
DESs represents a potential alternative to conventional organic solvents. They allow various components to be extracted from biomass one by one in a gentle manner, while maintaining the functionality of the end products. The result is a multi-product biorefinery that generates little or no waste and consumes less energy. The technology will eventually also be usable for the extraction of metabolites from other types of land-based and aquatic biomass, such as plants and microalgae.
The SeaSolv research is being developed in Wageningen University’s Bioprocess Engineering (BPE) group, led by Dr Antoinette Kazbar. Partners in the project also involve industrial companies that are going to put the new techniques into practice: Hortimare from Heerhugowaard (Netherlands), Kelpblue from Zeist (Netherlands), Algaia from Saint-Lô (France) and the University of Aveira (Portugal). The research is being funded by the Open Technology Programme of the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research, NWO.
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