Integrating the Carboxylate Platform into a Red Seaweed Biorefinery

Appl Biochem Biotechnol. 2021 Oct 18. doi: 10.1007/s12010-021-03699-2. Online ahead of print.


Macroalgae are an important source of food, fertilizer, hydrocolloids, and healthful bioactive components. Macroalgae are also being considered sources of biofuels, which require minimal demands for arable land, fresh water, or fertilizers. In this study, we explored the possibility of developing a red seaweed biorefinery process to extract carrageenan while producing chemical or biofuel co-products derived from the carrageenan extraction wastes. A common approach to processing organic wastes is to generate biogas; however, in this study, we targeted a potentially higher value option by applying acidogenic digestion to convert extraction wastes to carboxylic acids and derived compounds. Using an open culture of microorganisms, wastes from a carrageenan extraction plant were converted to mixed carboxylic acids, which were then neutralized and thermally decomposed to a variety of ketones. Batch digestions of the wastes were carried out at temperatures of 35 °C and 55 °C. Either calcium carbonate or ammonium bicarbonate was used as buffer. A solid-liquid counter-current percolation fermentation was operated in four stages at 35 °C. Digestion produced carboxylic acids ranging in chain length from one to seven carbons. The mesophilic temperature gave higher carboxylic acid yield and longer chain acids, with the highest acid titer reaching 18 g L-1. Thermal decomposition of carboxylate salts produced a mixture of ketones which contained acetone, 3-pentanone, 2-hexanone, 2-heptanone, 3-heptanone, and 4-octanone as major products. These ketones could be sold as chemicals or hydrogenated to form corresponding chain length secondary alcohols which deliver higher energy density than ethanol.

Keywords: Acidogenic digestion; Biorefinery; Carboxylate platform; Carrageenan; Red seaweed.