Microalgae could produce an alternative to palm oil

A team of scientists has developed a method to efficiently produce and extract vegetable oils from a type of common microalgae.

Since the oils produced from the microalgae are edible and are said to have superior properties to palm oil, the method recently discovered by scientists led by Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore), would serve as a healthier and more ecological alternative to palm oil. .

Compared to palm oil, oil from microalgae contains more polyunsaturated fatty acids, which may help reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. The oil produced from microalgae, developed in collaboration with scientists from the University of Malaya (Malaysia), also contains less saturated fatty acids, which have been linked to strokes and other related conditions. .

Palm oil is the most used vegetable oil in the world.

To produce the oils, pyruvic acid, an organic acid found in all living cells, is added to a solution with the algae Chromochloris zofingiensis and exposed to ultraviolet light to stimulate photosynthesis.

After 14 days, the microalgae are washed, dried and treated with methanol to break the bonds between the oils and the algal protein so that the oils can be extracted. The team claims to have also developed “green” processing technology to efficiently extract vegetable oils derived from microalgae.

Developing these vegetable oils from seaweed is another triumph for NTU Singapore as we seek effective ways to address issues in the food chain, especially those that negatively impact the environment. Discovering this as a potential source of food for humans is an opportunity to reduce the impact of the food supply chain on our planet.

William Chen, director of the Food Science and Technology (FST) program at NTU

Scientists say that once on a large scale, producing vegetable oils with natural sunlight instead of using ultraviolet lights will help remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by converting it into biomass and oxygen. by photosynthesis. As the microalgae grow, they convert carbon dioxide into biomass at a relatively rapid rate, according to the team.

In another study, scientists from NTU’s Food Science and Technology program also developed a process for producing pyruvic acid, the key ingredient in the reaction needed to grow oil from microalgae. They do this by fermenting organic waste, such as soybean residue and fruit peels, which would not only reduce production costs, but also help reduce food waste.

Our solution is three-pronged to solve three pressing problems. We take advantage of the concept of circular economy to find uses for waste and reintroduce it into the food chain. In this case, we are relying on one of nature’s key processes, fermentation, to convert this organic matter into nutrient-rich solutions, which could be used to grow algae, not only reducing our dependence on oil of palm, but which prevents the carbon from entering. of the atmosphere.

William Chen

Scientists will now work on optimizing their extraction methods to improve yield and quality. The research team added that it has attracted interest from partners in the food and beverage industry and may be looking to expand its activities within two years.

Due to the properties of the oils, the NTU team will investigate the possibility of adding them to plant-based meats to improve their texture and nutritional properties. They also hope to explore pharmaceutical and cosmetic uses.

Via www.ntu.edu.sg

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