Microalgae can be used to produce food supplements such as omega-3 and antioxidants. Omega-3 fatty acids are a crucial part of human cell membranes, and have a number of other important functions, including: Improving heart health.
A group of European researchers believes that the use of these unicellular organisms can originate a major advancement in the food and cosmetics industry.
The right conditions for the growth of microalgae
Microalgae are one of the natural sources of fatty acids and antioxidants. European biologists are working on a project to extract these substances from microalgae. This project, called "Value Omega 3 and Astaxanthin products from SeaAlgae (VOPSA2.0)", is being run in northern Spain. Four types of microalgae are used in this project.
"The temperature of the air is also important. To maintain a stable temperature range for the growth, we keep them in a greenhouse. The ideal temperature for microalgae is between 15 and 20 degrees Celsius. Micro-algae should also be constantly moving in order to absorb enough light for each of them, adjusting their metabolism."
The Process of Extracting Fatty Acids From Microorganisms
No chemical solvent is used in the process of separating fatty acids and antioxidants from microorganisms. Instead, the Supercritical fluid extraction method is used to obtain omega-3 and antioxidants from microalgae.
The carbon dioxide is injected into micro-algae at very-high heat and pressure. The pressure sometimes reaches 300 to 400 bar. This way, we have a solution that contains micro-algae oil and gas. Then we reduce the pressure of the solvent to one atmosphere. The carbon dioxide released in the process is reused for use in subsequent cycles and the oils obtained from microalgae remain at the bottom of the container.
Currently, the world's annual demand for omega-3 is estimated at 26,000 tons, and the products obtained from microalgae are expected to reach a large market.