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Valuable Products from Algae Using New Magnetic Cultivation and Extraction Techniques

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - VALUEMAG (Valuable Products from Algae Using New Magnetic Cultivation and Extraction Techniques)

Reporting period: 2017-04-01 to 2018-03-31

The VALUEMAG project aims to provide ground-breaking solutions for microalgae production and harvesting as well as scaling up biomass transformation systems in order to provide new technologies for aquatic/marine biomass integrated bio-refineries.

The main objective of the project is to develop an advanced magnetic method for micro-algae cultivation and to utilise this knowledge to produce micro-algae for food, cosmetic and nutraceutical use at minimum possible cost.
Micro-algae cultivation - Cost reduction objectives
• Set up a method to produce microalgae cells with magnetic properties
• Immobilization of magnetic microalgae using a magnetic conical surface
• Develop economic & viable magnetic Photo-BioReactors (mPBR) for fast growing and easy harvesting of biomass, using the above mentioned magnetic microalgae and magnetic surface

Objectives for the production of added-value products from harvested micro-algae:
• Implement methods for holistic food production from microalgae biomass
• Extraction of commercially valuable products (nutraceutical, cosmetics) from micro-algae biomass, with standard and with and new methods such a selective magnetic separation for better, faster and cheaper extraction process
• Develop CO2 capturing and water re-cycling methodologies based on mPBR

VALUEMAG will demonstrate and scale up the pilot production and harvesting of integrated algae products and bring them nearer to the market in an economically, environmentally and socially sustainable manner.
VALUEMAG will have an impact in several areas of technology including:
• Development of magnetic nanoparticles
• Uptake of magnetic nanoparticles by microalgal cell and their consequent magnetic activation.
• Magnetic cone with the ability of trapping magnetically activated microalgae
• Production of valuable products from micro-algae cells, such as cosmetics, nutraceuticals, food etc
• Sustainable water re-cycling
• Sustainable CO2 capture
During the first year of the project synthesis of nanoparticles covered with biocompatible materials has been accomplished via a hybrid method name microwave assisted coprecipitated (Fig.1). This work has been published in a peer reviewed scientific journal. Furthermore, synthesis of nanoparticles has been accomplished also via flame spray pyrolysis FSP. Nanoparticles produced via FSP have subsequently functionalised with dextran and lipid layers in order to make them biocompatible, more stable in water-based solution and less toxic for the cells. Through electroporation magnetic microalgae belonging to the species of Nannochloropsis and Scenedesmus have been produced with encouraging results even though the efficiency and viability of magnetic cells must be improved. A small-scale lab cone structure prototype has been realized in order to study the fluidodynamics and other properties of the pilot installation (Fig.2). Computer simulations and designs of the magnetic cone and the cultivation chamber are also under intense study (Fig.3).

In parallel with the synthesis, several types of nanoparticles prepared at NTUA were analyzed by XRD and TEM by FU SAV. TEM was used to determine the size and shape of the NPs, XRD was used to verify the phase composition of the produced NPs as well as to assess the average size of the particles and compare with TEM results. Dextrane-coated magnetic nanoparticles (Fig.4) show the Fe3O4 faceted cores with sizes 10-25 nm (individual grains seen well in dark field image) while the DLS measurements, which include the entire core and shell dimensions show maximum of size distribution around 60 nm. Lipid-coated magnetic nanoparticles in TEM (Fig.5) show sizes between 15-30 nm; DLS measurements indicate a maximum of size distribution below 80 nm. Slightly higher values from DLS can be caused by methodical/systematic error due to agglomeration of individual particles (clustering).

Besides, the synthesis and utilization of nanoparticles, VALUEMAG teams have also produced two systems for the production of magnetic microalgae. The first one is a continuous electroporation device that allows to introduce nanoparticles in the microalgae cells with high production rate (Fig.6). Indeed, the available electroporation machineries work in batch by producing few microliters of cells each time. The device has been designed, produced and tested by NTUA and NOMASICO. The second device, is a system to separate unincorporated magnetic nanoparticles from magnetic cells (Fig.7). Also in this case, no available equipment was available on the market, expect for not suitable microfluid systems. NTUA and NOMASICO teams worked together and separation machine based on high-throughput principle was design, tested and built.

During the first year, a suitable location in Cyprus was identified and, during the second project meeting, visited by all partners. Almost all subparts of the magnetic cone and the cultivation chamber have been designed and now are in the phase of construction. A de-watering system was developed by EPARELLA. After many experiments with different filters and pumps, a prototype was constructed (Fig.8). In parallel, a literature study to evaluate the potential advantages and disadvantages of different techniques for CO2 capture, de-watering system and water re-use has been performed. Additionally, several experimental investigations to assess the effect of CO2 concentration and water re-use on microalagal growth and high-value product production, such as lutein, have been carried out by SUN and ENEA (Fig.9).

Regarding the dissemination and exploitation, several activities have been carried out leading by PNO: Project Identity, Project website, Social Media (Twitter, LinkedIn), Dissemination and Communication plan, Dissemination and Communication material (2 versions of pop-up banners, 3 versions of flyers, 1 Infographics), 1 Newsletter, 5 Presentations in Conferences, 3 Scientific Publications, 4 Non-Scientific Publications, Identification of 38 most active stakeholders in microalgae area, 5 interviews with the most important stakeholders in microalgae area.
VALUEMAG aims to address two main challenges. The first is improve cultivation of microalgae, by proposing ground-braking solutions (magnetic cells and magnetic cultivation), whereas the second is to optimize and scale up biomass transformation processes and methods. An innovative technology able to cultivate algae in a minimum possible cost, much lower than the existing cost of micro-algae cultivation which will be integrated with other novel technologies in a pilot-scale bio-refinery. The new integrated production system will have the potential to increase the efficiency and the environmental sustainability of modern bio-refineries through lowering the cost of securing cleaner energy and sustain food security. Furthermore, new job positions will be created as the running of such systems requires skilled personal and high educated technicians. Thanks to technological improvements achieved using magnetic nanotechnologies, the growth rate of microalgal cells can reach the maximum theoretical level; in fact each single cell will receive the same amount of light fluence, gas exchange and temperature will be constant all over the cell monolayer on top of the magnetic surface; whereas the constant mixing coupled with harvesting will ensure that no culture growth saturation (plateau phase) will be reached.