The process uses a multifunctional hierarchical graphene steam generator to remove water from algae biomass.
“Researchers at the University of Tsukuba, Japan have developed a novel, damage-free process for removing water from algae biomass. The process could help to produce cheaper bioproducts that are more efficient and more eco-friendly.
Algae biomass comprises photosynthetic microorganisms that convert light energy from the sun into energy-rich biomolecules. The biomass can be grown and harvested on an industrial scale, and the molecules can be used to produce a wide range of products, such as biofuel – which could help reduce greenhouse gases – pharmaceuticals, fertilisers, and other valuable bioproducts.
Typically, microalgae cultures are comprised primarily of water and contain a low solid content (0.05–1 wt%), but to produce biomass-derived products the water content needs to be <10 wt%.
Harvesting the organic material typically requires several dewatering cycles. However, conventional dewatering methods which rely on water evaporation by heating, centrifugation, or mechanical squeezing can damage the algae cells, reducing the yield.
The team at Tsukuba has developed a method capable of removing water from algae biomass without damaging the compounds to be harvested. The process uses a multifunctional hierarchical graphene steam generator to achieve water removal. The generator is composed of a single sheet of nitrogen-doped (N-doped) nanoporous graphene which sits on top of a sheet of N-doped graphene foam.
Yoshikazu said: “Our technology can be employed for both acceleration of biomass harvesting and generating pure water.”
The method created at Tsukuba provides a cost-effective and renewable method for removing pure water from heat-sensitive biomass. Using the new technique, any kinds of wet biomaterials could be utilised as water reserves.
Currently, the researchers at Tsukuba are working to further develop the technology, namely a solar still to enable water evaporation from suspended biomass and water collection, and a mass production method for the graphene material.
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Source: The Chemical Engineer