Biodiesel production from microalgae by enzymatic transesterification
Main focus of this study is to investigate the enzymatic-conversion of microalgal lipids to biodiesel. However, preceding steps before conversion such as drying of microalgal biomass and extraction of lipids were also studied. Downstream processing of microalgae has several challenges and there is very little literature available in this area. S. obliquus was grown in the pilot scale open pond cultivation system for biomass production. Different techniques were studied for biomass drying and extraction of lipids from harvested microalgal biomass. Effect of these drying and extraction techniques on lipid yield and quality was assessed. Energy consumption and economic evaluation was also studied. Enzymatic conversion of microalgal lipids by extracellular and whole cell lipase application was investigated. For both applications, free and immobilized lipases from different sources were screened and selected based on biodiesel conversion. Process parameters were optimized using chosen extracellular and whole cell lipases; also step-wise methanol addition was studied to improve the biodiesel conversion. Immobilized lipase was studied for its reuse. Final biodiesel was characterized for its fuel properties and compared with the specifications given by international standards. Enzymatic conversion of microalgal lipids was compared with the conventional homogeneous acid-catalyzed conversion. Enzymatic conversion and chemical conversion were techno-economically investigated based on process cost, energy consumption and processing steps. Freeze drying was the most efficient technique, however at large scale economical sun drying could also be selected as possible drying step. Microwave assisted lipid extraction performed better compared to sonication technique. Immobilized P. fluorescens lipase in extracellular application and A. niger lipase in whole cell application showed superior biodiesel conversion. The extracellular immobilized P. fluorescens lipase showed better biodiesel conversion and yields than the immobilized A. niger whole cell lipase. Both the enzyme catalysts showed lower biodiesel conversion compared to conventional chemical catalyst and higher processing cost. However, techno-economic analysis showed that, the reuse potential of immobilized lipases can significantly improve the economics. Fewer purification steps, less wastewater generation and minimal energy input are the benefits of enzymatic route of biodiesel conversion. Microalgae as a feedstock and lipase as a catalyst for conversion makes overall biodiesel production process environmentally-friendly. Data from this study has academic as well as industrial significance. Conclusions from this study form the basis for greener and sustainable scaling-up of microalgal biodiesel production process.