A team of scientists headed by the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore (NTU Singapore) has developed a method to effectively produce and extract plant-based oils from a variety of common microalgae.
The microalgae oils are edible and have superior properties as found in palm oil. The new technique would serve as a healthier and greener alternative to palm oil.
Compared to palm oil, the oil derived from the microalgae contains more polyunsaturated fatty acids, which can help lower bad cholesterol levels in the blood, as well as lower a persons'' heart disease and stroke risk.
Palm oil is the world''s most popular vegetable oil, which includes around half of all consumer products, and plays a key role in a wide range of industrial applications. Farmers produced 77 million tonnes of palm oil for the global market in 2018, and it is expected to reach 107.6 million tonnes by 2024.
Despite the rapid expansion of oil palm plantations, many countries have been deforested, destroying the habitat of endangered native wildlife.
The pyruvic acid, an organic acid that occurs in all living cells, is added to a solution with the algae Chromochloris zofingiensis, which is exposed to ultraviolet light to stimulate photosynthesis. The NTU team has separately developed a cost-cutting approach to replace the microalgae culture medium with fermented soybean residues while improving the yield of microalgae biomass.
The microalgae is washed, dried, and then treated with methanol to dissect the bonds between the oils and the algae protein, thus that the oils may be extracted. The company has also developed green processing techniques to extract beneficial microalgae-derived plant oils.
To develop enough plant-based oil to produce a store-bought chocolate bar that weighs 100 grams, there is a need for 160 grams of algae to be carried out.
The algae oil innovation is a pragmat alternative to palm trees for oil cultivation. It also reflects NTU''s commitment to mitigate our environmental impact, which is one of four humanity''s biggest challenges that the University intends to address through its NTU strategic plan for 2025.
In February, the results of the study were published in the peer-reviewed academic publication Journal of Applied Phycology.
The project of the National Food Science and Technology Programme, led by Professor William Chen, said that developing plant-based algae oils is a major success for NTU Singapore as we seek to overcome key human food challenges. Uncovering this as a potential human food source is an opportunity to reduce the impact this food supply chain has on our planet.
Climate change should be addressed with a triple-pronged approach: algae.
Non-traditional to cultivating palm trees for plant-based oils or fat, the NTU-developed technique has the potential to aid in lessening greenhouse gas emissions and food waste.
Because the plant-based oils are enhanced, the production of natural sunlight instead of using ultraviolet lights, would reduce carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by converting it to biomass and oxygen via photosynthesis.
In a separate study, scientists from the National Transportation Transportation Agency (NTU) have developed a method to create the key reaction ingredient needed to cultivate the microalgae oil, pyruvic acid. This technique is accomplished by fermenting organic waste products, such as soybean residues and fruit peels, which would not only reduce production costs, but help reduce food waste.
Prof Chen said that our solution is a three-pronged approach to solving three key challenges. We are working on the idea of establishing a circular economy, finding applications for potentially hazardous waste goods and re-injecting them into the food chain. In this scenario, we rely on one of nature''s key processes, fermentation, to transform organic matter into nutrient-rich solutions, which could be used to cultivate algae, which also reduces our reliance on palm oil, but keeps carbon out of the atmosphere.
The scientists will be working on optimizing their extraction methods to improve yield and quality. The research team has received interest from several food and beverage partners and may benefit from expanded operations in the coming years.
The NTU team will investigate adding oils to plant-based meats to improve their texture and nutritional properties. They also expect to investigate pharmaceutical and cosmetic use in products such as topical creams, lipsticks, and others.