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Experts develop a new method for making fish oil

To save the world’s oceans, scientists are racing to find more sustainable ways to make products such as Omega-3 fatty acids, biodiesel, aquaculture and livestock food. New research from Flinders University discovered a simple, low-cost way to extract bioactives from single-cell algae oil – using waste sulfur from industries such as petrochemical production. 

The research team built upon their existing body of work in sulfur chemistry to develop the innovative algae oil production process. The new method involves using waste sulfur to produce enriched saturated triglycerides from sustainably produced algae oil.   

A single sulfur reaction is used to simultaneously produce polymers from polyunsaturated triglycerides and enrich saturated triglycerides for various value-added applications. The sulfur reaction can draw up to 90 percent of the unsaturated triglycerides from cultured single-cell algae.  

“In this case, the algae oil is reacted with sulfur. The polyunsaturated triglycerides form polymers with many established uses, such as environmental remediation,” explained Professor Justin Chalker. “The saturated triglycerides remain unreacted in this process, for recovery and ultimate conversion to value-added substances such as biodiesel.”

“The unreacted oil is enriched in saturated triglycerides, which can be isolated by extraction for potential use in biodiesel production,” wrote the study authors. “In this way, a single batch of sustainably produced algae oil can be converted into multiple useful products in a single step.”

Professor Munish Puri has been working on single-cell oils to produce new materials for nutritional supplements, meat free alternatives, biodiesel and other products.

“There is growing interest in the bio-based production of lipids from algae,” said Professor Puri. “Single-cell thraustochytrids are especially attractive in this regard, as they can produce over 50 percent of their weight as triglycerides.”

“But despite their promise, there remains a need for versatile downstream processing to enrich these so-called ‘single-cell oils’ into fatty acid classes based on degree of unsaturation. And that’s what this novel approach is helping to address.”  

The study is published in the American Chemical Society journal ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering.

By Katherine Bucko, Staff Writer

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