Optimizing a continuous flow lipid extraction system (CFLES) used for extracting microalgal lipids

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A laboratory-made continuous flow lipid extraction system (CFLES) was devised to extract lipids from microalgae Nannochloropsis sp., a potential feedstock for biodiesel fuel, with a focus to assess the workable temperatures and pressures for future industrial applications. Using conventional solvents, the CFLES recovered 100% of the lipids extracted with conventional Soxhlet extraction. The optimum temperature and pressure were found to be 100 °C and 50 psi, respectively; conditions significantly lower than those normally used in pressurized liquid extractions requiring specialized equipment. Approximately 87% of the extracted oil was successfully transesterified into biodiesel fuel (fatty acid methyl esters). Preliminary calculations based on the tested lab-scale system indicated savings in energy, solvent consumption, and extraction time as 96%, 80%, and more than 90%, respectively, as compared to Soxhlet extraction. However, the true cost savings can only be assessed at scaled up level. Energy efficiency of CFLES was calculated as 48.9%. Residual water (˜70%) in the biomass had no effect on the extraction performance of CFLES, which is expected to help the process economics at scaled up application. The effect of temperature and pressure on the fatty acids profile of Nannochloropsis sp. is also discussed. Based on the existing literature, the authors believe that a pressurized liquid extraction system with continuous solvent flow has not been reported for lipid extraction from Nannochloropsis sp.

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