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Algae as chemical raw materials

July 17, 2014
AlgaeIndustryMagazine.com

Professor Stefan Mecking (front row, right) with graduate students at Germany’s University of Konstanz.

Professor Stefan Mecking (front row, right) with graduate students at Germany’s University of Konstanz.

Chemists and biologists at Germany’s University of Konstanz have succeeded in transforming algae oil into high-quality chemical raw materials via isomerizing alkoxycarbonylation. This provides the foundation for the use of algae as a basic chemical component for a broad spectrum of materials and products. The research results have been published in the current edition of the scientific journal Angewandte Chemie.

“We are very interested in probing the possibilities of using algae as a potential raw material in chemistry,” says Professor Stefan Mecking, the chemist whose research group carried out the studies together with biologists working with algae expert Professor Peter Kroth at the University of Konstanz.

Professor Peter Kroth

Professor Peter Kroth

“Research efforts around the globe are looking into the use of algae as a substitute for crude oil and fuel, especially kerosene,” said Mecking. “We want to go a step further and not only gain a replica of crude oil from algae, but also transform them into high-quality chemical constituents for use as chemical raw materials. In comparison with conventional vegetable oils, such as sun flower or rapeseed oil, algae oils have a significantly different structure which makes them attractive for the production of entirely different materials.”

“Algae do not occupy any agricultural space, and they can be grown very quickly and efficiently,” said Kroth, on the agricultural benefits of algae. “As the Konstanz researchers have now shown, the full potential of algae – in addition to their possible use as a crude oil substitute — has definitely not been exhausted yet. They succeeded in transforming algae oil into functional chemical components in a catalytic process with a high level of selectivity.”

“During this reaction a functional group from the center of the molecule is transformed into an ester group at the end of the molecule. In the past, this conversion was often described as ‘a dream reaction’,” said Mecking.

Further research into algae will be integrated especially in the studies of doctoral students at the Konstanz Research School Chemical Biology. “We are especially grateful to the participating doctoral students who picked up our idea on their own initiative and put it into practice,” added Kroth.

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