Oil extraction from microalgal cells for biodiesel production

Researcher: Dr Ronald Halim, Research Fellow

Throughout the past decade, microalgae have been identified as a promising feedstock for biodiesel production because of their high growth rate and minimal competition for agricultural resources (freshwater and arable lands) compared to other land-based crops. Large-scale processing of microalgal biofuel, however, cannot be realized in the absence of economically and energetically scalable method to extract oil from the microalgal cells. Even though current lab-scale oil extraction methods exist using solvents (such as chloroform, hexane, and alcohol), they either use too much solvent or require too much energy as they are only effective when the cells have been completely dried. My research is divided into two areas. The first area aims to better elucidate the mechanism of the current microalgal oil extraction by modelling the mass transfer that occurs when the oil is transferred from the cells to the solvent. The second area aims to develop a novel and scalable microalgal oil extraction method.