Microalgae offer a high protein, carbohydrate or lipid content, depending on growth conditions. Fast growing microalgae have a high protein content with a favorable distribution of essential amino acids. Many microalgae have the ability to produce substantial amounts (e.g. 20 – 70 percent dry cell weight) of triacylglycerols (TAGs) or starch as a storage product when under stress and growing slowly, and simultaneously high light intensities are available.
In screening tests at the Fraunhofer IGB various algae were tested for their ability to produce storage lipids under the conditions of a flat panel airlift (FPA) reactor. Lipid content increased up to 70 percent of dry cell weight and starch contents up to 60 percent are achievable. Under these conditions mainly monounsaturated fatty acids with 16 and 18 carbons were synthesized. Lipid productivity was not specific for a certain strain but depended largely on the light intensity per cell.
Starch can be used as sugar feedstock for miscellaneous biotechnological processes for biofuels or biobased chemicals. The Fraunhofer IGB has developed a two-stage process for production of starch-rich microalgae, which has been established under outdoor conditions as well as scaled up to pilot scale in the range of 100 kg dry biomass.
Lipid-rich algae biomass as a regenerative energy-source
Currently, biofuels are mainly produced from plant-based raw materials, for example biodiesel from rapeseed or palm oil. In Germany the arable land will no longer be available for food production; in Southeast Asia rainforests are being cleared for oil palm plantations. The high water consumption during the cultivation of land plants for the production of biofuels is also viewed critically. Moreover, the current production capacity and area available for this purpose cannot meet the demand for renewable resources for biofuels.