Conversion of Omega-3 Fatty Acids from Algae Biomass Produced Biodiesel
As the effects of global warming continue to escalate, carbon-neutral fuels are becoming sought after alternatives to traditional fossil fuels. Biodiesel is a promising source of carbon-neutral fuel that can be produced from organisms such as algae. A new process has been proposed by Yadav for algal oil extraction using sonic waves and carbon dioxide microbubbles (Yadav et al., 2019). Although a novel idea, it currently struggles to compete economically with other types of biodiesel production as well as traditional food sources. However, a small subsection of the FAMEs is able to be further processed into Omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids can be added to foods as nutraceutical supplements and can be sold for a higher price than biodiesel. This proposal attempts to modify a theoretical algae-to-biodiesel process to separate these valuable FAMEs from the other biodiesel products and produce approximately 12,000 tons/yr of raw Omega-3 supplement. The process utilizes liquid-liquid extraction to remove the methyl EPA and methyl DHA from the biodiesel and then uses base-catalyzed ester hydrolysis to convert the long chain methyl esters into their marketable carboxylic acid form. The proposed plant will produce 547,830 US-tons of biodiesel which satisfies 10% of the current biodiesel market, 12,000 US-tons of Omega-3 fatty acids, and 39,683 US-tons of crude glycerol per year. This production level 30% of the United States Omega-3 market in 2024, and 6% of the current glycerol market. A financial analysis of manufacturing the plant to separate desired FAMEs and hydrolyze them to the Omega-3s over a 20-year period shows that this process could be profitable to a varying degree based on the sale price of the Omega-3s. The profitability of this design is contingent on a few factors, such as being able to access the right markets to sell the raw Omega-3 product being formed and how the market for these supplements will grow in the future. Thus, this proposal can recommend, with some hesitation, pursuing the modifications to the plant to co-produce biodiesel with Omega-3 fatty acids.