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Courtesy of Mike Allen and Steve Gschmeissner

The development of a greener extraction process for the production of alginate for medical application

Principle investigator: Chenyu Du
University of Huddersfield

Macroalgae (seaweed) are a promising feedstock for industrial biotechnology, as they are available in abundance, do not occupy arable land or require fertilisers to grow. It is estimated that the worldwide annual seaweed output exceeded 31 million tonnes in 2016. The UK is a recognised centre for macroalgae biodiversity with around 644 different species inhabiting its coastal waters. Seaweeds can be the basis for integrated industrial biotechnology as they contain various carbohydrates, proteins and minerals, which could be used as building block for the production of fine chemicals, platform chemicals, biofuels, pharmaceuticals or human nutritional additives.  Research carried out in the Bioprocessing Research Centre at the University of Huddersfield (UoH) will lead to the development of a greener process for extracting alginate from brown seaweed. The new process will use a fast seawater-based thermochemical treatment process to replace a lengthy formaldehyde based treatment process; then use seawater and CO2 instead of commercial sodium carbonate for the extraction of alginate. The key novelty of the new process would be degrading alginate in the early stage to reduce the stickiness of the alginate containing mixture. The resulting alginate polymer would have a lower chain length than that obtained from conventional processes, fitting perfectly for their applications in the medical field, such as wound dressing. As the processing material is less sticky, less energy will be required to move the material around and to filter alginate out. Furthermore, the remove of toxic chemical (formaldehyde) in alginate production will reduce environment impact and the process involving CO2 fixation leads to the development of a pioneering CO2 sequestration process.  Then, the derived alginate from the above process will be synthesized to a biodegradable fibre in the Textile Technology Centre in UoH, led by Prof. Parikshit Goswami. The feasibility of utilising alginate fibre for medical applications, such as wound dressings and for encapsulation of active molecules for drug delivery will be assessed.  Overall, a novel process converting seaweed to alginate then to medical products will be established in this project, which would be faster, cost effective and greener than the existing approaches.