20 June 2024

A Biorefinery in Hawaiʻi?

MBBE prof sees commercial potential for seaweed-derived compounds

A Biorefinery in Hawaiʻi?

Dictyota sp. is a seaweed native to Hawaiian waters that is notable for its ability to produce fucoidan and alginate. What are these compounds, you might ask? Why, they’re high-value ingredients with wide application in the pharmaceutical, nutraceutical, food processing, medical, and dental industries.

Although this indigenous seaweed is currently “unexplored” as an algal feedstock, Samir Khanal of the Dept. of Molecular Biosciences and Bioengineering believes it could potentially launch a significant commercial industry in the islands – if only someone could figure out a way to boost its growth rate…

So with the idea of using CO2-nanobubbles (CO2-NB) and aquaculture effluent as a nutrient source, Samir and his team of researchers (Surendra KC and Manpreet Kaur) and graduate student (Ty Shitanaka) aim to do exactly that, using the second of two Sun Grant Western Region awards. 

Their approach includes lab-scale experiments to optimize growth conditions, followed by pilot-scale cultivation trials. They plan to refine extraction methods for fucoidan and alginate, investigate potential applications for the seaweed’s biomass residue – and perhaps most importantly – conduct a techno-economic analysis to assess the feasibility and economic potential of scaling up a Dictyota-based biorefinery. 

“If we can develop a biorefinery, focused on this indigenous Hawaiian seaweed, to produce high-value compounds while simultaneously remediating aquaculture effluent, this will introduce sustainable macroalgal-based bioproducts to the Hawaiʻi marketplace and create new avenues for a circular bioeconomy in the state,” says Samir. “The macromolecular composition of the residual biomass may also be suitable for additional biobased products, such as aquafeeds or biomaterials.”

He adds, “The outcomes of this project have the potential to develop larger extramural grants and strong collaborations between private and public institutions, with special emphasis on commercialization.”

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