The transformation process is called isomerizing alkoxycarbonylation, developed by researchers at the University of Konstanz in Germany, and provides the foundation for the use of algae as a basic chemical component for a broad spectrum of materials and products, beyond the use of algae as a substitute for crude oil.
“We are very interested in probing the possibilities of using algae as a potential raw material in chemistry,” says Professor Stefan Mecking, whose research group carried out the studies together with biologists surrounding the algae expert Professor Peter Kroth, all at the University of Konstanz.
“Research efforts around the globe are looking into the use of algae as a substitute for crude oil and fuel, especially kerosene. We want to go a step further and not only gain a replica of crude oil from algae, but also transform them into high-quality chemical constituents for use as chemical raw materials.”
According to the professor, in comparison with conventional vegetable oils, such as sun flower or rapeseed oil, algae oils have a significantly different structure which makes them attractive for the production of entirely different materials.
Algae are already regarded as a possible base raw material for future sustainable energy production.
“Algae do not occupy any agricultural space, and they can be grown very quickly and efficiently,” comments Peter Kroth on the agricultural benefits of algae.
These results, published in the current edition of the scientific journal Angewandte Chemie, show that algae oil can be transformed into functional chemical components in a catalytic process with a high level of selectivity.
“During this reaction a functional group from the centre of the molecule is transformed into an ester group at the end of the molecule. In the past, this conversion was often described as ‘a dream reaction’,” says Mecking.
“We are especially grateful to the participating doctoral students who picked up our idea on their own initiative and put it into practice,” Kroth stresses.
The scientists say that further research into algae will be integrated especially in the studies of doctoral students at the Konstanz Research School Chemical Biology.