Bioethanol Production from Macroalgae

  • Peter Schiener

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (awarded by OU/Aberdeen)


Seaweed biomass has been identified as a potential fermentation substrate for third generation biofuel processes due to its high carbohydrate content and its potential for mass cultivation without competing for agricultural land, fresh water and fertilisers. This thesis aimed to develop and advance existing processes to convert brown seaweeds into bioethanol. The main kelp species chosen as biomass candidates were Laminaria digitata, Laminaria hyperborea, Saccharina latissima and Alaria esculenta due to their abundance in Scottish waters and their identified potential for mariculturing.
These kelp species were chemically characterised to identify seasonal variations, to recommend suitable seaweed candidates for bioethanol production and predict best harvest times. This has only been demonstrated before on one species - L. digitata. The chemical composition analyses were carried out over a 14 months sampling period, which focused on the storage carbohydrates laminarin and mannitol and the structural carbohydrates alginate, cellulose, fucoidan and xylose. In addition to carbohydrates the protein, nitrogen, carbon, polyphenol, ash and metal content was also profiled. Chemical profiling identified all four kelps as potential fermentation candidates, where maximum carbohydrate contents coincided with lowest ash and polyphenol content, usually seen in autumn.
Biomass pre-treatment and saccharification are up-stream processes aimed at enhancing extraction of carbohydrates and converting those into fermentable substrates. Conversion of seaweed biomass into fermentation substrate evaluated acids and enzymes for seaweed pre-treatment and saccharification. Methodologies focused on optimising saccharification yields were developed to identify process critical parameters and develop methods for routine analysis of seaweed biomass. Results demonstrated that dilute acid hydrolysis was were less effective in releasing fermentable sugars, and also resulted in higher salinities compared to enzymatic hydrolysis using hemicellulosic and cellulosic enzymes, which were the preferred method of saccharification.
All seaweeds in this thesis were assessed as fermentation substrates using the yeasts S. cerevisiae and P. angophorae, that principally ferment glucose or mannitol, respectively.
Small-scale fermentation assays were developed for both yeasts to maximise ethanol yields and achieve process robustness. Both yeasts achieved a maximum ethanol yield of 0.17 g g-1 using Laminaria spp.. On the basis of results, S. cerevisiae is recommended as the most useful yeast at this present point for ethanol fermentation from seaweed hydrolysates because of its tolerance to high salinity and ethanol concentrations.
As salinity can negatively affect non-halotolerant enzymes, isolation of marine microorganisms was therefore carried out with the aim to highlight their enzymatic potential in seaweed saccharification. This was achieved through the isolation of two members of the genus Pseudoalteromonas, where saccharification yields using crude intracellular enzyme preparations exceeded those of dilute acids. In addition, the fermentative potential of microbial isolates as future ethanologenic strains was also evaluated. Understanding of the metabolic pathways is needed to fully assess the potential of those strains for genetic alteration.
In conclusion, this thesis has demonstrated that up to ca. 20 g l-1 of ethanol can be produced from kelp species that grow on the west coast of Scotland. The procedure developed and used to produce ethanol requires further development, specifically the need for ethanol-fermenting microorganisms that can utilize mannitol and alginate; use of marine-adapted enzymes for saccharifiction; and the development of processes to achieve substrate concentration with reduced salinities. Comparison of theoretical ethanol yields from seaweed biomass with ethanol yields from terrestrial crops showed that the complete utilisation of all three major seaweed carbohydrates (laminarin, mannitol and alginate) from kelp species is needed for the process to be able to compete with 1st generation biofuel processes.
Date of Award26 Feb 2014
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Edinburgh
SponsorsINTERREG IVA Programme, Highlands and Islands Enterprise & The Crown Estate
SupervisorDavid Green (Supervisor) & Michele Stanley (Supervisor)

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