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REFINECYANO - Using biorefinery to value cyanobacteria pigments
Coordinator - Sónia Ventura (CICECO)
Programme - Programa Operacional Competitividade e Internacionalização (02/SAICT/2017)
Execution dates - 2018-07-27 - 2021-07-26 (36 Months)
Funding Entity - FCT - Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia
Funding for CESAM - 60000 €
Total Funding - 233991 €
Proponent Institution - Universidade de Aveiro

The environmental management of cyanobacteria blooms driving eutrophication and potentially representing environmental and human health risks is critical. Here, an add-on to typical management strategies is proposed and explored through the commercial valuation of this nuisance biomass, following-up on previous projects by the research team addressing similar rationales. Although the potential of cyanobacteria as sources of bioactive compounds is well known, the array of species considered for the purpose is still limited. Moreover, there is a lack of fundamental knowledge indicating which the most attractive species to be exploited are. Actually, the pigments' content in cyanobacteria is species-specific (often strain-specific within species), and depend on environmental conditions, meaning that pigments' yield can be greatly optimised. The cyanobacteria genus Anabaena will be investigated, due to their attractiveness for pigments production, namely phycobiliproteins, chlorophyll and carotenoids applicable in aquaculture, nutraceuticals, pharmacology, and health care products industries. Although these pigment's high potential, their exploitation is still very limited. Low productivity indexes, complexity, high costs and low efficiency of the downstream processes are drawbacks concurring to explain this scenario, compromising the economic viability of the process. To overcome these limitations, REFINECYANO will explore new downstream strategies to recover and purify these pigments from cyanobacteria. In this context, aqueous solutions of alternative solvents, namely ionic liquids and surfactants will be investigated. They will be applied as solvents in the extraction of pigments from the fresh biomass and then used as main phase formers in the preparation of Aqueous Biphasic Systems and Aqueous Micellar Two-Phase Systems. Considering that an ultimate aim is the industrialization of the process, the continuous purification of each class of pigment will be tested, by using Centrifugal Partition Chromatography and Continuous Tubular Separators. Besides applying these technologies to mono-specific cyanobacteria cultures reared under controlled conditions, natural (multi-specific) blooms will also be explored for their quality as a feedstock hence approaching in practice the nuisance's management. The suitability of extracts and purified pigments for a putative application in the cosmetics and nutraceuticals industries will be assessed through the examination of their cytotoxicity, anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-UV potential.
This stage will definitively support the valuation potential of the cyanobacterium Anabaena through innovative, highly performative processes for pigment's extraction and purification (that can also be fed by natural blooms), as the major outcome of the project. Under the concept of biorefinery, the remnant biomass will be explored as a plant stimulant in a fertilizer formulation to be applied in the Sports sector.

CESAM Funding: