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Ultrasonic disintegration of microalgal biomass and consequent improvement of bioaccessibility/bioavailability in microbial fermentation

Byong-Hun Jeon1*, Jeong-A Choi1, Hyun-Chul Kim15, Jae-Hoon Hwang1, Reda AI Abou-Shanab12, Brian A Dempsey3, John M Regan3 and Jung Rae Kim4

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Environmental Engineering, Yonsei University, Wonju, Gangwon-do 220-710, South Korea

2 Department of Environmental Biotechnology City of Scientific Research and Technology Applications, New Borg El Arab City, Alexandria 21934, Egypt

3 Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Pennsylvania State University, 212 Sackett Building, University Park, PA 16802, USA

4 School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Pusan National University, Busan 609-735, South Korea

5 Current address: Research Institute for Sustainable Environments, Ilshin Environmental Engineering Co., Ltd., Reclean Building 3rd Fl., 692-2 Jangji-dongSongpa-gu, Seoul 138-871, South Korea

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Biotechnology for Biofuels 2013, 6:37  doi:10.1186/1754-6834-6-37

Published: 18 March 2013



Microalgal biomass contains a high level of carbohydrates which can be biochemically converted to biofuels using state-of-the-art strategies that are almost always needed to employ a robust pretreatment on the biomass for enhanced energy production. In this study, we used an ultrasonic pretreatment to convert microalgal biomass (Scenedesmus obliquus YSW15) into feasible feedstock for microbial fermentation to produce ethanol and hydrogen. The effect of sonication condition was quantitatively evaluated with emphases on the characterization of carbohydrate components in microalgal suspension and on subsequent production of fermentative bioenergy.


Scenedesmus obliquus YSW15 was isolated from the effluent of a municipal wastewater treatment plant. The sonication durations of 0, 10, 15, and 60 min were examined under different temperatures at a fixed frequency and acoustic power resulted in morphologically different states of microalgal biomass lysis. Fermentation was performed to evaluate the bioenergy production from the non-sonicated and sonicated algal biomasses after pretreatment stage under both mesophilic (35°C) and thermophilic (55°C) conditions.


A 15 min sonication treatment significantly increased the concentration of dissolved carbohydrates (0.12 g g-1), which resulted in an increase of hydrogen/ethanol production through microbial fermentation. The bioconvertibility of microalgal biomass sonicated for 15 min or longer was comparable to starch as a control, indicating a high feasibility of using microalgae for fermentative bioenergy production. Increasing the sonication duration resulted in increases in both algal surface hydrophilicity and electrostatic repulsion among algal debris dispersed in aqueous solution. Scanning electron microscope images supported that ruptured algal cell allowed fermentative bacteria to access the inner space of the cell, evidencing an enhanced bioaccessibility. Sonication for 15 min was the best for fermentative bioenergy (hydrogen/ethanol) production from microalga, and the productivity was relatively higher for thermophilic (55°C) than mesophilic (35°C) condition.


These results demonstrate that more bioavailable carbohydrate components are produced through the ultrasonic degradation of microalgal biomass, and thus the process can provide a high quality source for fermentative bioenergy production.

Microalga; Ultrasonication; Cell lysis; Carbohydrate components; Bioenergy