Biodiesel By-product Good for Your Heart

John Davis

Researchers at Virginia Tech have found a way to grow a compound important to human heart health using a plentiful by-product of biodiesel production.

This press release from the school says Zhiyou Wen, assistant professor of biological systems engineering in Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, has found a way to grow omega-3 fatty acids, known for benefits but lacking in most Americans’ diets, using glycerol:

“High energy prices have led to an increase in biodiesel production, which in turn has led to an increase in the amount of crude glycerol in the market,” said Wen, who explained that biodiesel plants leave behind approximately 10 percent crude glycerol during the production process.

This has led the price of glycerol, a chemical compound widely used in the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries, to drop in recent years. The rise in biodiesel production over the last decade means that the market can no longer absorb all the extra glycerol. Biodiesel producers must find alternative means for disposing of crude glycerol, which is prohibitively expensive to purify for industry use. Wen and his colleagues have developed a novel fermentation process using microalgae to produce omega-3 fatty acids from crude glycerol

“We have shown that it is possible to use the crude glycerol byproduct from the biodiesel industry as a carbon source for microalgae that produce omega-3 fatty acids,” said Wen, who added that the impurities in crude glycerol may actually be beneficial to algal growth. “After thorough chemical analysis, we have also shown that the algae biomass composition has the same quality as the commercial algae product.”

The release goes on to say that the algae grown in the crude glycerol can be used as an animal feed, including fish and, possibly one day, poultry feed, giving the same omega-3 fatty acids to chicken that fish eaters enjoy.

Wen presented his findings at the recent at the 236th national meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.