Using Technical Ceramics for Algae Separation

Crocodile swimming in a pond beneath algae with just its head showing.

Alga or algae? We often just call it pond scum.

Yet aquatic life hides beneath it. Kids think it’s gross. However, you may not realize that you could be chewing it in your gum or seeing algae pigment on the menu at your local smoothie shop. But one thing is for sure; algae is everywhere in the world. Even potentially in your favorite foods and desserts. 

Today the market for some types of algae is growing. One in particular is spirulina algae. Why? Because if you take the blue out of it, you have a pigment that brightens the world with better food, cosmetics, and even skin-care products. This is where technical ceramics becomes essential.

Is it algae or bacteria?

Spirulina AlgaeBack to botany class. Spirulina—once classified as a plant but now considered part of the bacteria community—commonly grows on salty lakes and oceans in subtropical areas. Within this blue-green algae/bacteria contains a blue pigment called phycocyanin. Used for centuries, this edible pigment is not only a rich source of vitamins and protein, but has wide-ranging use across cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, biogas and biodiesel applications, as well.

However, if you’ve ever dealt with algae, you know about its exceptional clogging capabilities. Extraction has been limited to small quantities because of this. Traditional separation filters plug quickly reducing output, quality and profitability. This opened the door for CoorsTek and Deltapore to bring a unique solution to one phycocyanin processing customer in particular.

Two blue smoothies, often using spirulina algae for coloring, sitting on a table with an empty drinking glass and a glass bottle.
Blue smoothies often use a natural pigment called
phycocyanin from spirulina algae for its coloring.

You can use technical ceramics in filtration?

With the market growing for phycocyanin, industrial-scale production is needed, requiring reliable and efficient separation technology. Efficiency is also needed to both keep up with demand while maintaining product profitability. The separation process for phycocyanin takes a significant amount of time and cost in overall production.

Ceramic hollow fiber membranes for filtration and separation.

Ceramic hollow fiber membranes enable extraction of phycocyanin.

By allowing the customer to determine the optimal pore size needed to run a large-scale separation process efficiently, CoorsTek hollow fiber membrane separation technology could be developed to their exact specifications. The properties of advanced technical ceramics enable separation filters to have a longer production life because of their strength and durability. Something polymer filter manufacturers could not achieve.

No clogs. No grossness. No singing the blues.

No more singing the phycocyanin production blues from frequent clogging of filters that used to happen. By using technical ceramic hollow fiber technology, the customer was able to capture savings and reduce harvested algae loss from poor-quality filtration.

The end result was a better-quality end-product with higher yields to keep up with market demand, and delivering on their brand promise of a high-quality, unique blue color for cosmetics and food applications.

It's also another example of how CoorsTek makes the world measurably better through crazy cool ceramic technology.


Related Links:

Case Study: Ceramic Hollow Fiber Membranes for Microalgae Biomass Separation Process

News Release: Extracting Natural Blue Pigment from Algae

Product: CoorsTek Ceramic Hollow Fiber Membranes



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Glass with blue liquid solution made with phycocyanin pigment.
Blue solution made with phycocyanin pigment.