Selective and mild fractionation of microalgal proteins and pigments using aqueous two-phase systems

Catalina A. Suarez Ruiz*, Daniel P. Emmery, Rene H. Wijffels, Michel H.M. Eppink, Corjan van den Berg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

54 Citations (Scopus)


BACKGROUND: Microalgal biomass is generally used to produce a single product instead of valorizing all of the cellular components. The biomass production and downstream processes are too expensive if only one product is valorized. A new approach was proposed for the simultaneous and selective partitioning of pigments and proteins from disrupted Neochloris oleoabundans cultivated under saline and freshwater conditions. RESULTS: An aqueous two-phase system composed of polyethylene glycol and cholinium dihydrogen phosphate selectively separated microalgal pigments from microalgal proteins. 97.3 ± 1.0% of lutein and 51.6 ± 2.3% of chlorophyll were recovered in the polymer-rich phase. Simultaneously, up to 92.2 ± 2.0% of proteins were recovered in a third phase (interface) in between the aqueous phases (interface). The recovered proteins, including Rubisco with a molecular weight of ∼560 kDa, seem to be intact and pigments did not suffer degradation, demonstrating the mildness of this system for fractionating microalgal biomolecules. CONCLUSION: The ability of aqueous two-phase systems (ATPSs) to simultaneously and efficiently fractionate different biomolecules in a mild manner from disrupted microalgae is demonstrated. This is an important step towards the development of a multiproduct microalgae biorefinery.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2774-2783
JournalJournal of Chemical Technology and Biotechnology
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2018


  • aqueous two-phase systems
  • cholinium-based ionic liquids
  • microalgae biorefinery
  • pigments
  • proteins


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