Valorization of Azolla Pond Weed Using Sonication

Published on: 2024-03-16

Azolla, a small aquatic fern, has garnered significant attention due to its remarkable potential as a sustainable resource for various applications including food, livestock feed, polyphenol supplements, fertilizer, and biofuel. This article explores the diverse utility of Azolla and elucidates how sonication, particularly through probe-type sonicators, enhances the extraction and harvesting of its essential nutrients, including proteins, vitamins, polyphenols, and lipids. By harnessing the energy of sonication, the nutritional and bioactive components present in Azolla can be efficiently obtained, contributing to its role as a versatile and eco-friendly resource.

Azolla: How a Pond Weed is turned into Food and Biofuel using Power Ultrasound

Azolla is as pond weed that can be utilised using sonication
(Kurt Stüber, CC BY-SA 3.0 )Azolla, commonly known as the water fern, has emerged as a promising candidate for sustainable agriculture and renewable energy production. Due to its rapid growth rate, high protein content, nitrogen-fixing abilities, and rich biochemical composition, Azolla offers a plethora of benefits across multiple sectors. Combined with power ultrasound – a technique known as sonication – the use of Azolla pond weed gets closer to being converted into food, fertilizer and biofuel. As sonication helps to release valuable compounds from Azolla, the economic utilization of this pond weed becomes economically attractive. These valuable components include protein, polyphenols and antioxidants, lipids and the biomass starches. As a green extraction technology, ultrasonication enhances the efficiency and yield of Azolla-derived products.
Let’s explore the potential of Azolla as a source of food, feed, supplements, fertilizer, and biofuel, with a focus on the role of sonication in optimizing nutrient extraction.

MultiSonoReactor for efficient processing of Azolla pond weed using high-power ultrasound.

Power ultrasound helps to utilize Azolla pond weed as food, livestock feed, polyphenol supplements, fertilizer, and biofuel.

Azolla as Food for Humans and Animals

Azolla holds immense potential as a nutritious source of food for both humans and livestock. With a protein content ranging from 25% to 35%, Azolla surpasses conventional plant-based protein sources such as soybeans and lentils. Additionally, Azolla is rich in vitamins (A, B12, and E), minerals (iron, calcium, and magnesium), and essential amino acids, making it a complete and balanced dietary option. Sonication-assisted extraction techniques facilitate the release of these nutrients from Azolla biomass, ensuring maximum nutritional value. The lipid content of Azolla consists in a high percentage of omega-3 fatty acids, especially eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).
In Azolla filiculoides, EPA accounted for 39.8% of total fatty acids, corresponding to 72 mg/g biomass. (cf. Dohaei et al., 2020)
Ultrasonic cold extraction prevents the degradation of this heat-sensitive omega-3 lipid and produces a high-quality vegan omega-3 fatty acids from pond weeds. This omega-3 fatty acids serve as a great alternative to algae lipids.

Azolla as a Substrate for Polyphenol Supplements

Polyphenols, bioactive compounds renowned for their antioxidant properties and health benefits, are abundant in Azolla. Sonication plays a pivotal role in breaking down the cell walls of Azolla, facilitating the extraction of polyphenols with enhanced bioavailability. These polyphenol extracts can be utilized in the formulation of dietary supplements, pharmaceuticals, and functional foods. As ultrasonic extraction allows for mild process conditions, the use of non-toxic solvents and the release of full-spectrum extracts, the ultrasound-assisted extraction technique produces high-quality phenolic extracts offering consumers a natural and sustainable source of antioxidants.

Azolla as Fertilizer for Crops

In addition to its nutritional value, Azolla serves as an excellent organic fertilizer due to its nitrogen-fixing abilities and nutrient-rich composition. When incorporated into agricultural systems, Azolla enhances soil fertility, promotes plant growth, and suppresses weed proliferation. Sonication-assisted disintegration and extraction of Azolla biomass yields nutrient-rich liquid extracts, which can be directly applied to crops or further processed into biofertilizers, contributing to sustainable agriculture practices and soil health improvement.

Azolla as Biofuel

The lipid content of Azolla, comprising predominantly of long-chain fatty acids, presents an opportunity for biofuel production. Sonication facilitates the disruption of cell membranes, releasing lipid droplets that can be easily extracted and converted into biodiesel through transesterification processes. Additionally, Azolla’s rapid growth rate and ability to thrive in various aquatic environments make it an attractive feedstock for biofuel production, offering a renewable and environmentally friendly alternative to fossil fuels.
Finally, Azolla waste materials can be used for methane / biogas production. Methane produced from Azolla waste is considered a renewable energy source with lower greenhouse gas emissions compared to fossil fuels. Ultrasonication makes the biomass more available for anaerobic digestion. Thereby, sonication contributes to a more complete conversion of biomass, higher biogas yields and a faster anaerobic digestion rate.

Azolla stands as a multifunctional resource with immense potential across various sectors, including food, feed, supplements, fertilizer, and biofuel. Sonication technology enhances the efficiency and yield of Azolla-derived products by facilitating the extraction of proteins, vitamins, polyphenols, and lipids. As global demand for sustainable and eco-friendly solutions continues to rise, Azolla emerges as a promising candidate for addressing diverse societal and environmental challenges, with sonication serving as a key enabler in unlocking its full potential.

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