Zhiyou Wen, assistant professor of biological systems engineering in Virginia Tech's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and his colleagues have developed a novel fermentation process using microalgae to produce omega-3 fatty acids from crude glycerol. Biodiesel plants leave behind approximately 10% crude glycerol during the production process.
After growing the algae in the crude glycerol, researchers can use it as an animal feed. Wen has partnered with Steven Craig, senior research scientist at Virginia Cobia Farms, to use crude glycerol-derived algae as a fish feed. Results so far show the fish fed the algae had significant amounts of omega-3 fatty acids.
Wen and Audrey McElroy, associate professor of animal and poultry sciences, are now trying to determine whether the algae would work as a chicken feed.
Kumar Mallikarjunan, associate professor of biological systems engineering, is also working with Wen to determine the fate of omega-3s after they enter the food supply. Researchers do not yet know whether oxidation would have a major impact on omega-3 fatty acids stored in cheese, for example.