Green light for green technology

14 Apr 2014 - 08:45

UCT's Chitosan Silver patent application (relating to novel separation technology for plant and marine oils) has received a clean patent search report from the International Search Authority (ISA) of the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT). This means that the ISA considers the invention to be both new and inventive and that the patent application therefore stands a good chance of proceeding to grant in key overseas territories.

Marine and plant oils contain both saturated and unsaturated fatty acid methyl esters (FAMEs), both of which are of economic value once separated. Unsaturated fatty acids such as omega 3 and 6 fatty acids are of nutritional value, while saturated fatty acids have a cosmetic value and serve as good feedstock for biodiesel. One known separation technique is argentation, a process based on silver ion liquid chromatography. Typically, the silver ions are integrated into a stationary phase where it can react with unsaturated components of fatty acids to form weak polar bonds. Separation of the unsaturated components from the saturated components is thus achieved.

Dr Anwar Jardine of UCT's Department of Chemistry has developed a novel modified Chitosan polymer support containing silver ions that can function as stationary phase in argentation chromatography. Chitosan is produced from chitin, a naturally occurring polymer found in the shells of crabs and crayfish. The innovation is an extension of Dr Jardine and team's earlier work on novel modified Chitosan polymers with application in catalysis.

The technology can rightly be considered "green" as it based on naturally occurring, non-oil derived materials as opposed to the conventional, oil-derived separation resins. Furthermore, the preferred raw material (in the form of crayfish shells) is considered a waste product of fishing industry and this technology therefore helps to find new economic uses for these waste streams.