Myristyltrimethylammonium bromide (MTAB) is a cationic surfactant used to improve biomass harvesting and pigment extraction form microalgae, but the mechanisms underlying its effectiveness are poorly defined. We document the mechanisms for enhanced harvesting and pigment extraction for the cyanobacterium Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803 using measurements from flow cytometer, zeta potential, release of soluble components, and microscopy. Harvesting efficiency increased as the MTAB/Biomass dose increased from 0 to 40%. A low MTAB dose (≤ 8%) mainly brought about coagulation and flocculation, which led to aggregation that improved harvesting, but 40% MTAB had the highest harvesting efficiency, 62%. Adding MTAB above a MTAB/Biomass dose of 8% also increased cell-membrane permeability, which allowed the solvent (ethyl acetate) to pass into the cells and resulted in a large increase in extraction efficiency of pigments: An MTAB/Biomass ratio of 60% for 180 min achieved the highest extraction efficiencies of chlorophyll and carotenoids, 95% and 91%, respectively. Combining harvesting and extraction performances with results from flow cytometry, zeta potential, release of soluble components, and microscopy lead to the following mechanistic understandings. MTAB dose from 8% to 40% solubilized EPS, which lowered the biomass's negative charge, but caused breakup of the large aggregates. An increase of cell permeability also in this stage allowed ethyl acetate to pass into the cells and achieve better pigment extraction. MTAB >40% led to cell lysis and a large increase in soluble organics, but complete cell lysis was not required to achieve the maximum extraction efficiency. The MTAB/Biomass % ratio for optimizing harvest efficiency and pigment extraction lay in the range of 40%–60%.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)189-196
Number of pages8
JournalWater Research
StatePublished - 2017


  • Cationic surfactant
  • Cyanobacteria
  • Harvesting and extraction
  • Mechanisms
  • Synechocystis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology
  • Ecological Modeling
  • Pollution
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Environmental Engineering
  • Civil and Structural Engineering


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