Rapid Analysis of Microalgal Triacylglycerols with Direct-Infusion Mass Spectrometry

Earl Christensen, Robert Sebag, Lieve Laurens, Nilusha Sudasinghe, Kodanda Raj Dandamudi, Tanner Schaub

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus Citations


Cultivation of microalgae has the potential to provide lipid-derived feedstocks for conversion to liquid transportation fuels. Lipid extracts from microalgae are significantly more complex than those of traditional seed oils, and their composition changes significantly throughout the microalgal growth period. With three acyl side chains per molecule, triglycerides (TAGs) are an important fuel precursor, and the distribution of acyl chain composition for TAGs has a significant impact on fuel properties and processing. Therefore, determination of the distribution of microalgal TAG production is needed to assess the value of algal extracts designed for fuel production and to optimize strain, cultivation, and harvesting practices. Methods utilized for TAG speciation commonly involve complicated and time-consuming chromatographic techniques. We present a method for TAG speciation and quantification based on direct-infusion mass spectrometry, which provides rapid characterization of TAG profiles without chromatographic separation. Specifically, we utilize Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance mass spectrometry (FT-ICR MS) to provide a reference library of TAGs for the microalgae Nannochloropsis sp. that provides the basis for high-throughput TAG quantitation by time-of-flight mass spectrometry (TOF MS). We demonstrate the application of this novel approach for lipid characterization with respect to TAG compound distribution, which informs both immediate and future strain and process optimization strategies.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)6443-6449
Number of pages7
JournalEnergy and Fuels
Issue number10
StatePublished - 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 American Chemical Society.

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-5400-64361


  • algae
  • biodiesel
  • mass spectrometry
  • renewable diesel
  • triglycerides


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