UAlberta teams up with top international researchers to study supercritical fluids

New partnership allows researchers to develop collaborations to advance technology with wide range of industrial uses.


(Edmonton) A renowned food engineer from the University of Alberta is leading a new partnership that teams the university with an international network of scientists to study supercritical fluids.

Feral Temelli, a researcher in the Faculty of Agricultural, Life and Environmental Sciences who co-invented a novel drying technology for biopolymers using supercritical carbon dioxide, is leading a U of A team that recently signed a memorandum of understanding with Innovation Fluides Supercritiques (IFS).

IFS is a non-profit organization based in France that promotes the advancement of supercritical fluid technology globally. It already has partnerships with scientists in Japan, another country at the forefront of the field, said Temelli.

Supercritical fluids have properties similar to those of both a liquid and a gas. They only form when temperature and pressure are increased to levels above the critical point of that substance. They are as dense but not as viscous as a liquid, so they flow and diffuse faster, and can be manipulated in many ways.

“So, I can take CO2, for example, use it as an extraction solvent and replace some of the petroleum-based solvents that are used in the processing of various agricultural products,” said Temelli, a professor in the Department of Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Science.

“And the real beauty is, after we do an extraction we can release the pressure and CO2 becomes a gas—which is not a solvent anymore—and get a ‘natural’ extract with no solvent residue left behind.”

In contrast, traditional petroleum-based methods require additional costly treatments to remove the solvent.

One of the first commercial uses of supercritical fluids was decaffeination of coffee. Now, an array of applications are used by industrial sectors including food, cosmetics, pharmaceutics, materials, chemistry, energy and waste treatment.

In fact, said Temelli, IFS president Stéphane Sarrade is a scientist with France’s Atomic and Alternative Energy Commission who is working on using supercritical fluids to clean up nuclear waste, among other applications.

In her supercritical fluid research, Temelli will continue to focus on the use of CO2 for value-added processing of crops. Two other U of A scientists key to the partnership—Marleny Aranda Saldana, an associate professor of bio/food engineering processing, and Selma Guigard, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering—are studying food/biomass and oilsands-related applications, respectively.

The partnership gives the U of A scientists access to IFS laboratories in France through collaborative projects.

“It gives us the opportunity to develop new collaborations and industry connections to add value to our respective local agricultural commodities both at lab and pilot plant scale,” said Temelli.

Temelli’s next step is to develop projects with commercialization potential that will support academic and student exchanges.