Calcium alginate

Calcium alginate

Calcium alginate is an edible substance that can be created through the addition of aqueous calcium chloride to aqueous sodium alginate. Adding Kool-Aid creates a more tasty edible slime. [Edible Slime Classroom Experiment]

"Alginate" is the term usually used for the salts of alginic acid, but it can also refer to all the derivatives of alginic acid and alginic acid itself; in some publications the term "algin" is used instead of alginate. Alginate is present in the cell walls of brown algae as the calcium, magnesium and sodium salts of alginic acid. The goal of the extraction process is to obtain dry, powdered, sodium alginate. The calcium and magnesium salts do not dissolve in water; the sodium salt does. The rationale behind the extraction of alginate from the seaweed is to convert all the alginate salts to the sodium salt, dissolve this in water, and remove the seaweed residue by filtration. The alginate must then be recovered from the aqueous solution. The solution is very dilute and evaporation of the water is not economic. There are two different ways of recovering the alginate.

The first is to add acid, which causes alginic acid to form; this does not dissolve in water and the solid alginic acid is separated from the water. The alginic acid separates as a soft gel and some of the water must be removed from this. After this has been done, alcohol is added to the alginic acid, followed by sodium carbonate which converts the alginic acid into sodium alginate. The sodium alginate does not dissolve in the mixture of alcohol and water, so it can be separated from the mixture, dried and milled to an appropriate particle size that depends on its particular application.

The second way of recovering the sodium alginate from the initial extraction solution is to add a calcium salt. This causes calcium alginate to form with a fibrous texture; it does not dissolve in water and can be separated from it. The separated calcium alginate is suspended in water and acid is added to convert it into alginic acid. This fibrous alginic acid is easily separated, placed in a planetary type mixer with alcohol, and sodium carbonate is gradually added to the paste until all the alginic acid is converted to sodium alginate. The paste of sodium alginate is sometimes extruded into pellets that are then dried and milled.

These essentials of the process are illustrated in the flow diagram in Figure 32.

The process appears to be straightforward, certainly the chemistry is simple: convert the insoluble alginate salts in the seaweed into soluble sodium alginate; precipitate either alginic acid or calcium alginate from the extract solution of sodium alginate; convert either of these back to sodium alginate, this time in a mixture of alcohol and water, in which the sodium salt does not dissolve.

The difficulties lie in handling the materials encountered in the process, and to understand these problems a little more detail of the process is required.

To extract the alginate, the seaweed is broken into pieces and stirred with a hot solution of an alkali, usually sodium carbonate. Over a period of about two hours, the alginate dissolves as sodium alginate to give a very thick slurry. This slurry also contains the part of the seaweed that does not dissolve, mainly cellulose. This insoluble residue must be removed from the solution. The solution is too thick (viscous) to be filtered and must be diluted with a very large quantity of water. After dilution, the solution is forced through a filter cloth in a filter press. However, the pieces of undissolved residue are very fine and can quickly clog the filter cloth. Therefore, before filtration is started, a filter aid, such as diatomaceous earth, must be added; this holds most of the fine particles away from the surface of the filter cloth and facilitates filtration. However, filter aid is expensive and can make a significant contribution to costs. To reduce the quantity of filter aid needed, some processors force air into the extract as it is being diluted with water (the extract and diluting water are mixed in an in-line mixer into which air is forced). Fine air bubbles attach themselves to the particles of residue. The diluted extract is left standing for several hours while the air rises to the top, taking the residue particles with it. This frothy mix of air and residue is removed from the top and the solution is withdrawn from the bottom and pumped to the filter.



*Ellingson, Robert. [ "Edible Slime"] . Accessed January 17 2008.

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