A novel tandem solvent process of dodecane and methanol was developed for the selective extraction of free astaxanthin from red encysted Haematococcus culture. The process consists of dodecane extraction for astaxanthin mixture from the culture (stage 1) and methanol extraction for free astaxanthin from the dodecane extract (stage 2). In the first stage, astaxanthin mixture was directly extracted to dodecane from the culture broth without cell harvest process, followed by a rapid separation of the dodecane extract and the culture medium containing cell debris by simple settling. In the second stage, free astaxanthin was selectively collected to methanol from the dodecane extract, accompanied with saponification of astaxanthin-esters by the addition of NaOH to methanol. During saponification, use of the optimum NaOH concentration (0.02 M) and low temperature (4°C) reaction minimized the degradation of free astaxanthin, resulting in a total recovery yield of free astaxanthin of over 85%. The free-astaxanthin-containing methanol extract was also simply separated from dodecane by gravity settling, after which the astaxanthin-free dodecane was effectively recycled to the first stage, yielding a stable extractability of astaxanthin mixture during repeated extraction. Our results indicate the potential of the proposed tandem solvent process as an alternative extraction technology for the high-value antioxidant Haematococcus astaxanthin.
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