Microalgae are a prime source of third generation biofuels. Many thermochemical processes can be applied to convert them into fuels and other valuable products. However, some types of microalgae are characterized by very high moisture and ash contents, thereby causing several problems in further conversion processes. This study presents wet torrefaction (WT) as a promising pretreatment method to overcome the aforementioned drawbacks coupled with microalgal biomass. For this purpose, a microwave-assisted heating system was used for WT of microalga Chlorella vulgaris ESP-31 at different reaction temperatures (160, 170, and 180 °C) and durations (5, 10, and 30 min). The results show several improvements in the fuel properties of the microalga after WT such as increased calorific value and hydrophobicity as well as reduced ash content. A correlation in terms of elemental analysis can be adopted to predict the higher heating value of the torrefied microalga. The structure analysis by Fourier transform infrared (FT-IR) spectroscopy reveals that the carbohydrate content in the torrefied microalgae is lowered, whereas their protein and lipid contents are increased if the WT extent is not severe. However, the protein and lipid contents are reduced significantly at more severe WT conditions. The thermogravimetric analysis shows that the torrefied microalgae have lower ignition temperatures but higher burnout temperatures than the raw microalga, revealing significant impact of WT on the combustion reactivity of the microalga. Overall, the calorific value of the microalga can be intensified up to 21%, and at least 61.5% of energy in the biomass is retained after WT.
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