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 asdiatomaceous 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 This frothy mix of air and residue is removed from the top and the solution is withdrawn from the bottom and pumped to the filter.
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