Monday, 20 January 2014

Renewable Chemicals Now for Biofuels Scale-up

Researchers of University of Wisconsin-Madison have developed a for creating a concentrated stream of sugars using a plant derived chemical, which has future scope for biofuels. Project was funded by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy's Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC). They used gamma valerolactone, or GVL, to deconstruct plants and produce sugars that can be chemically or biologically upgraded into biofuels. Later this year, with support from the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF), the team will begin scaling up the process.

Since GVL is created from the plant source, it is  renewable as well as more affordable than conversion methods requiring expensive chemicals or enzymes. The process also converts 85 to 95 percent of the starting material to sugars that can be fed to yeast for fermentation into ethanol, or chemically upgraded furans to create drop-in biofuels. Jeremy Luterbacher, a UW-Madison postdoctoral researcher and the paper's lead author demonstrated the economic viability of this advance by concentrating the sugar, removing the GVL for reuse, and showing that yeast could successfully generate ethanol from the sugar stream. This procedure is easily done and is low energy separation step. Luterbacher cleared that they weren't producing some weird chemical byproducts that would kill the yeast, and that we were taking out enough GVL to make it nontoxic, By feeding the resulting sugar solution to microorganisms. Further he clears that additives like liquid carbon dioxide ,can be used to make solution separate like oil and vinegar. As liquid carbon dioxide is green, nontoxic and can be removed by simple depressurization once you want GVL and solutions of sugar to mix again, it is claimed to be a perfect additive.
Initial economic assessment of the process  indicates that the technology could manufacture ethanol at a cost savings of roughly 10 percent when compared with current state-of-the-art technologies.
Work on production of GVL from biomass and the use of GVL as a solvent for the conversion of biomass to furan chemicals was being conducted for several years by James Dumesic, Steenbock Professor and Michel Boudart Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering at UW-Madison, and his research group.

Now, Under the Accelerator Program effort, Dumesic will serve as principal investigator for an 18-month project involving construction of a high-efficiency biomass reactor. The reactor will use GVL to produce concentrated streams of high-value sugars and intact lignin solids.