In a new development, researchers have developed a new process for cheap production of biofuels. Such developments are a step towards increasing use of plant waste for biofuels and reduce dependency on fossil fuels. Meanwhile, for the research, collaborative efforts and access to a hi-tech instrument at the Oak ridge National Laboratory facilitated the study.
The process involving ammonia-salt based solvent rapidly converts plant fibers into sugars to create ethanol. On the contrary, unlike conventional processes, the technique works well at close to room temperatures.
The new process is economical for material use too. The pretreatment system can slash use of enzymes by as much as 50 fold. The enzymes find use to convert solvent-treated cellulose into glucose further used to make bio products such as ethanol. This reveals similar process to reduce cost of producing biofuels from waste biomass significantly.
Use of Solvent renders prized Extraction of Lignin
The use of solvent is significant here. It can extract more than 80 percent lignin in plant waste. The use of lignin is notable too. The property of lignin to bind and fortify plant fibers is suggestive of use to upgrade valuable aromatic chemicals. During the study, collaborative efforts and access to a super instrument made way. Consequently, this enabled to comprehend response of complex biological systems such as plant waste during processing, including secret of dissolving of cellulose at molecular level.
Meanwhile, plant-based biomass such as corn stalks, leaves, switchgrass, and other residue have closely packed cellulose microfibrils. This makes it difficult to convert several plant-based biomass materials into biochemical and biofuels.
For this, speeding up conversion of cellulose into sugars such as glucose using enzymes requires an additional step. This could be use of solvent or chemical and/or heat pretreatment. Meanwhile, in the last 150 years, an array of solvents for breaking down cellulose have been explored. High costs or extreme range of operating temperatures for most solvents to be effective remains pressing.