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New technique can fast-track better ionic liquids for biomass pre-treatments
Date:7/10/2009

secondary plant cell walls within three hours of exposure at relatively mild temperatures (120 degrees Celsius)," says Blake Simmons, a chemical engineer who is Vice President of JBEI's Deconstruction Division and was the principal investigator for this research. "We attributed the swelling to disruption of inter- and intra-molecular hydrogen bonding between cellulose fibrils and lignin. The swelling was followed by complete dissolution of biomass. This is the first study to show the process by which biomass solubilization occurs in an ionic liquid pre-treatment."

Simmons says that once the EmimAc had dissolved the switchgrass biomass into its three components - cellulose and hemicellulose sugars, plus lignin, the woody fiber that gives strength and structure to plant cell walls the subsequent addition of an anti-solvent, such as water, resulted in the sugars being precipitated out while the lignin remained in solution, a requirement for recovering the sugars. This confirmed that the ionic liquid pre-treatment effectively disrupted the recalcitrance of the switchgrass biomass and helped liberate the fermentable sugars.

"In comparison to untreated biomass, ionic liquid pretreated biomass produces cellulose that is efficiently hydrolyzed with commercial cellulase cocktail and provides sugar yields over a relatively short time interval," Simmons says. "We are now in the process of evaluating other ionic liquids to discover the optimal combination of cost and performance."

The results of this study were reported in the journal Biotechnology and Bioengeering in a paper entitled: "Visualization of Biomass Solubilization and Cellulose Regeneration During Ionic Liquid Pretreatment of Switchgrass" Co-authoring the paper with Simmons were his JBEI colleague Seema Singh, and Kenneth Vogel, of the Agricultural Research Service. Simmons and Singh also hold appointments with Sandia National Laboratories.

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Contact: Lynn Yarris
lcyarris@lbl.gov
510-486-5375
DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Source:Eurekalert  

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