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

sic optical property of biological materials that has often been viewed as a nuisance by scientists trying to image specific biological objects. Living cells contain molecules which fluoresce when excited by the right light and this fluorescence can compete with the signals obtained from the fluorophore dyes or markers used to label biological objects of interest. Simmons and Singh have turned this "nuisance" into an effective tool. Using auto-fluorescence in combination with a variety of microscopy and spectroscopy techniques, they were able to map and visualize cellulose and lignin first in pristine switchgrass and then during treatment with the EmimAc ionic liquid. Their results demonstrate that this label-free visualization and mapping technique can provide a means of rapidly screening a wide range of ionic liquids for pre-treating switchgrass and other biomass material.

"Our approach can be used to evaluate the deconstruction of lignocellulosics in biomass of different chemical compositions, and also to assist in determining the impact of genetically engineered feedstocks," Simmons says. "By utilizing this technique, the development and selection of pre-treatment conditions for the selective solubilization and fractionation of either polysaccharides or lignin could be tailored for the development of cost-effective biomass pre-treatments with enhanced yields of sugars."

The ultimate goal, Simmons says is to find an ionic liquid that can efficiently pre-treat biomass, then scale its use up into a cost-effective process for biorefineries. Ideally, he and his colleagues would like to identify a single versatile ionic liquid that is capable of producing enriched polysaccharide and lignin output streams irrespective of fuel types. But there is much more basic research ahead.

"Right now ionic liquids are a bench-top technique," Simmons says, "and there are research and engineering obstacles that must be solved before this technology is
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Contact: Lynn Yarris
lcyarris@lbl.gov
510-486-5375
DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Source:Eurekalert  

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