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ORNL study uses neutron scattering, supercomputing to demystify forces at play in biofuel production
Date:11/13/2013

. According to the team's experimental observations and simulations, the two polymers separate into different phases when heated during pretreatment.

"Lignin is hydrophobic so it repels water, and hemicellulose is hydrophilic, meaning it likes water," Langan said. "Whenever you have a mixture of two polymers in water, one of which is hydrophilic and one hydrophobic, and you heat it up, they separate out into different phases."

Understanding the role of these underlying physical factors -- dehydration and phase separation -- could enable scientists to engineer improved plants and pretreatment processes and ultimately bring down the costs of biofuel production.

"Our insight is that we have to find a balance which avoids cellulose dehydration but allows phase separation," Langan said. "We know now what we have to achieve -- we don't yet know how that could be done, but we've provided clear and specific information to help us get there."


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Contact: Morgan McCorkle
mccorkleml@ornl.gov
865-574-7308
DOE/Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Source:Eurekalert  

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