February 23, 2009

Chemical simplifies cellulosic biofuel production

Cook up the right solvent and you can turn wood and agriculture scrap directly into a biofuel precursor without first having to convert it to sugar.

The solvent, N,N-dimethylacetamide mixed with lithium chloride, converts cellulosic biomass directly into 5-hydroxymethylfurfural, which is a chemical that can be converted to diesel, jet fuel and industrial chemicals. Existing methods of converting biomass to 5-hydroxymethylfurfural require the intermediate step of producing glucose or fructose.

The process takes 1 to 5 hours to convert up to 92 percent of biomass feedstock at about 140 degrees Celsius.

A similar process uses hydrochloric acid and lithium chloride but it requires multiple steps, takes more time, produces less and yields different chemicals.

The new solvent could reduce the cost and increase the amount of biofuels made from non-food sources.

Research paper:
Simple Chemical Transformation of Lignocellulosic Biomass into Furans for Fuels and Chemicals
Journal of the American Chemical Society, February 11, 2009

Researchers' homepage:
Ronald Raines

Related stories and briefs:
Sugar, sugar -- related research
Biomass-to-biofuel simplified -- related research

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