Triple play boosting value of renewable fuel could tip market in favor of biomass

UW-Madison researchers as well as collaborators have developed a brand-new ‘green’ technology for converting non-edible biomass into three high-value chemicals in which are the basis for products traditionally made via petroleum. Credit: UW-Madison/Phil Biebl.

Technologies for converting non-edible biomass into chemicals as well as fuels traditionally made via petroleum exist aplenty. however when the item comes to attracting commercial interest, these technologies compete financially using a petroleum-based production pipeline in which has been perfected over the course of decades.

Winning in which competition—or at least leveling the economic playing field—requires a leap forward. as well as by developing a brand-new process for obtaining not one, however three high-value products via biomass in one fell swoop, University of Wisconsin-Madison engineers as well as their collaborators have currently made in which leap.

The researchers, led by James Dumesic, professor of chemical as well as biological engineering, published their results today (May 19, 2017) from the journal Science Advances.

Their brand-new process tripled the fraction of biomass converted to high-value products to nearly 80 percent, also tripling the expected rate of return for an investment from the technology via roughly 10 percent (for one end product) to 30 percent.

“When a technology can be brand-new as well as risky, proving its economic feasibility as well as profit potential can be critical for attracting investors,” says David Martin Alonso, the study’s first author as well as a researcher in chemical as well as biological engineering at UW-Madison. “in which’s why we are very excited about its 30-percent internal rate of return.”

Alonso can be also director of research as well as development at Glucan Biorenewables, a UW-Madison spinoff company co-founded in 2012 by biomass conversion technology pioneer Dumesic.

The magic key for turning all three components—cellulose, hemicellulose as well as lignin—of lignocellulosic (non-edible) biomass into distinct high-value products can be gamma valerolactone (GVL), a solvent in which can be derived via plant material as well as has several highly appealing properties.

“GVL can be very effective at fractionating the biomass,” Alonso says. “however the item can be also much more stable than different solvents, allowing us to reuse 99 percent of the item in a closed-loop process. Until currently, solvent loss had been a major bottleneck for generating a renewable as well as carbon-efficient bio-refinery economically feasible.”

the item also explains why the brand-new technology can be so “green.” the item starts with renewable biomass, includes a very high solvent-recycling rate, needs miniscule amounts of acid, as well as uses all three fractions of biomass, minimizing waste. as well as the list of GVL’s advantages goes on.

“GVL can be also feedstock-agnostic,” says Ali Hussain Motagamwala, Dumesic’s doctoral student as well as a co-author on the paper. “We have demonstrated in which the item works on corn stover, switchgrass, hardwood trees like white birch as well as poplar, as well as softwood trees like loblolly pine. In fact, we have shown in which the item can be an effective solvent for more than 30 types of biomass.”

Several industry sectors may benefit via the brand-new technology. Pulp as well as paper mills can turn two currently unused biomass fractions—hemicellulose as well as lignin—into commercial products, in addition to generating paper via cellulose. using a different step in which increases its purity, they can also spin cellulose into fibers to produce textiles.

UW-Madison engineers (via left) David Martin Alonso, James Dumesic as well as Ali Hussain Motagamwala, examine a vial of furfural, one of a group of valuable products the researchers can currently create as part of the biofuel refining process. Credit: UW-Madison/Steph Precourt.

Car manufacturers can convert plant-derived lignin into carbon foam as well as fibers, avoiding the sulfur smell in which reduces the appeal of lignin derived via different sources. Scientists at the University of Tennessee, who are co-authors on the study, demonstrated in which lignin can also be used to make battery anodes, traditionally made via more expensive graphite.

Last, however not least, the brand-new technology converts hemicellulose into furfural, a chemical intermediate in which can be the basis for a variety of plastics, polymers as well as fuels. Too expensive to be produced by U.S. companies, furfural can be imported via China.

“Depending on furfural via China, as well as on petroleum via OPEC countries, means in which the market can be volatile,” Motagamwala says. “however since biomass can be something every country has, bio-refineries may create a more stable market.”

Dumesic says the next challenge can be to de-risk the technology.

“currently in which we have proven in which GVL can be very effective at separating the three biomass fractions without diminishing their value, we see a path forward to becoming cost-competitive using a petroleum refinery,” he says. “Our next goal can be to demonstrate in which This specific brand-new kind of bio-refinery can deliver a wide range of advanced biofuels as well as commodity chemicals as end products.”

Larry Clarke, Glucan Biorenewables CEO, will use his company’s platform to scale up the process as well as help realize its market potential.

“Since This specific simple, yet elegant as well as robust technology provides multiple value chain options, I believe the item has the potential to transform the global biomass industry,” he says.

Explore further:
Ionic liquids via biomass waste could pretreat plants destined for biofuels

More information:
D.M. Alonso el al., “Increasing the revenue via lignocellulosic biomass: Maximizing feedstock utilization,” Science Advances (2017).

Journal reference:
Science Advances

Provided by:
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Triple play boosting value of renewable fuel could tip market in favor of biomass

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