New mechanocatalytic process breaks down biomass, including lignin, into sugars or other specialty chemicals via a non-toxic path.
Researchers at the University of Central Florida have developed technologies that provide a more efficient and inexpensive method to produce biofuels and specialty chemicals like vanillin or syrinealdehyde. The hydrolysis technology enables companies, such as biorefineries, to use solid-to-solid catalysis to break down a wide range of biomass materials, including lignin-containing feedstock. Such capabilities additionally expand the use of non-food polysaccharide sources such as switchgrass, sawdust, corn stover, and other types of agricultural waste.
In contrast to conventional heterogeneous catalysis processes, the UCF approach does not require high temperatures, high pressures, strong acid solutions, or added water to convert cellulosic materials into commercially relevant compounds. The approach also produces less waste, is insensitive to feedstock, and provides multiple product pathways that are scalable. It can be integrated into existing biorefineries, converting them into multi-feedstock and multi-product facilities.
The UCF portfolio provides structural and physical parameters and methods for mechanically grinding or agitating a solid acid catalyst (such as clay, aluminosilicate and silicates, or acidified metal salts/oxides) with cellulose-containing material into soluble sugars and downstream specialty chemicals as well as process lignin into other specialty chemicals. By using catalysts with high surface acidities and layered structures, the non-aqueous hydrolysis methods can convert up to 84 percent of the available cellulose into water-soluble compounds in a single pass. The process enables the use of inexpensive catalysts, such as kaolinite, which is reusable, safe for the environment, and does not require toxic solvents. Also, since the process is insensitive to lignin and hemicellulose content, it can be applied using any cellulosic biomass source, making it a viable alternative to using edible biomass (such as corn) for ethanol production or to using less efficient existing processes for specialty chemical production.
UCF seeks experienced technology partners to license and scale-up commercially relevant processes (lab scale 500g). Feedstocks with lignin source processed to date include hardwoods, softwoods and agricultural residue. UCF researchers are available to engage in sponsored research to test new feedstock material or improve selected processes at lab scale.
- Less waste
- Can be applied using ambient temperature
- Multiple product pathways
- Biofuel, power generation
- Specialty chemicals
- Sugar production