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Fundamentals Of Biomass Pretreatment At Low PH

Heather L. Trajano, Charles E. Wyman
Published 2013 · Chemistry

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A wide variety of conversion processes can be used to generate fuels and chemicals from biomass, with many including a hydrolysis and/or dehydration reaction at low pH as an initial stage. In the case of acid hydrolysis of biomass prior to enzymatic hydrolysis and fermentation, this step is called pretreatment. Due to the diversity of conversion processes, it is difficult to define a single set of objectives; the general goals however are to generate reactive intermediates in high yields for subsequent conversion to final products and minimize generation of compounds that interfere with downstream operations. For example, if lignocellulosic biomass is to be converted to ethanol through dilute acid pretreatment, enzymatic hydrolysis, and fermentation, the objectives of pretreatment are to produce high yields of hemicellulose sugars, improve the enzymatic digestibility of the remaining solids to realize high yields of glucose, and avoid generating biological inhibitors such as furfural and acetic acid. On the other hand, if lignocellulosic biomass is to be converted into jet fuel alkanes through cellulose hydrolysis to levulinic acid followed by catalytic processing of levulinic acid to alkanes, the objectives are to generate levulinic acid in high yields and avoid solid catalyst poisons such as mineral acids. Two of the primary advantages of low-pH reactions are the ready availability of catalysts such as H2SO4 and SO2 and high product yields. However, the capital costs of reactors and associated equipment used for low-pH reactions are high due to the need for expensive, corrosion-resistant materials. In addition, the solid and liquid streams resulting from low-pH pretreatment often require washing or neutralization. Both of
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