Lignocellulosic biomass is resistant to microbial and enzymatic breakdown into monomeric sugars. There are several biophysical and chemical factors contributing to this recalcitrance including cellulose crystallinity and the presence of lignin-polysaccharide covalent linkages. Effective pretreatment of biomass is essential for breaking apart highly ordered and crystalline plant cell walls and disrupting the lignin-carbohydrate complex, thereby facilitating enzyme accessibility and reducing the costs of downstream saccharification processes. Pretreatment technologies such as dilute acid, ammonia fiber expansion (AFEX), and ionic liquid (IL) show great promise, yet pretreatement still remains one of the most costly steps in lignocellulosic biofuel production. It is therefore critically important to fundamentally understand the origin of biomass recalcitrance to enable facile deconstruction and the design of less expensive and practical approaches for next-generation biofuel commercialization.
We are utilizing ionic liquid pretreatment on a variety of potential biofuel feedstocks to understand the origins of biomass recalcitrance and the mechanism of IL pretreatment. In addition to employing molecular dynamics simulation for understanding cellulose solubility in IL compared with traditional solvents, we are utilizing advanced imaging techniques (hyperspectral confocal fluorescence and Raman) to track dynamic events during pretreatment. We will present the results (TGA, saccharification, dynamic light scattering, porosimetry, XRD, SANS, pyro-GC-MS) of a series of experiments including the study of rheological behavior during ionic liquid pretreatment.
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