GLBRC researchers delve into better use of solvents for biorefineries

March 15, 2018 |

In Wisconsin, for researchers at the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC), the central role of solvents in converting non-food biomass to biofuels and bioproducts means they’re ripe for optimization. Better use of solvents could improve the economics of biorefineries, push a range of new and more sustainable biofuels and bioproducts to market, and provide new sources of revenue for farmers.

But the organic solvents used in biomass conversion are both critical to the process and a little mysterious. That is, scientists do not fundamentally understand “solvent effects—or the role that solvents can play in changing reaction rates, reaction pathways, product distributions, or yields.

In a paper recently published in Nature Catalysis, GLBRC researchers break down solvent effects, finding a new way to measure and analyze how a solvent alters the stability of two different points of a chemical reaction, the initial state and the transition state. The method, which relies on experimentation and computation, is the first to provide a window into the fundamental properties of solvent effects.

The team’s system for predicting solvent effects has immediate practical applications. The researchers used their understanding of solvent effects to achieve high yields of hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF), a platform chemical that can be used to make transportation fuels and bio-based plastics, while limiting HMF’s subsequent conversion to other chemicals.

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Category: Research

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