NREL recycles biorefinery waste streams to create high-value chemical products

November 15, 2020 |

In Colorado, National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) researchers, with funding support from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO), developed a method to isolate organic compounds, specifically the monomers which are precursors to everyday materials like plastics, out of biorefinery aqueous waste.

The NREL team addressed the thermochemical conversion strategy of catalytic fast pyrolysis, which deconstructs biomass in the absence of oxygen and catalytically upgrades the resulting vapors to produce an oil and aqueous product stream.

The team developed a process to isolate two lignocellulosic biomass-derived monomers from this aqueous stream—phenol and catechol. Phenols are primarily used in polycarbonate and phenol-formaldehyde resins, which have use in automotive, aerospace, building material, electronic, and consumer goods applications. Catechol can be found in insecticides, perfumes, and pharmaceuticals.

The NREL team successfully separated phenol and catechol to 97 wt% purity using the industrially relevant techniques of liquid–liquid extraction, distillation, and recrystallization. Monomers with high purity are necessary because they serve as feedstocks for the chemical manufacturing industry, which must meet strict quality targets for consumer products.

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Category: Research

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