Catalytic Biomass Depolymerization - A Novel Approach To Platform Intermediates for Biorefineries
Develop a novel catalytic depolymerization process that can continuously and cost-effectively convert biomass into intermediate materials for use in refining biofuels and chemicals.
Sponsor: Virent Energy Systems Inc.3571 Anderson Street
Madison, WI 53704
Replacing 30 percent of the nation's petroleum consumption, now used for power, transportation fuels and chemical feedstocks, with biofuels by 2030 is the challenging goal set forth by a 2005 Federal study. To reach this goal in an effective and economic way, it will be necessary for the biorefining industry to develop novel routes for utilizing different types of biomass—especially those derived from non-food sources. A major hurdle is the fact that biomass is composed of different components, including starch, cellulose, lignin and hemicellulose. They are not all equally easy to convert to sugar, and some require special processing. Inevitably, pre-treatment methods beyond the current enzymatic, acid hydrolysis and genomic technologies will be needed for these materials. One approach is Virent's proposed catalytic biomass depolymerization (CBD) process based on heterogeneous catalysis (where the catalyst is in a different phase from the reactants). The CBD system will combine acid-catalyzed hydrolysis of carbohydrates with reductive depolymerization to continuously and cost-effectively convert biomass (cellulosic feedstocks) into oxygenated hydrocarbons (sugars and other intermediates) that can be processed easily into fuels and chemicals using fermentation or an existing Virent bioprocessing technology. Compared to current approaches to biomass pretreatment, the CBD process is more robust, yielding significantly higher reaction rates and higher product concentrations. The coupling of the proposed CBD process with Virent's existing platform under this proposal offers a comprehensive, renewable solution for unlocking the potential of lignocellulosic feedstocks. If successful, this technology could be used in parallel with several biofuel refinery processes coming on-line in the next few years.