SBIR Phase I: Green Solvent-Enabled Synthesis of Biobased Furans

Period of Performance: 01/01/2013 - 12/31/2013


Phase 1 SBIR

Recipient Firm

Glucan Biorenewables LLC
505 South Rosa Rd Suite 112
Madison, WI 53719
Principal Investigator, Firm POC


This Small Business Innovation Research Phase I project focuses on providing the proof of concept that a gamma-valerolactone (GVL) based reaction system can deliver yield and cost advantages to convert real biomass feedstocks to useful biorenewable chemicals. Glucan Biorenewables envisions developing a scalable furan-based chemical platform using GVL, a biomass-derived solvent, for both the sugar separation and reaction system. Bench-scale evidence shows GVL delivers significant improvement in dehydration selectivity and conversion of C5 and C6 sugars to biorenewable chemicals like furfural and 5-hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF). The GVL-based reaction system provides important advantages over current biomass dehydration processes. These include increased reactivity of homogeneous acids for hydrolysis and dehydration, improvements in the use of solid catalysts, increased yields through minimizing degradation, and the solubilization and recovery of lignin/humins. These advantages translate to the potential to improve biomass conversion with higher yields and lower energy and capital cost than commercially available processes. The technology has been demonstrated to be effective using pure xylose and glucose however this project will prove the commercial viability by demonstrating efficient conversion and solvent recycling using real feedstocks such as corn cob, corn stover, bagasse, oat hulls. The broader impact/commercial potential of this project is the development of a cost competitive process to deliver biorenewable chemicals produced from waste biomass. These intermediate furan derivatives, furfural and 5-hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF), have multiple uses with enormous opportunities to replace petroleum-based chemicals in applications ranging from packaging to insulation. The processing and logistical costs that have long hindered large-scale biorenewable chemical production of furfural and HMF are addressed with GlucanBio?s novel solvent system. Given the Midwest alone boasts more than five-hundred thousand tons of collected biomass waste such as oat hulls, corn cobs and corn stover, GlucanBio is in a unique position to build partnerships and create value for utilizing these waste streams. Large innovative corporations are publicly touting their commitment of 100% plant-based bottles by 2016. Polyethylene furanoate (PEF), a downstream derivative of HMF, has been proven to have superior bottling properties to PET and multiple companies are looking at the development of PEF as a substitute for PET bottles. This is just one of many examples of uses for furan derivatives. The proposed project provides the critical proof of concept regarding successful, cost effective biomass conversion to furans which can address both existing market needs and grow new markets.