SBIR Phase II: Catalytic Conversion of Lignocellulosic Biomass into Furfural and Dissolving Pulp using Green Solvents

Period of Performance: 09/15/2016 - 08/31/2018

$749K

Phase 2 SBIR

Recipient Firm

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

Abstract

The broader impact/commercial potential of this Small Business Innovation Research Phase II project provides a technology platform to convert non-food biomass, such as wood and corn stalks, into biofuels, chemicals, and bioproducts. Biomass utilization is a solution to increase global sustainability and decrease petroleum-based greenhouse gas emissions. This project will use wood biomass to simultaneously co-produce three high-end products, dissolving pulp, furfural, and technical lignin, of which the dissolving pulp and furfural are the focus of this project. Current methods of producing these products only use one of the three primary biomass components. By co-producing two products, revenues increase and unit production costs decrease as production costs are spread over a larger product volume. The use of this solvent obtained from the biomass is a unique approach in the biomass conversion industry and offers an alternative to conventional enzyme or microbial processing. Benefits include restoring furfural production in the United States, decreasing dissolving pulp production costs, and increasing the commercial value of renewable biomass that currently has low or no value. This sustainable and environmentally friendly technology will increase global sustainability and revitalize rural economies by stimulating investment and creating jobs. The objectives of this Phase II research project are to demonstrate and advance to pilot scale our technology to simultaneously co-produce dissolving pulp and furfural from biomass using gamma valerolactone (GVL) as solvent. While other technologies focus on the production of a single product from biomass, GVL?' ability to fractionate lignocellulosic biomass into its three main components (cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin) at high concentration and purity, produce significant cost and technical advantages. GVL fractionation produces solid cellulose at high yield (>90%) and purity (>90%), without the need for pre-treatment or further chemical refining. This cellulose can be converted into dissolving pulp for high-end applications such as textiles (rayon), cellophane, or microcrystalline cellulose. The hemicellulose fraction does not need to be separated from the GVL and is readily converted into furfural within GVL at high yields (>75%) and high concentrations, minimizing separation costs. Preliminary mass and energy balances and techno-economic modeling based on lab data predict attractive financial returns. Tasks will focus on biomass fractionation to produce dissolving pulp, furfural purification, and GVL recovery at bench-scale. This experimental work will inform the engineering development for an integrated, continuous process, pilot demonstration unit.