High Purity Cellulose for Low-Cost Nanocellulose and Biofuel Production

Period of Performance: 06/12/2017 - 03/11/2018

$150K

Phase 1 STTR

Recipient Firm

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

Research Institution

University of Maine
5717 Corbett Hall
Orono, ME 04469
Institution POC

Abstract

This timely research will address the major challenge of depolymerizing cellulose to generate high quantities of nanocellulose in a more energy efficient and cost effective manner. The overarching objective is to manufacture nanocellulose at a lower unit production cost and make it widely available for numerous emerging market applications. This project will address this challenge by coupling a solvent-based biomass conversion technology with commercially practiced nanocellulose manufacturing technology to co-produce biofuels and nanocellulose. With combined technologies, the project will use lower-cost lignocellulosic biomass feedstock, as opposed to traditional debarked wood chips of a uniform size distribution, to produce a cellulose intermediate with a low degree of polymerization that is suitable for biofuels (via enzymatic conversion to glucose) and/or nanocellulose production (with a lower energy input). And since the biomass is fractionated, the hemicellulose will be used to produce furfural and the technical lignin will be sold as a feedstock for carbon functional product and plastic alloy bio-material applications. By converting all of the biomass components into products, revenues increase and unit production costs are reduced. In phase I, three different biomass types will be used to produce high purity cellulose with a low degree of polymerization. The cellulose will be characterized and used as feedstock to produce nanocellulose in a lab-scale cellulose nanofibril production set-up. The electrical power consumption for each sample will be measured and compared to the degree of polymerization and nanocellulose particle size distribution. Data from this work will be used to perform a techno-economic analysis to calculate minimum selling prices for the nanocellulose and biofuel using premises from the BETO Low-Temperature Deconstruction design cases. The use of lignocellulosic biomass feedstock, the conversion of all three primary biomass components into high-value products, and a reduction in the energy required to make nanocellulose will significantly decrease unit production costs as costs are spread over a larger base of products. In addition, the manufacturing flexibility to allocate cellulose to either biofuels or nanocellulose is expected to help balance the supply and demand in these rapidly growing markets. By decreasing nanocellulose unit production costs, nanocellulose will be economically attractive for an increasing number of current and emerging market applications.