Chemical Engineering DepartmentUniversity
Renewable alternatives to petroleum as a source of fuels and chemicals have beenunder intensive investigation for the past ten years. Biomass has been shown to haveconsiderable promise as a raw material for gaseous fuels, liquid fuels, and certainpetrochemical intermediates. It has been reported that biomass produced throughphotosynthesis, and available worldwide for processing, totals 2.5
metric tonsannually.' This resource converted into useful energy at
65% efficiency, could supplyall of the world's present energy needs.The most readily available source of biomass is in the form of agricultural andmunicipal residues. The collectible agricultural residues have been estimated to total300 million tons annually.2 Corn stover is the single most abundant residue available,with 150 million tons produced each year.3 This quantity of corn stover could furnish
liquid fuel requirements, or
of the nation's petrochemical needs.
petrochemical production could be supplied from the available agriculturalresidues.The major components of cellulosic biomass are hemicellulose, cellulose, andlignin. The composition of the various lignocellulosic residues varies; however, mostmaterials contain 15-25% hemicellulose, 30-45% cellulose, and 5-1
recent analysis of corn stover showed: hemicellulose-27%; cellulose-43%; lignin-8%; and ash-2%! Therefore, 60-70% of the biomass is available as carbohydrate andcan be converted into fuels and chemicals by biochemical methods.The hemicellulose of biomass contains varying quantities of glucan and xylan.Paper hemicellulose, for example, contains about 50% glucan and xylan.
stoverhemicellulose contains 75-85% xylan. The cellulose fraction is almost entirely glucan.The constituents exist as polymers, which must be reduced to monomeric sugars beforethey can be converted biologically into useful chemicals. Therefore, the biologicalconversion of biomass is actually
two-stage process: hydrolysis followed by fermenta-tion.The carbohydrate hydrolysis can be carried out by contact with cellulase
xylanase enzymes, or by treatment with mineral acids. Enzymatic hydrolysis has theadvantage of operating at mild conditions and producing a high-quality sugar product.However, the enzymatic reactions are quite slow, and the biomass must be pretreatedwith caustic
improve the yields and kinetics. Acid hydrolysis is a much morerapid reaction, but requires higher temperatures
high acid concentrations to achievegood yields. Furthermore, under these conditions, xylose degrades to furfural andglucose degrades to 5-hydroxymethyl furfural (HMF), both of which are toxic tomicroorganisms.
two-stage acid hydrolysis process enables the hemicellulose andcellulose to be degraded separately under conditions appropriate for each reaction.High yields are obtained and mild conditions are required, with very little resultantdegradation. Large quantities
acid are necessary, however, and acid recovery is animportant part of this process.