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Smashing cell walls boosts biofuel production
A biocompatible solvent designed to dissolve cellulose could overcome a barrier impeding the transformation of plant matter into biofuel.
Plants encase their cells in a tough wall of cellulose, a hydrocarbon structure highly resistant to chemical and physical attack. The harsh conditions needed to break cellulose apart so that it could be fermented into biofuel would kill the fermentation microbes.
Kanazawa University researchers have now designed a solvent that breaks down cellulose while leaving microbes unharmed. The team’s starting point was an ‘ionic liquid’, a solvent with two components: one positively charged and the other negatively charged. While some ionic liquids can dissolve cellulose, the positively charged component also attacks the fermentation microbes, being attracted to the negatively charged components in their membranes.
The researchers supressed this attraction, while maintaining cellulose attack, by designing a single-component solvent that incorporated the positively and negatively charged parts into the same molecule. The solvent could be used to convert cellulose all the way to ethanol in a single reactor.
- Journal of the American Chemical Society 139, 16052–16055 (2017). doi: 10.1021/jacs.7b08914
|Kanazawa University (KU), Japan||0.92|
|University of Lampung, Indonesia||0.08|