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  1. New, Simple Technique May Drive Down Biofuel Production Costs
New, Simple Technique May Drive Down Biofuel Production Costs

Matt Shipman, Ezinne Achinivu

Release Date: 01.07.14

Researchers at North Carolina State University have developed a simple, effective and relatively inexpensive technique for removing lignin from the plant material used to make biofuels, which may drive down the cost of biofuel production.

Lignin, nature’s way of protecting plant cell walls, is difficult to break down or remove from plant materials called “biomass,” such as the non-edible parts of the corn plant. However, that lignin needs to be extracted in order to reach the energy-rich cellulose that is used to make biofuels.

“Finding inexpensive ways to remove lignin is one of the largest barriers to producing cost-effective biofuels,” says Ezinne Achinivu, a Ph.D. student in chemical and biomolecular engineering at NC State and lead author of a study describing the new technique. “And our approach is very promising.”

The researchers began by making a number of liquid salts called “protic ionic liquids” or PILs. These PILs are fairly inexpensive to prepare, because they are made by mixing together an acid, such as acetic acid (more commonly known as vinegar), and a base (a chemical class of materials called amines). As part of the pretreatment process, one of the PILs is mixed with biomass and then heated and stirred. The lignin dissolves into the PIL, leaving the cellulose behind as a solid. The cellulose, which is now much easier to process, is then easily filtered from the mixture for use in the next biofuel production steps.

Read the complete article at NC State University Newsroom.

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