Evaluation of Clean Fractionation Pretreatment for the Production of Renewable Fuels and Chemicals from Corn Stover

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Organosolv fractionation processes aim to separate the primary biopolymers in lignocellulosic biomass to enable more selective deconstruction and upgrading approaches for the isolated components. Clean fractionation (CF) is a particularly effective organsolv process that was originally applied to woody feedstocks. The original CF pretreatment employed methyl isobutyl ketone (MIBK), ethanol, and water with sulfuric acid as a catalyst at temperatures ranging from 120 to 160 °C. Understanding the feasibility and applicability of organosolv processes for industrial use requires mass balances on the primary polymers in biomass, detailed understanding of the physical and chemical characteristics of the fractionated components, and viable upgrading processes for each fraction. Here, we apply two CF approaches to corn stover, one with MIBK/ethanol/water and acid and the other with MIBK/acetone/water and acid, with the aim of understanding if these fractionation methods are feasible for industrial application. We quantify the full mass balances on the resulting solid, organic, and aqueous fractions and apply multiple analytical methods to characterize the three fractions. Total mass yields of the cellulose-enriched, hemicellulose-enriched, and ligninenriched fractions are near mass closure in most cases. For corn stover, the MIBK/acetone/water CF solvent system is more effective relative to the original CF method based on the enhanced fractionation susceptibility of the aqueous and organic phases and the lower molecular weight distribution of the lignin-enriched fractions. Overall, this work reports component mass balances for the fractionation of corn stover, providing key inputs for detailed evaluation of CF processes based on bench-scale data.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1364-1376
Number of pages13
JournalACS Sustainable Chemistry and Engineering
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2 Jun 2014

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014 American Chemical Society.

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-5100-61527


  • Biofuels
  • Cellulose
  • Hemicellulose
  • Lignin
  • Organosolv


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