In Wisconsin, researchers at the University of Wisconsin the gamma valerolactone (GVL) process that breaks down biomass and unlocks its polysaccharides, having boosted production by 80-fold, with sugar yields topping 75 and 65 percent for xylose and glucose, respectively. Along the way they’ve learned to streamline steps and optimize factors like reaction temperature and acid concentration.
In addition to the sugars, they’re also producing strong streams of ‘native’ lignin that can be used for a variety of products from construction materials to paint. (‘Native’ means the lignin is not chemically altered by the process and therefore prized by researchers normally restricted to the byproducts of paper mills.)
Achieving these milestones took an unexpected collaboration. Colleagues in the engineering department and at the Forest Products Laboratory helped Dumesic ‘cobble on’ to a reactor already in use, saving significant time and resources.
Now, those same colleagues are interested in taking things to the next level by designing an extruder system that operates in a continuous flow mode, like a real refinery. This would make the entire process more commercially viable.