Enabling Downstream Success

Our Pretreatment Equipment

The First Step to Higher Yield

Pretreatment is widely classified as the second most expensive unit cost in the conversion of biomass to bio-products. The goal of the pretreatment process is to breakdown lignin and increase the accessibility of the pre-treated biomass to saccharification.

At ABPDU, we take a holistic approach to all unit operations, starting with pretreatment. Our focus is on final yield and product cost. We monitor important factors like the loss of biomass to degradation products and inhibitors generated during the pretreatment process that could reduce fermentation or chemical conversion yields.

Getting the most value

We know that no single pretreatment technology offers 100% conversion of carbohydrates into fermentable sugars. In developing an optimum pretreatment process, we place importance on the following:

  • The most effective pretreatment catalyst for a given feedstock
  • The compatibility of the feedstock-pretreatment catalyst combination
  • The possibility of generating co-products, primarily from lignin
  • Opex and capex investments
  • Energy requirements for solid-liquid handling, separation, etc.
  • Co-product value and residue disposal costs at scale

An Optimum Pretreatment Process

Biomass and feedstock diversity, high biomass loading, product and chemical recovery, and process integration for scale up compound the challenges of obtaining the highest yielding pretreatment process.

Our many advantages help us to design the best process for your specifications:

  • A broad range of aqueous phase thermochemical pretreatment processes that are suitable for the widest range of biomass and feedstock
  • The ability to combine two or more pretreatment processes to achieve the best results across downstream unit operations.
  • Careful analysis of the factors that will achieve the best process economics
  • Meticulous assessment of the feasibility of integrating with downstream technologies and deploying the technology at a commercial scale.

Our Equipment

Pretreatment Process Options

Mechanical Biomass Size Reduction
Reduction of particle size is often needed to make material handling easier and to increase the surface/volume ratio. Depending on the feedstock and the process, we can perform size reduction through knife milling or ball milling.
Dilute Acid
Dilute acid pretreatment primarily breaks the lignin-hemicellulose matrix, hydrolyzes and removes hemicellulose as xylose into the aqueous phase, and increases the porosity of the cell walls. This, in turn, increases the enzymes’ access to the surface of cellulose available in the residual biomass. This treatment is ideally suited for herbaceous biomass and agricultural residues, such as corn stover. However, risk of corrosion issues mandates the use of expensive corrosion resistant reactors. Rapid heating and cooling is also required to minimize the production of inhibitory products such as furfural and hydroxymethylfurfural.
Hydrothermal Pretreatment
In hydrothermal pretreatment the lignin-hemicellulose matrix is broken and hemicellulose is released into the aqueous phase, but mostly in the oligomeric form. To improve conversion yields, it is necessary to enzymatically or chemically hydrolyze the oligomers further. Herbaceous biomass and agricultural residues, such as corn stover, are suitable for this type of pretreatment. However, due to lack of corrosion issues, this pretreatment can be carried out in a stainless steel pressure vessel. Also, fast—but not necessarily rapid—heating and cooling processes are required to minimize the production of inhibitory products.
Alkali Pretreatment
Alkali pretreatment provides the most effective method for breaking the ester bonds between lignin, hemicellulose, and cellulose and avoids fragmentation of the hemicellulose polymers. The reaction temperatures for this process are usually much lower, at 120C, but reaction times are much longer, in the order of several hours. Corrosion-resistant metal and rapid heating and cooling are not required for this process.
Ionic Liquid
Certain ionic liquids are considered efficient and “green” biomass solvents. They can dissolve large amounts of biomass components in extremely mild conditions, with the possibility of recovering nearly 100% of the ionic liquids used at their initial degree of purity. The dissolution mechanism of ionic liquids results in cellulose that has decreased degree of crystallinity, enabling extremely fast enzymatic hydrolysis. Most ionic liquid pretreatments are feedstock agnostic and can be used for a wide range of feedstock ranging from herbaceous and woody biomass to agricultural residues and municipal solid waste.
Organosolv processes use an organic solvent or mixtures of organic solvents with water, sometimes with a dilute acid, for removal of lignin before enzymatic hydrolysis of the cellulose fraction. In addition to lignin removal, hemicellulose hydrolysis occurs when acid is included in the process, leading to improved enzymatic digestibility of the cellulose fraction. The benefits of Organosolv pretreatment include the production of high-quality lignin and the potential to reduce enzyme cost.
Solid/Liquid Separations
To avoid material loss, depending on the biomass and the type of pretreatment, solids are separated from the liquids before they go to saccharification. Inhibitors may stay in the liquid portion, which may or may not be added back to the downstream conversion process based on the sugar concentration in the aqueous phase.

Related Papers, Articles, and Presentations

Scale-Up and Evaluation of High Solids Ionic Liquid Pretreatment and Hydrolysis of Switchgrass

Scale-Up and Evaluation of High Solids Ionic Liquid Pretreatment and Hydrolysis of Switchgrass

Ionic liquid pretreatment is receiving significant attention as a potential process that enables fractionation of lignocellulosic biomass and produces high yields of fermentable sugars suitable for the production of renewable fuels. However, successful optimization and scale up of ionic liquid pretreatment involves challenges, such as high solids loading, biomass handling and transfer, washing of pretreated solids and formation of inhibitors, which are not addressed during the development stages at the small scale in a laboratory environment. As a first in the research community, the Joint BioEnergy Institute, in collaboration with the Advanced Biofuels Process Demonstration Unit, a Department of Energy funded facility that supports academic and industrial entities in scaling their novel biofuels enabling technologies, have performed benchmark studies to identify key challenges associated with ionic liquid pretreatment using 1-ethyl-3-methylimidazolium acetate and subsequent enzymatic saccharification beyond bench scale.

Properties of Biomass Pretreated with Ionic Liquid at 10L Scale

Properties of Biomass Pretreated with Ionic Liquid at 10L Scale

Ionic liquid (IL) pretreatment has proven to be an effective method of biomass depolymerization for biofuel production. Understanding the physical and chemical properties of IL pretreated biomass at scale up level is essential to obtain better insights into challenges that may occur in large scale biorefineries. Building on the milliliter scale optimization, JBEI, in collaboration with Advanced Biofuels Process Demonstration Unit (ABPDU) is taking the first step to demonstrate IL pretreatment and subsequent saccharification at high solid loadings and liter scales (10 L), with a variety of feedstocks. Here, we provide the results of our studies aimed at understanding mass balances, residual ionic liquid inhibition of enzymes, and rheological properties of IL pretreated solids recovered from 10L scale.

Scale up of Ionic Liquid Pretreatment and Enzymatic Hydrolysis

Scale up of Ionic Liquid Pretreatment and Enzymatic Hydrolysis

To access the sugars in lignocellulosic biomass, pretreatment is an essential step to deconstruct the recalcitrant plant cell wall structures and facilitate enzymatic hydrolysis of recovered cellulose. Ionic liquid (IL) pretreatment is gaining substantial attention as a potential pretreatment process that can efficiently fractionate biomass and provide clean sugar substrate for the production of ethanol and other advanced biofuels. Previous work at Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) has demonstrated at milliliter scales that IL can dissolve significant amounts of several feedstocks and produce highly digestible polysaccharides. However, a key factor in the development of economically viable lignocellulosic biofuels is to establish novel pretreatment technologies coupled with saccharification by advanced enzyme systems at process relevant scales.