Producing Oligosaccharides from Biomass to Buy Down the Cost of Producing Biofuels
Converting biomass to biofuels and bio-based chemicals using efficient, sustainable, environmentally benign, and economical production methods has proven to be economically challenging. Biomass generally needs to be broken down and separated into its various components, however, biomass is highly recalcitrant and separation has proven difficult. CleanVantage, LLC (CV) has developed our patented BioChemCat (BCC) process, a feedstock agnostic approach that requires no external enzymes to produce VFAs as platform molecules which can be upgraded to produce drop-in biofuels. In the BCC all non-converted parts are converted into methane and solid fuel. Recent innovations have shown that the BCC process can, in addition to producing drop-in fuels and biochemicals, be used to produce high value C5 sugars .in the form of high value C5 oligomers (xylo-oligosaccharides or XOs) from the hemicellulose fraction of biomass. These XOs can be marketed as a high-value functional food product. Including the production of XOs to the production of VFAs from the cellulose, lignin and monomeric sugar fractions of the biomass makes the overall production of drop-in fuels and chemicals economically feasible as the XOs will have a high market price offsetting major parts of the production cost. The key to capitalizing on this opportunity is to: 1. Research and develop the process engineering and scale-up issues for producing, separating and recovering XOs using our pilot scale pretreatment reactor systems and membrane separation systems on different agricultural and forest product residues as feedstocks, 2. Examine and characterize the XOs products produced with different feedstock raw materials, and 3. Develop techno-economic (TEA) and life-cycle analyses (LCA) of the viability of the BCC process, with and without XOs production. XOs are short chain polymers made by the hydrolysis of xylan. These compounds hold an important place in the food industry, as they have a prebiotic effect, stimulating the growth of healthy microflora in the gut. Unfortunately, current methods of enzymatic production have low yields, making the xylo-oligosaccharides too expensive for use in most foods. Recent development using a tailored pretreatment process has, however, shown that pretreatment can be used to produce XOs from the hemicellulose fraction while passing the rest of the biomass into the traditional BCC process for producing VFAs. Recovery of XOs will demand that a two-step separation process is applied recovering XOs while leaving fibers materials, monomeric sugars and acetic acids behind. The market for XOs in the US is estimated at $20-$30 billion in 2009, and XOs have a value of $4-25/kg, depending on type, quality and purity. In addition, the research will shed light on the major challenges in separating the solid and liquid phases of biomass after pretreatment as well as separating out monomeric sugars from oligomers of which little is currently know. The BCC process is feedstock agnostic, modular and highly scalable and producing a high-value food product besides the biofuels has the potential for reshaping the game.
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