Miscanthus, a perennial grass, is an attractive biofuel feedstock compared with corn and poplar due to its high energy yield per hectare and low agricultural inputs such as water and soil nutrients. Recent studies have shown the three primary components of miscanthus, cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin, can be dissolved in ionic liquids (ILs) at levels approaching 20 wt%. An interesting question is then whether the cellulosic and hemicellulosic components of the dissolved miscanthus can be hydrolyzed to sugars in high yield. While acid-catalyzed hydrolysis of cellulose and hemicellulose has been studied extensively in ILs, the conversion of biomass is not as well understood. Recent literature has claimed that effective chemical conversions of biomass in ILs requires either thermochemical delignification which can destroy both hemicellulose and cellulose, or multistage processing that is inefficient and makes IL recycling energy intensive. This study investigated the acid-catalyzed hydrolysis of miscanthus dissolved in the ionic liquid 1-ethyl-3-methylimidazolium chloride ([Emim][Cl]). The effects of varying temperature, acid concentration, miscanthus concentration, and the gradual addition of water were undertaken. The similarities and differences between the rate of hydrolysis of microcrystalline cellulose (Avicel) and amorphous hemicellulose (Xylan from birchwood) compared to the cellulosic and hemicellulosic components of miscanthus were determined. The influence of miscanthus delignification on the hydrolysis rate was also explored. The present work has demonstrated that 90% biopolymer conversion from miscanthus could be achieved, with 93% selectivity to saccharine products in a single stage hydrolysis without pretreatment.
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