(560e) Supercritical Water Hydrolysis of Biomass

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Enablement of the biobased industry requires access to high volume, low cost sugars, from a wide variety of biomasses. Today’s biobased chemical and fuel industries have been prevented from achieving significant market penetration, not because of gaps in the technology required, but because of economics. Traditional sugar sources, like corn and cane, are expensive feedstocks for producing relatively low value, high volume products like fuels and chemicals. The traditional second generation technologies (acid, enzymes, and solvents) that were designed to extract these low value cellulosic sugars lack the practical economics to even compete with first generation sugars, let alone traditional petrochemical sources; in fact, conventional cellulosic technologies are significantly more expensive. This reality has severely limited market adoption and integration of cellulosics. The use of supercritical water to deconstruct biomass, provides significantly cost‐advantaged cellulosic sugars by using primarily water.
In this presentation we will present data from a continuous pilot plant located at the University of Valladolid, Spain, capable of continuously working up to 400ºC and 30 MPa with residence times from milliseconds up to forty seconds for carrying out supercritical water hydrolysis. The kinetics of cellulose decomposition and its dependence on temperature, pressure, concentration and residence time will be discussed. We will address the properties of supercritical water that are influenced or “tunable” with temperature and pressure affecting the reactions. The use of supercritical water hydrolysis enables the depolymerization reactions to occur very fast relative to unwanted glucose decomposition. Also, cellulose depolymerization rate constants using supercritical hydrolysis can be up to 7 orders of magnitude faster compared to reactions occurring at 150 oC. Consequently the reactor size to carry out the hydrolysis can be reduced significantly. The study shows that cellulose can be hydrolyzed to soluble sugars with a selectivity of 98% on carbon basis and, using natural biomass produces yields > 75% with the co-product being lignin.
Finally, we will show the realization of this concept in a much larger scale by introducing Renmatix, Inc.’s Plantrose™ process for converting biomass to sugars. To date, no research has been reported using biomass at scales Renmatix has realized, and none have been as successful in reaching the conversion efficiencies and cost advantage that the Renmatix team has accomplished. The presentation will highlight the Plantrose™ Process, the state of the art R&D laboratories and conversion equipment at its headquarters in King of Prussia, PA, and the recently expanded Integrated Plantrose Complex (IPC) operations facility in Kennesaw, capable of converting 3 TPD (bone dry) biomass to sugars.

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