(276a) Tuning Ionic Liquids for Low Cost: Applications in Lignocellulose Deconstruction

Authors: 
Hallett, J. P., Imperial College
Ionic liquids (ILs) have proven to be highly tunable â??designer solventsâ?? capable of a wide range of exciting chemistries. However, industrial application at large scale is hampered by high solvent cost. This cost is, however, a tunable feature of the solvent itself â?? provided the ion selection is handled with a careful eye aimed at limiting synthetic complexity. Lowering the solvent cost will increase the attractive opportunities of ILs for bulk processing of lower cost end products â?? including such applications as biofuels.
One of the key challenges in biorefining is the initial separation or deconstruction of lignocellulosic feedstock into separate components. ILs offer unique advantages in this area, due to their unusual thermochemical properties. However, there are serious concerns about the economic viability of their use due to the very high cost of most ionic liquids (> $50/kg).
We have overcome this by redesigning the IL based deconstruction process to use low-cost, acidic ILs for lignin dissolution rather than cellulose dissolution, yielding filterable cellulose and a dissolved lignin for precipitation or conversion to high-value chemicals. We have found that processability of the cellulose is high and lignin recoveries near quantitative.

We use a range of â??proticâ?? ILs, the family typically used in IL industrial processes, because their simple acid-base chemistry results in a simple and cheap synthesis, with a cost (< $1/kg) similar to common organic solvents such as acetone or toluene. This presentation will discuss how ionic liquids can be â??tunedâ?? to control cost structure of the final solvent, and what implications this will have for the chemical processes involved. The impact of the solvent on large-scale applications, such as biomass pretreatment, will be discussed, with a focus on performance and process considerations such as how the ILs maintain solvent stability under long-term processing conditions, that they can be recovered and continue to exhibit very good performance after multiple reuses. These properties highlight that the ILs have the flexibility to be useful for a variety of downstream chemical processing techniques, and for use in other applications as well.