North Carolina State University is seeking an industry partner to commercialize a novel method for the ionic liquid based pretreatment of lignocellulosic materials for biofuel production. US Patent No. 8182557 has issued on this technology.Ethanol is gaining in popularity as an alternative fuel and is currently primarily made from the starch in kernels of field corn. However the use of corn as a starting material is a severe limitation since corn is a valuable food source. Cellulosic biomass produced from low cost substainable and renewable feedstocks would provide a great opportunity for the commercial production of bioethanol. Processing of lignocellulosic materials to ethanol consists of four major unit operations: pretreatment hydrolysis fermentation and product separation/purification. Current methods of pretreatment of lignocellulosics include dilute acid treatment and ammonia fiber explosion. Pretreatment is one of the most technically challenging processing steps due to the difficulty in successfully preparing the lignoncellulosic matrices for the addition of hydrolytic enzymes.Researchers at NCSU have developed a novel technique that will overcome the pretreatment hurdle in biological hydrolysis of lignocellulosic biomass. This innovative technique utilizes the dissolution of wood or lignocellulosic materials in ionic liquid media. This pretreatment disrupts the physical and chemical barriers of the cell walls so that hydrolytic enzymes can more effectively access the biomass macrostructure. This is anticipated to significantly reduce feedstock degradation as well as the amount of enzyme needed resulting in decreased cost. The success of this invention will significantly reduce the overall costs of biofuel production from biomass which would bring invaluable economic and societal benefits.
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