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Department receives grant to evaluate the production of eco-friendly surfactants from biofuel manufacturing side streams


Oct. 4, 2016 –  

By Maren Roman

A team of researchers, led by Prof. Maren Roman, of the Virginia Tech Department of Sustainable Biomaterials, and including Prof. Joseph Bozell, of The University of Tennessee’s Center for Renewable Carbon, and Dr. Edward Bilek, of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Products Laboratory, was recently awarded a grant by the Southeastern Sun Grant Center to explore the potential technological and economic benefits of the production of high-value surfactants from biofuel manufacturing side streams.

Biofuels and biobased chemicals are produced in so-called biorefineries. To achieve commercial viability, biorefineries have to follow the model of the petrochemical industry by integrating the production of low value fuel with that of high-value chemicals derived from each of the primary components of plant biomass (cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin). The project will assess whether the hemicellulose fractions of switchgrass and hardwoods, obtained by an innovative solvent-based biomass fractionation process at the Center for Renewable Carbon, can be converted into eco-friendly surfactants using a chemical process developed at Virginia Tech and evaluated for economic viability by the Forest Products Laboratory.

The specific objectives of the project are to optimize the fractionation process for most desirable hemicellulose hydrolyzate composition while maintaining a high cellulose yield,  develop a process for the production of eco-friendly surfactants from the hemicellulose hydrolyzates, determine the properties of the surfactants and identify potential applications, and determine the economics of the conversion process and economic benefits for an integrated biorefinery (producing bioethanol from the cellulose fraction).


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