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Improved Method of Producing Furfural from Biomass

Published by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, St. Joseph, Michigan

Citation:  2012 Dallas, Texas, July 29 - August 1, 2012  121337810.(doi:10.13031/2013.41836)
Authors:   Anurag Sheetal Mandalika, Troy Michael Runge
Keywords:   Furfural, Biorefinery, Hydrolysis, Pentosan, Hexosan, Batch Reactive Distillation

The pentose fraction of biomass is an ideal candidate for utilization in biorefineries to produce fuels, energy and materials. The 5- Carbon sugars are difficult to ferment in ethanol plants and are easily hydrolyzed, making them susceptible to loss in processes such as pulp production. Additionally, the pentoses are fairly reactive, enabling their extraction from biomass and conversion into furans and organic acids. This work evaluates a novel process of creating furfural, a useful platform chemical, from biomass and compares its viability to other methods. Our process fractionates biomass into a hexosan- rich stream for producing paper and a pentosan- rich liquid stream. The latter is converted into furfural, catalyzed by sulfuric acid, followed by the vapor phase separation of furfural. Conventional batch furfural production process is characterized by high losses due to the formation of resinous substances called humins leading to theoretical yields of around 50%. Our new process, in which both biomass separation and furfural separation strategies are used, creates both higher yield of furfural, in excess of 80%, and also creates a hexosan- rich stream that can be used to create high- value products such as ethanol or pulp. The condensation of the furfural/ water vapors produces a very pure, but dilute furfural product, providing the possibility of converting it to other products such as furfuryl alcohol, by biological conversion. These results indicate that there exists enormous potential for the conversion of pulp mills into integrated biorefineries that produce one or more value- added byproducts.

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