Available Technology

Switchable Ionic Liquids for Biomass Pretreatment and Enzymatic Hydrolysis 2014-064

Industries such as biofuels and renewable chemicals have turned to ionic liquids as environmentally friendly alternatives to conventional thermo-chemical pretreatment processes, which necessitate the use of specialized equipment and high-energy inputs to break down lignocellulosic biomass derived from agricultural wastes, forest residues, and dedicated energy crops into fermentable sugars. But the costly, laborious, and energy-intensive processes associated with ionic liquids have made them impractical for industry to adopt. Researchers at Berkeley Lab have developed Switchable Ionic Liquids for Biomass Pretreatment and Enzymatic Hydrolysis, an efficient new method that switches dicarboxylic-acid-based ionic liquids to a pH range suitable for saccharification and fermentation. The new “one pot” system takes advantage of the ionization states of carboxylic acids to switch from a basic solution that pretreats biomass effectively to an acidic solution with conditions favorable for enzymes that break down polysaccharide biomass, including cellulases and other glycoside hydrolases, allowing both the efficient pretreatment of biomass and saccharification of cellulose without removing the ionic liquid. Because the Berkeley Lab technology is compatible with the key stages of biofuels production — pretreatment, enzymatic hydrolysis, and fermentation — a high conversion of biomass to fermentable sugars can be achieved. The invention enables efficient “one-pot” consolidation of pretreatment, saccharification, and fermentation unit operations, enables efficient recovery and recycle of the ionic liquid, and therefore avoids the expense associated with purchasing new ionic liquids for each pretreatment run.
Benefits: 
: - Ionic liquid does not need to be removed to saccharify cellulose after pretreatment - Efficient “one pot” pretreatment, enzymatic hydrolysis, and fermentation process
applications: 
Internal Laboratory Ref #: 
2014-064
Patent Status: 
Published PCT application PCT/US2015/058472 (publication WO/2016/070125). Available for licensing or collaborative research.
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