Combined production of fuels and chemicals from wood This project examines an innovative approach for pre-treating wood in order to produce fuels and chemicals. In this approach, the researchers combine hot water treatment with so-called radical scavengers.

Lay summary

Biofuels from wood have economic and ecological advantages as compared to fuels from corn starch and sugar cane (costs, availability, no conflict with food production). However, it is much more difficult to transform wood into biofuels. This is because the components of wood—cellulose, hemicelluloses and lignin—are strongly interwoven to protect the plant against external forces, in particular. In the production of biofuels, this impedes the enzymatic degradation of cellulose and lignocellulose into their respective sugars, which can subsequently be fermented to produce, for example, bio-ethanol. Therefore, it is necessary to pre-treat the wood in order to break up its structure and improve the enzymatic access.

One possible treatment of biomass would be to dissolve it in hot water, but this is hampered by cross-linking reactions of emerging lignin fragments. So-called "radical scavengers" can stop these undesired reactions and make the wood much more soluble. This procedure is aimed at achieving, on the one hand, a cellulose fraction with improved enzymatic access and, on the other hand, a high-quality lignin fraction. The latter serves as a starting material for the production of aromatic chemicals.

The examined approach is aimed at producing fuels and aromatic chemicals which are today still gained from petrochemical resources. This opens up new avenues for gradually replacing fossil oil with biomass.