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Journal: ACS sustainable chemistry & engineering


Abundant lignocellulosic biomass could become a source of sugars and lignin, potential feedstocks for the now emergent bio-renewable economy. The production and conversion of sugars from biomass have been well-studied, but far less is known about the production of lignin that is amenable to valorization. Here we report the isolation of lignin generated from the hydrolysis of biomass dissolved in the ionic liquid 1-butyl-3-methylimidazolium chloride. We show that lignin can be isolated from the hydrolysate slurry by simple filtration or centrifugation, and that the ionic liquid can be recovered quantitatively by a straightforward wash with water. The isolated lignin is not only free from ionic liquid, but also lacks cellulosic residues and is substantially depolymerized, making it a promising feedstock for valorization by conversion into fuels and chemicals.

Concepts: Scientific method, Water, Ionic liquid, Cellulose, Maize, Social sciences, 1-Butyl-3-methylimidazolium hexafluorophosphate, Ionic liquids


The depolymerization of lignin to bioaromatics usually requires a hydrodeoxygenation (HDO) step to lower the oxygen content. A mixed Cu-Mg-Al oxide (CuMgAlO x ) is an effective catalyst for the depolymerization of lignin in supercritical ethanol. We explored the use of Ni-based cocatalysts, i.e. Ni/SiO2, Ni2P/SiO2, and Ni/ASA (ASA = amorphous silica alumina), with the aim of combining lignin depolymerization and HDO in a single reaction step. While the silica-supported catalysts were themselves hardly active in lignin upgrading, Ni/ASA displayed comparable lignin monomer yield as CuMgAlO x . A drawback of using an acidic support is extensive dehydration of the ethanol solvent. Instead, combining CuMgAlO x with Ni/SiO2 and especially Ni2P/SiO2 proved to be effective in increasing the lignin monomer yield, while at the same time reducing the oxygen content of the products. With Ni2P/SiO2, the lignin monomer yield was 53 wt %, leading to nearly complete deoxygenation of the aromatic products.

Concepts: Oxygen, Carbon dioxide, Hydrogen, Ethanol, Nitrogen, Aluminium, Oxide, Silicon dioxide


The one-step ethanolysis approach to upgrade lignin to monomeric aromatics using a CuMgAl mixed oxide catalyst is studied in detail. The influence of reaction temperature (200-420 °C) on the product distribution is investigated. At low temperature (200-250 °C), recondensation is dominant, while char-forming reactions become significant at high reaction temperature (>380 °C). At preferred intermediate temperatures (300-340 °C), char-forming reactions are effectively suppressed by alkylation and Guerbet and esterification reactions. This shifts the reaction toward depolymerization, explaining high monomeric aromatics yield. Carbon-14 dating analysis of the lignin residue revealed that a substantial amount of the carbon in the lignin residue originates from reactions of lignin with ethanol. Recycling tests show that the activity of the regenerated catalyst was strongly decreased due to a loss of basic sites due to hydrolysis of the MgO function and a loss of surface area due to spinel oxide formation of the Cu and Al components. The utility of this one-step approach for upgrading woody biomass was also demonstrated. An important observation is that conversion of the native lignin contained in the lignocellulosic matrix is much easier than the conversion of technical lignin.

Concepts: Oxygen, Carbon dioxide, Enzyme, Chemical reaction, Hydrogen, Catalysis, Nitrogen, Carbon


Separation of volatile fatty acids (VFAs) from fermented wastewater is challenging, due to low VFA concentrations in mineral-rich streams. As a result, separation capacity and selectivity with traditional solvents and adsorbents are both compromised. In this study, using a complex artificial model solution mimicking real fermented wastewaters, it is shown that a simple and robust adsorption-based separation technique can retain a remarkable capacity and selectivity for VFAs. Four types of polystyrene-divinylbenzene-based resins (primary, secondary, and tertiary amine-functionalized, and nonfunctionalized) were examined as the adsorbents. The presence of chloride, sulfate, and phosphate salts resulted in coadsorption of their acidic forms HCl, H2SO4, and H3PO4 on amine-functionalized adsorbents, and severely reduced the VFA capacity. With the nonfunctionalized adsorbent, almost no mineral acid coadsorption was observed. This together with a high total VFA capacity of up to 76 g/kg in equilibrium with the model solution containing a total VFA concentration of 1 wt % resulted in a very high selectivity for the VFAs. Nitrogen-stripping with various temperature profiles was applied to regenerate the adsorbent, and study the potential for fractionation of the VFAs during regeneration. Butyric acid (HBu) was obtained in mole fractions of up to 0.8 using a stepwise increase in the stripping temperature from 25 °C via 120 to 200 °C. During four successive adsorption-regeneration cycles, no reduction in the adsorption capacity was observed.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Acid, Water, Phosphoric acid, Acid dissociation constant, Chlorine, Salt, Butyric acid


Carbon monoxide-fermenting microorganisms can be used for the production of a wide range of commodity chemicals and fuels from syngas (generated by gasification of, e.g., wastes or biomass) or industrial off-gases (e.g., from steel industry). Microorganisms are normally more resistant to contaminants in the gas (e.g., hydrogen sulfide) than chemical catalysts, less expensive and self-regenerating. However, some carboxydotrophs are sensitive to high concentrations of CO, resulting in low growth rates and productivities. We hypothesize that cultivation of synthetic cocultures can be used to improve overall rates of CO bioconversion. As a case study, a thermophilic microbial coculture, consisting of Carboxydothermus hydrogenoformans and Methanothermobacter thermoautotrophicus was constructed to study the effect of cocultivation on conversion of CO-rich gases to methane. In contrast to the methanogenic monoculture, the coculture was able to efficiently utilize CO or mixtures of H2/CO/CO2 to produce methane at high efficiency and high rates. In CSTR-bioreactors operated in continuous mode, the coculture converted artificial syngas (66.6% H2:33.3% CO) to an outflow gas with a methane content of 72%, approaching the 75% theoretical maximum. CO conversion efficiencies of 93% and volumetric production rates of 4 m3methane/m3liquid/day were achieved. This case shows that microbial cocultivation can result in a significant improvement of gas-fermentation of CO-rich gases.

Concepts: Scientific method, Hydrogen, Carbon monoxide, Anaerobic digestion, Natural gas, Methane, Coal, Gasification


Nutrient and energy recovery is becoming more important for a sustainable future. Recently, we developed a hydrogen gas recycling electrochemical system (HRES) which combines a cation exchange membrane (CEM) and a gas-permeable hydrophobic membrane for ammonia recovery. This allowed for energy-efficient ammonia recovery, since hydrogen gas produced at the cathode was oxidized at the anode. Here, we successfully up-scaled and optimized this HRES for ammonia recovery. The electrode surface area was increased to 0.04 m2 to treat up to 11.5 L/day (∼46 gN/day) of synthetic urine. The system was operated stably for 108 days at current densities of 20, 50, and 100 A/m2. Compared to our previous prototype, this new cell design reduced the anode overpotential and ionic losses, while the use of an additional membrane reduced the ion transport losses. Overall, this reduced the required energy input from 56.3 kJ/gN (15.6 kW h/kgN) at 50 A/m2 (prototype) to 23.4 kJ/gN (6.5 kW h/kgN) at 100 A/m2 (this work). At 100 A/m2, an average recovery of 58% and a TAN (total ammonia nitrogen) removal rate of 598 gN/(m2 day) were obtained across the CEM. The TAN recovery was limited by TAN transport from the feed to concentrate compartment.


Divalent cations in feedwater can cause significant decreases in efficiencies for membrane processes, such as reverse electrodialysis (RED). In RED, power is harvested from the mixing of river and seawater, and the obtainable voltage is reduced and the resistance is increased if divalent cations are present. The power density of the RED process can be improved by removing divalent cations from the fresh water. Here, we study divalent cation removal from fresh water using seawater as draw solution in a Donnan dialysis (DD) process. In this way, a membrane system with neither chemicals nor electrodes but only natural salinity gradients can be used to exchange divalent cations. For DD, the permselectivity of the cation exchange membrane is found to be crucial as it determines the ability to block salt leakage (also referred to as co-ion transport). Operating DD using a membrane stack achieved a 76% reduction in the divalent cation content in natural fresh water with residence times of just a few seconds. DD pretreated fresh water was then used in a RED process, which showed improved gross and net power densities of 9.0 and 6.3%, respectively. This improvement is caused by a lower fresh water resistance (at similar open circuit voltages), due to exchange of divalent for monovalent cations.


In this work, the preparation of nanocomposites based on poly(l-lactide) PLLA and graphite nanoplatelets (GNP) was assessed by applying, for the first time, the reactive extrusion (REX) polymerization approach, which is considered a low environmental impact method to prepare polymer systems and which allows an easy scalability. In particular, ad hoc synthesized molecules, constituted by a pyrene end group and a poly(d-lactide) (PDLA) chain (Pyr-d), capable of interacting with the surface of GNP layers as well as forming stereoblocks during the ring-opening polymerization (ROP) of l-lactide, were used. The nanocomposites were synthesized by adding to l-lactide the GNP/initiator system, prepared by dispersing the graphite in the acetone/Pyr-d solution, which was dried after the sonication process. DSC and X-ray diffraction measurements evidenced the stereocomplexation of the systems synthesized by using the pyrene-based initiators, whose extent turned out to depend on the PDLA chain length. All the prepared nanocomposites, including those synthesized starting from a classical initiator, that is, 1-dodecanol, retained similar electrical conductivity, whereas the thermal conductivity was found to increase in the stereocomplexed samples. Preferential localization of stereocomplexed PLA close to the interface with GNP was demonstrated by scanning probe microscopy (SPM) techniques, supporting an important role of local crystallinity in the thermal conductivity of the nanocomposites.


The article presents the very first materials to the ultralow temperature cofired ceramic (ULTCC) technology with the sintering temperature of 400 °C. The dielectric composites are based on a rutile and anatase with commercial GO17 sealing glass. In addition to the bulk samples, the tape casting procedure is also introduced to show its feasibility to cofiring with commercial Ag electrodes at 400 °C. The structural, microstructural, thermal, and microwave dielectric properties in the green and sintered samples were investigated. The optimum amount of glass to fabricate substrates was found to be 30 vol %. The ULTCC substrates with the anatase TiO2A-30GO17 and rutile TiO2R-30GO17 that were sintered at 400 °C showed a relative permittivity of 9.9 and 15 and a dielectric loss of 0.006 and 0.003, respectively, at the measurement frequency of 9.9 GHz. The temperature dependences of the relative permittivity were +70 and -400 ppm/°C, respectively. Moreover, the coefficients of the thermal expansion of the substrates were 7.4 and 8.3 ppm/°C in the measured temperature range of 50-300 °C. A preliminary test to study the feasibility of the anatase TiO2A-30GO17 for a dual band antenna was performed due its relatively stable temperature behavior.


Efficient separation of CO2 from CO2/CH4 mixtures using membranes has economic, environmental and industrial importance. Membrane technologies are currently dominated by polymers due to their processing abilities and low manufacturing costs. However, polymeric membranes suffer from either low gas permeabilities or low selectivities. Metal organic frameworks (MOFs) are suggested as potential membrane candidates that offer both high selectivity and permeability for CO2/CH4 separation. Experimental testing of every single synthesized MOF material as membranes is not practical due to the availability of thousands of different MOF materials. A multilevel, high-throughput computational screening methodology was used to examine the MOF database for membrane-based CO2/CH4 separation. MOF membranes offering the best combination of CO2 permeability (>106 Barrer) and CO2/CH4 selectivity (>80) were identified by combining grand canonical Monte Carlo and molecular dynamics simulations. Results revealed that the best MOF membranes are located above the Robeson’s upper bound indicating that they outperform polymeric membranes for CO2/CH4 separation. The impact of framework flexibility on the membrane properties of the selected top MOFs was studied by comparing the results of rigid and flexible molecular simulations. Relations between structures and performances of MOFs were also investigated to provide atomic-level insights into the design of novel MOFs which will be useful for CO2/CH4 separation processes. We also predicted permeabilities and selectivities of the mixed matrix membranes (MMM) in which the best MOF candidates are incorporated as filler particles into polymers and found that MOF-based MMMs have significantly higher CO2 permeabilities and moderately higher selectivities than pure polymers.