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Environment

MOF traps molecules that gum up bioethanol production

Material selectively separates furanics from sugar solutions

by Mitch Jacoby
September 18, 2016 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 94, ISSUE 37

Credit: Chem. Commun.
Known as NU-1000, this MOF selectively traps furanic compounds such as HMF and furfural in the presence of a large excess of glucose and other sugars.

A porous metal-organic framework sorbent could boost the efficiency of ethanol production from cellulosic biomass by trapping compounds that inhibit fermentation, according to a study (Chem. Commun. 2016, DOI: 10.1039/c6cc05864g).

Woody plants and grasses hold enormous supplies of cellulose, from which ethanol can be produced via fermentation of sugars extracted from the plant materials. This route to ethanol production currently generates hundreds of millions of liters of the renewable fuel annually, a value that is expected to climb.

Extracting the sugars from biomass requires breaking down the plant material, which is notoriously recalcitrant. Biofuel manufacturers typically rely on harsh acid treatments to do that job. The process works well, but it generates aqueous sugar solutions contaminated with 5-hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) and other furanics. Those compounds are toxic to the organisms that do the fermentation and thereby limit the process efficiency. They are also tough to separate from sugar solutions: Sorbents that trap the harmful franics also tend to trap valuable sugars.

A team led by Alexander Katz of the University of California, Berkeley, may have come up with a way to overcome the separations problem. The group finds that NU-1000, a metal-organic framework compound featuring pyrene linkers, selectively traps furanics and leaves sugars alone. For example, in tests in which the glucose concentration was 300 times as great as that of HMF, NU-1000 trapped 80% of the HMF but no detectable quantity of glucose.

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Comments
Alan Batross (September 19, 2016 8:02 AM)
Surely growing plants for fuel is immoral when millions die each year for lack of food, not to mention the destruction of rain forests to clear land for palm oil growth
Jobe Deckard (September 20, 2016 3:11 PM)
You clearly do not understand the difference between corn-generated ethanol and cellulose generated ethanol (which is what is examined here). This work will actually further your eco-friendly agenda not harm it.
Richard Arndt (September 20, 2016 5:16 PM)
The goal of second generation biofuels and cellulosic ethanol in particular is to use that part of the plant -- the lignocellulosic component of the biomass -- the largest component of biomass on earth -- which cannot be used for food or as oil for food. Most lignocellulosic biomass currently goes to waste/is burned (e.g., corn stover or sugarcane bagasse). This new technology allows us to increase efficiency by synthesizing fuel from it instead, in a way that does not compete with existing food crops. If you would like to learn more about cellulosic sources for fuels and chemicals as a replacement to fossil sources and why this can make environmental sense in the long run (long run means in a way that is not affected by day-to-day fluctuations in the price of oil), please read Science 2014, 344, 1095-1096.

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