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Identification and thermochemical analysis of high-lignin feedstocks for biofuel and biochemical production

Venugopal Mendu1, Anne E Harman-Ware2, Mark Crocker2, Jungho Jae3, Jozsef Stork1, Samuel Morton2, Andrew Placido2, George Huber3 and Seth DeBolt1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Horticulture, University of Kentucky, 1100 Nicholasville Road, Lexington, KY 40546, USA

2 Center for Applied Energy Research, University of Kentucky, 2540 Research Park Drive, Lexington, KY 40511, USA

3 Department of Chemical Engineering, University of Massachusetts, 686 North Pleasant Street, Amherst, MA 01003, USA

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Biotechnology for Biofuels 2011, 4:43  doi:10.1186/1754-6834-4-43

Published: 21 October 2011

Abstract

Background

Lignin is a highly abundant biopolymer synthesized by plants as a complex component of plant secondary cell walls. Efforts to utilize lignin-based bioproducts are needed.

Results

Herein we identify and characterize the composition and pyrolytic deconstruction characteristics of high-lignin feedstocks. Feedstocks displaying the highest levels of lignin were identified as drupe endocarp biomass arising as agricultural waste from horticultural crops. By performing pyrolysis coupled to gas chromatography-mass spectrometry, we characterized lignin-derived deconstruction products from endocarp biomass and compared these with switchgrass. By comparing individual pyrolytic products, we document higher amounts of acetic acid, 1-hydroxy-2-propanone, acetone and furfural in switchgrass compared to endocarp tissue, which is consistent with high holocellulose relative to lignin. By contrast, greater yields of lignin-based pyrolytic products such as phenol, 2-methoxyphenol, 2-methylphenol, 2-methoxy-4-methylphenol and 4-ethyl-2-methoxyphenol arising from drupe endocarp tissue are documented.

Conclusions

Differences in product yield, thermal decomposition rates and molecular species distribution among the feedstocks illustrate the potential of high-lignin endocarp feedstocks to generate valuable chemicals by thermochemical deconstruction.

Keywords:
biofuels; catalytic fast pyrolysis; bio-oil; lignocellulose; endocarp; bioenergy