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Converting solid waste to ketones

By Scott Jenkins |

Researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley, Calif.; www.lbl.gov) recently reported a process for converting various blends of cellulosic biomass and municipal solid waste (MSW) into aliphatic methyl ketones. The team used bio-derived ionic liquids to first break down the solid waste materials in a pretreatment step. Then, they followed that with a fermentation step in which genetically engineered Escherichia coli convert sugars resulting from the bio-ionic-liquid processing into ketones, which can be used as diesel fuel precursors and for fragrances and flavors.

The process yielded up to 1,145 mg/L of methyl ketones in the C11 to C17 range from biomass-MSW blends, the researchers say. “The ionic liquid-based conversion represents an efficient and more environmentally friendly process for biomass upgrading,” says Berkeley Lab researcher Ning Sun, the study’s lead author. “This opens the door to building biorefinery facilities that use diversified feedstocks to produce a range of chemicals.” The Berkeley Lab team created six blends that combined MSW items (non-recyclable paper and grass clippings) with biomass (corn stover and switchgrass), and scaled up one of these blends 30-fold. They are currently attempting to scale up the process even further, Berkeley Lab says.

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