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Solid-catalyst method for breaking down cellulosic biomass cuts costs

By Scott Jenkins |

Fermenting sugar is at the heart of many bio-based chemical and biofuel processes, but obtaining sugars from cellulosic biomass at low cost is an ongoing challenge. A new process using a reusable solid catalyst is capable of breaking down a wide range of waste biomass into fermentable sugars at costs lower than deriving sugar from corn or sugarcane. Midori Renewables (Cambridge, Mass.; www.midorirenewables.com), a Flagship VentureLabs company, has developed a biomass-to-sugar process that depends on a polymer catalyst functionalized with ionic species. Consisting of spherical polymers with specially designed functional groups on the surface, the catalyst enables reactions similar to those that break down cellulose biologically, but does not require enzymes, mineral acids or microorganisms. “We looked at a large number of approaches to breaking down cellulosic biomass, and found that the solid catalyst approach was underexplored and underdeveloped,” explains Midori’s founder and Chairman Brian Baynes. The company is now able to produce ton-scale amounts of the reusable catalyst and 50–100 kg/h of sugar at its pilot sites. The conversion process works by using low-grade steam to heat a pre-mixed reaction chamber…
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