Our process is a novel pretreatment technology which uses alkali in a mixture of alcohol and water which, when applied to cellulose, creates partial disorder at the nano-scale. Simultaneously, the pretreatment solution, which contains sodium hydroxide in a cosolvent of ethanol and water, can extract the vast majority of non-polymeric substances within the biomass. Among these are some of the lignins, which inhibit the action of enzymes used for conversion to monosaccharides. Together these transformations lead to rates of conversion that are an order of magnitude higher than those of biomass pretreated by common high temperature processes.
The process is unique in that it requires no heat, and no pressure. This makes the Cellulose Sciences process an energy efficient and low cost method for the conversion of biomass to simple sugars and higher value phytochemicals.
Since the process works at ambient conditions, it offers substantially lower capital expense than competing processes. Large boilers, pressure vessels and acid-resistant alloys are not necessary for our process. Since the process does not require heat, it also offers substantial savings in energy costs.
Our biomass treatment affects the cellulose within the biomass. By disrupting the "crystalline" matrix of the cellulose, it becomes more open to penetration by larger molecules, such as enzymes.
The diagram at right shows a very simplified representation of nanoporous cellulose at the molecular level.
The resulting "Nanoporous Cellulose" is readily converted to simple sugars by commercial enzymes. Because of the mild conditions, the resulting hydrolysate is free of fermentation inhibitors created by processes that use more severe conditions to break down biomass.
The phytochemicals can be recovered from the pretreatment solution and the washing cosolvent as well as subsequent aqueous washes.
The Cellulose Sciences process has already been demonstrated on corn stover, sugarcane bagasse, switchgrass, and hardwoods. We are currently in the planning stages for a pilot plant. Shown below is a simplified diagram of the process as applied to biomass.