Cellulose Essay

657 words - 3 pages

Cellulose is the most globally abundant biopolymer, accounting for 1.5x1012 tonnes of
annually available biomass. [1] As such, there has been considerable interest in recent
years in the development of new technologies for the utilization of cellulose as a
feedstock for the production of fine chemicals [2-5] and hydrogen.[6-10] Amongst these
technologies, hydrothermal conversion is of growing interest since pre-drying of
feedstocks are avoided and the water gas shift can be performed in situ using platinum
group metal catalysts. Furthermore, the unique properties of hot compressed water can be
tuned to control decomposition pathways.
Upon hydrolysis to glucose, the decomposition of cellulose in hot compressed water
is known to follow the same path of glucose decomposition, forming a large number of
organic acids, aldehydes, ketones, furfurals, and phenolic structures as intermediates. [11-
13] Kabyemela et al., have investigated the kinetics of the decomposition of glucose, the
monomer of cellulose, in subcritical water at short residence times and proposed basic
non-catalytic pathways for its initial decomposition as presented in Figure 1. These
pathways have formed the backbone of current understanding on the decomposition of
cellulosic biomass in hot compressed water thus far. While it is known that gas products
originate from short chain aldehydes and acids [12], which acid/aldehydes the gas is
primarily produced from, and through which intermediates is of great interest. More work
is required on understanding which pathways contribute to the gas formation. Since each
chemical intermediate has a different rate of gasification, understanding which pathways
generate more easily gasified intermediates is an important research goal. These
pathways are quite sensitive to solution pH. For example, it is well known that under
acidic conditions, furfural alcohol (HMF) becomes a major intermediate, while under
basic conditions HMF formation is suppressed and organic acids such as lactic and acetic
become more dominant. [14] In addition, solution pH is known to not only affect the
decomposition to initial intermediates, but also affects the decomposition pathways of
these intermediates. For example, under acidic conditions, decarbonylation of lactic acid
to acetaldehyde is preferred whereas its dehydration to acrylic acid is favoured under
basic conditions. [15]

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