Demonstration of an efficient biomass to sugars transformation process by ultrafast reactor in supercritical water
Biomass is known to be an abundant and renewable resource of carbon which has the potential to produce energy, chemicals and biofuels for the future sustainable industries. The FastSugars Project responds to the challenge of developing a selective technology to transform biomass into chemicals.
In a previous project it was demonstrated that complete cellulose conversion into sugars and oligosaccharides could be achieved. Cellulose was converted using supercritical water as hydrolysis medium and operating with ultrafast reactors with residence times of milliseconds, in a laboratory pilot scale. The main outcome of this project was the high selectivity achieved, based on the fast solution of cellulose in supercritical water. The hydrolysis of cellulose occurs with reaction times of milliseconds, whereas the transformation of sugars into derived products needs residence times of seconds. Therefore, the selective production of sugars can be controlled by controlling the residence time. This fact was also validated working with real biomass (wheat bran), giving as a result a high recovery of cellulose and hemicellulose derived sugars, with a residence time of 0.2 seconds.
Once the key to selectively transform the biomass into sugars via supercritical water hydrolysis was found, the FastSugars Project proposes now the scale up of this laboratory pilot plant with the construction of a demonstration plant operating with agro-food biomass for conversion into sugars and chemicals. To do so, the first step will be the design, construction and operation of a demonstration plant with a treatment capacity of 30 kg/h and residence time of milliseconds using supercritical water. Once this demonstration plant is fully operational, different biomass will be hydrolyzed to obtain sugars and added value products such as lactic acid. Currently, we are carrying out experiments with real biomasses in the pilot plant to collect valuable results that will be used in the scale up of the process.