Newsletter April 2017

From grass to grassoline

Still think that grass is just food for horse, cows and sheep? Well, not for long! Grass can be found in almost every environmental niche on Earth and it contains complex carbohydrates, which can be converted into valuable chemicals by (bio)technological process. The potential of grass is still largely untapped due to several challenges including the inconsistent availability of grass, conversion of grass into chemicals, and their extraction.

Scientists at the Centre for Microbial Ecology and Technology (CMET), Ghent University, have developed a way to turn grass into biofuel. A process pipeline was developped to convert grass into lactic acid. To improve the biodegradability of grass, pretreatments such as extrusion and calcium hydroxide pretreatment were performed, and the efficiencies were tested through biogas production. Next, a fermentation process using mixed microbial populations was carried out to produce higher value products such as lactic acid. From here, lactic acid can serve as an intermediate chemical to produce other compounds. Lactic acid was converted into caproic acid, and caproic acid was further converted into decane via Kolbe electrolysis.

         

Lactic acid             Caproic acid                                    Decane

Decane has many uses, such as aviation fuel. Different extraction technologies for lactic acid were also tested to investigate the advantages and disadvantages for each technology. The research of each individual process unit gives a complete process pipeline for the grass biorefinery.

A PhD defense on the subject, defended by Way Cern Khor, was presented recently at UGent on March 20th,  2017.

References

Andersen et al. 2015. Biotechnol Biofuels 8:221.
Andersen et al. 2017. Front. Bioeng. Biotechnol. 5:8.
Khor et al. 2015. Bioresource Technology 176:181–188.
Khor et al. 2016. Appl Microbiol Biotechnol 100:8337-48.

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