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New one-pot process for catalytic conversion of cellulosic biomass

Researchers at Concordia University (Canada) have developed a new one-pot system for the catalytic conversion of cellulosic biomass into alkyl levulinates and other esters and subsequent product extraction. The obtained liquid fractions (light and heavy fractions) could be used, after drying and removal of unused alcohol, for blending into gasoline or diesel/biodiesel.

The team used two different conversion procedures: ethanolysis (direct acid-catalyzed conversion in ethanol medium) and a sequential procedure, the latter consisting of acid hydrolysis followed by the esterification of resulting acids with ethanol.

Using wood residues as raw material, the yields in ethyl levulinate and other by-products—with the only exception of diethyl ether (DEE)—were similar for both procedures. The incorporation of some H-USY zeolite could significantly decrease the yield of DEE in the ethanolysis procedure.

Reported results obtained with some other biomass feedstocks (particularly, switch grass) showed a good relationship between the product levulinate yield and the cellulose content of the raw material.

The product extraction was carried out by a distillation technique that combines a temperature programmed heating with a vacuum level-programmed evacuation (technique of mild vacuum-assisted distillation, MVAD).


  • R. Le Van Mao, Q. Zhao, G. Dima and D. Petraccone (2010) New Process for the Acid-Catalyzed Conversion of Cellulosic Biomass (AC3B) into Alkyl Levulinates and Other Esters Using a Unique One-Pot System of Reaction and Product Extraction. Catalysis Letters. doi: 10.1007/s10562-010-0493-y



Any info on conversion efficiency and cost?


What HarveyD said.


Syntec has gotten over 100 gallons per dry ton of biomass.

If a dry ton of biomass sells for $40, they can make a gallon of biofuel for $1.


Hay, the lowest profit item a farmer will grow sells from $51 to $201 a ton, NOT INCLUDING FREIGHT. Yeap, biomass is bulky. Note that hay is sold dry.

So you know Syntec will have to sell the fuel for a bit more. This is the issue with cellulosic biomass, it is low density and expensive to transport and store in the required amounts.


Assuming 2010 peak oil and continued increasing BRIC demand, sustainable $4/gal gas would be a bargain in 2015.


This is why you put the cellulose biofuel plants close to the source of biomass, to cut down on transportation. Once you make the fuel, you can truck, rail or pipe it to the destination.


Hay is a fairly high-value agricultural product. It is cut green to capture protein and other nutrients.

Protein is wasted in most biofuel production. Everything is aimed at converting lignocellulose. Feedstocks like wheat and rice straw, corn stalks, chipped green waste, sawdust... that's the target.

A one-pot process may be cheap and simple enough to use in many small plants close to materials sources. One at the landfill making fuel instead of compost, a few per county taking straw or stover that would otherwise have to be burned... that's more like it. Not a panacea, but worthwhile.


I would like to go to a gas station and the pump asks how much biofuel I want blended. It can be 10% to 85% depending on what car I have. The price is posted and I fill the tank...simple.

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