Enhancing biomass utilization for fuel, chemicals, and composite materials production

Cellulosic biomass provides an abundant renewable feedstock that can be used for the production of valuable products such as polymers, chemicals, and fuels.

Photo

For the preparation of high added value materials such as fi bers, films, and composites, molecular-level dissolution of cellulose is preferred. Few known solvent systems can directly dissolve cellulose, and those that do involve rather exotic chemicals and strict operating conditions. A major barrier to the solubility of cellulose is its recalcitrance which originates from a partial crystalline structure and extended noncovalent interactions. However, the mechanism of solvent penetration into the micron-diameter cellulose fibers is not well understood. UB Distinguished Professor Paschalis Alexandridis, Associate Professor Marina Tsianou, and Ph.D. student Mohammad Ghasemi addressed these open questions in a number of manuscripts recently submitted for publication and in invited lectures at the National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (San Diego, CA, March 2016).

By developing a phenomenological model that captures the phenomena governing the dissolution of semicrystalline polymers as well as the thermodynamics and kinetics of dissolution, they gained insights into the swelling and dissolution of semicrystalline cellulose. Their model takes into account the complex and heterogeneous structure of cellulosic fibers and fits experimental data well, thus providing a microscopic description of macroscopic experimental information. 

Schematic of cellulose dissolution process