A concept for a highly integrated fractionation of lignocellulose in its main components (cellulose-pulp, soluble hemicellulose sugars and lignin) is described, based on the selective catalytic depolymerization of hemicellulose in a biphasic solvent system. This leads to an effective disentanglement of the compact lignocellulose structure, liberating and separating the main components in a single step. At mild temperatures (80–140 °C), oxalic acid catalyzes selectively the depolymerization of hemicellulose to soluble sugars in aqueous solution, whereas the more crystalline cellulose-pulp remains solid and inaccessible to the acid catalysis. In the presence of a second organic phase consisting of bio-based 2-methyltetrahydrofuran (2-MTHF), lignin is directly separated from the pulp and the soluble carbohydrates by in situextraction. The oxalic acid catalyst can be crystallized from the aqueous solution, recovered and re-used. The delignified cellulose-pulp obtained from this biphasic system can be directly subjected to enzymatic depolymerization, affording soluble oligomers and glucose at rates almost comparable to those observed for the hydrolysis of commercial microcrystalline Avicel®. Overall, the concept may offer a promising approach for an efficient and selective pre-treatment of lignocellulosic materials under mild and environmentally-friendly conditions.
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