In the biochemical conversion of lignocellulosic biomass to biofuels, the process of pretreatment is currently one of the most difficult and expensive operations. The use of ionic liquids (ILs) in biomass pretreatment has received considerable attention recently because of their effectiveness at decreasing biomass recalcitrance to subsequent enzymatic hydrolysis. In addition, ILs have the potential for decreasing the need for corrosive or toxic chemicals and associated waste streams that can be generated by other pretreatment methods that utilize acids and/or bases. In this article, we address two significant challenges to the realization of a practical IL pretreatment process. First, we describe a mixture containing specific proportions of a ketone and an alcohol that precipitates cellulose and lignocellulosic biomass from solutions of the IL 1-ethyl-3-methylimidazolium acetate without the formation of intermediate gel phases. Second, an IL recovery process is described that removes lignin and most residual IL solutes and that minimizes energy and solvent use. These two techniques are demonstrated by the pretreatment of 100 g of corn stover with the recovery of 89% of the initial IL and separate corn stover fractions rich in glucans, xylans, lignin, and non-polar substances. These results highlight one potential approach towards the realization of a scalable ionic liquid pretreatment process technology that enables ionic liquid recovery and reuse.
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