A comprehensive mechanistic kinetic model for dilute acid hydrolysis of switchgrass cellulose to glucose, 5-HMF and levulinic acid
Switchgrass was treated by 1% (w/w) H2SO4 in batch tube reactors at temperatures ranging from 140–220 °C for up to 60 minutes. In this study, release patterns of glucose, 5-hydroxymethylfurfural (5-HMF), and levulinic acid from switchgrass cellulose were investigated through a mechanistic kinetic model. The predictions were consistent with the measured products of interest when new parameters reflecting the effects of reaction limitations, such as cellulose crystallinity, acid soluble lignin–glucose complex (ASL–glucose) and humins that cannot be quantitatively analyzed, were included. The new mechanistic kinetic model incorporating these parameters simulated the experimental data with R2 above 0.97. Results showed that glucose yield was most sensitive to variations in the parameter regarding the cellulose crystallinity at low temperatures (140–180 °C), while the impact of crystallinity on the glucose yield became imperceptible at elevated temperatures (200–220 °C). Parameters related to the undesired products (e.g. ASL–glucose and humins) were the most sensitive factors compared with rate constants and other additional parameters in impacting the levulinic acid yield at elevated temperatures (200–220 °C), while their impacts were negligible at 140–180 °C. These new findings provide a more rational explanation for the kinetic changes in dilute acid pretreatment performance and suggest that the influences of cellulose crystallinity and undesired products including ASL–glucose and humins play key roles in determining the generation of glucose, 5-HMF and levulinic acid from biomass-derived cellulose.