Continuous production of sugars from pyrolysis of acid-infused lignocellulosic biomass†
Although pyrolysis of carbohydrate-rich biomass should theoretically yield large amounts of sugar, the presence of alkali and alkaline earth metals (AAEMs) in most biomass prevents this from happening. Even in small amounts, AAEM strongly catalyzes the fragmentation of holocellulose to light oxygenates compared to the thermally-induced breaking of glycosidic bonds that yield anhydrosugars. The concept of AAEM passivation, by which the catalytic activity of AAEMs can be suppressed to enhance thermal depolymerization of lignocellulose to sugars, has been previously established at the microgram scale using batch reactors. The feasibility of increasing sugar yield via AAEM passivation has not been previously demonstrated at the kilogram scale in a continuous flow reactor. The goal of this research is to demonstrate the enhanced production of sugars from AAEM passivated feedstocks in a continuous auger pyrolyzer at the kilogram scale. Alkali and alkaline earth metal passivation prior to pyrolysis increased total sugars from red oak by 105% compared to conventional pyrolysis, increasing from 7.8 wt% to 15.9 wt% of feedstock. Light oxygenates and non-condensable gases (NCGs) simultaneously decreased 45%, from 27.1 wt% to 14.7 wt% of feedstock as a result of AAEM passivation. Similarly, AAEM passivation of switchgrass increased total sugars by 259%, from 4.5 wt% to 16.2 wt% of feedstock, while the light oxygenates and NCGs decreased by 48%, from 20.0 wt% to 10.5 wt% of feedstock. An undesirable outcome of AAEM passivation was an increase in char production, increasing by 65% and 30% for pyrolysis of red oak and switchgrass, respectively. Loss of lignin-derived phenolic compounds from the bio-oil can explain 67% and 38% of the increase in char for red oak and switchgrass, respectively. The remaining 33% char increase for red oak (3.1 wt% char) and 62% char increase for switchgrass (4.0 wt% char) appear to be from carbonization of sugars released during pyrolysis of acid-infused biomass.