Switchable ionic liquids based on di-carboxylic acids for one-pot conversion of biomass to an advanced biofuel†
Certain ionic liquids have recently been developed as effective solvents for biomass pretreatment, but their adoption has been limited due to availability, production costs, and inhibitory effects on conventional enzymes and microorganisms. We describe here a novel class of ionic liquids based on di-carboxylic acids that have high pretreatment efficiency and are compatible with both commercial enzyme mixtures and microbial fermentation host organisms. This system takes advantage of the two ionization states of di-carboxylic acids to switch from a basic solution that pretreats biomass effectively to an acidic solution with conditions favorable for cellulases and back again for the next round of pretreatment. Lab-scale reactions show 90% conversion of lignocellulosic biomass to fermentable sugars using commercial enzyme mixtures in a one-pot process. We then demonstrate E. coli fermentation of the resulting crude hydrolysate to produce isopentenol without removal of the ionic liquid or inhibitors prior to fermentation. This new process yields high biomass conversion and eliminates several technical and economic problems associated with current ionic liquid-based processes. Our preliminary techno-economic analysis (TEA) suggests biorefineries designed to use these switchable ILs can reduce the minimum selling price (MSP) of their biofuel by more than $1 gal−1 relative to biorefineries utilizing traditional ILs (e.g., [C2C1Im][OAc]) that have been shown to be very effective at pretreatment but inhibit downstream saccharification and fermentation processes, requiring extensive washing of the pretreated biomass.