Centrifugal fractionation of softwood extracts improves the biorefinery workflow and yields functional emulsifiers†
With the emerging bio-based technologies, the fractionation of complex biomass is essential to obtain value-added functional molecules for material, chemical, and energy production. Softwood extracts obtained through environmentally friendly pressurized hot water extraction are heterogeneous mixtures rich in hemicelluloses and lignin. Here we developed a simple, fast, organic solvent-free, and sustainable method to fractionate softwood extracts using centrifugal forces. The characteristics of each obtained fraction in terms of composition, macromolecular properties (particle size, molar mass, charge), interfacial activity, and stabilization capacity were highly dependent on the centrifugal force and time applied. The hemicellulose and lignin contents in the fractions were balanced by centrifugal forces to obtain functional emulsifiers that efficiently stabilized the oil/water interface. Through fractionation of softwood extracts, we also found that both the hemicelluloses and lignin particles are involved in emulsion interface formation and stabilization. We demonstrated that centrifugation at low centrifugal forces (<20 000g) can effectively separate softwood extracts into hemicellulose-rich and lignin-rich fractions. Organic-solvent free centrifugation is a scalable concept that can be feasibly and easily introduced into the biorefinery system and used to optimize the composition of biomass fractions for targeted purposes, reducing at the same time biorefineries’ environmental impact.