Production and purification of crystallized levoglucosan from pyrolysis of lignocellulosic biomass
Levoglucosan has significant potential in commercial applications for the synthesis of polymers, solvents and pharmaceuticals. It is currently overlooked for commercial applications due to its high cost of synthesis and purification. We have developed a system to produce pure crystals of levoglucosan based on the fast pyrolysis of lignocellulosic biomass. A novel bio-oil recovery system concentrated levoglucosan along with other anhydrosugars, sugars and phenolic compounds in a non-aqueous “heavy ends” fraction. Liquid–liquid water extraction separated sugar-rich solubilized carbohydrates from non-soluble phenolic compounds. The solubilized carbohydrate fraction, contaminated with partially soluble phenolic monomers, was filtered through Sepabeads SP207 adsorption resin to produce clarified juice. The composition of the clarified juice on a dry basis after resin filtration and rotary evaporation was 81.2% sugars, 4.45–4.60% volatile non-sugar, 1.71% carboxylic acids and 12.5–12.6% unidentified compounds, which was sufficiently pure to crystallize the sugars by evaporation. A cold solvent rinse of the crystal mass separated and purified levoglucosan from other sugars. Levoglucosan purity was 102.5% ± 3.109% at the 99% confidence level. Techno-economic analysis of a plant pyrolyzing 250 tonne per day of pretreated biomass to produce cellulosic sugars indicated a minimum selling price (MSP) for pure levoglucosan crystals of $1333 per MT, which is less than one-tenth its current average market price. Operating hours of the plant, fermentable syrup yield and fixed capital are the most significant parameters affecting MSP.