Recovery of low molecular weight compounds from alkaline pretreatment liquor via membrane separations†
Lignin is an abundant renewable resource that is a promising substrate for upgrading to fuels and chemicals. However, lignin-rich biorefinery streams are often physically and chemically complex, and could benefit substantially from fractionation. In this work, a membrane process was developed to fractionate low molecular weight (LMW) lignin-related compounds (molecular weight (MW) < 1000 Da) from a lignin-rich, alkaline pretreated liquor (APL) prepared from pretreatment of corn stover with NaOH. The developed membrane process exhibits up to 98.5% rejection of high molecular weight (HMW) (MW > 1000 Da) species and generates a permeate stream with >80% recovery of LMW lignin-related compounds including aromatic species such as p-coumarate and ferulate, resulting in a 6-fold enrichment in LMW organic compounds relative to the crude APL. Experimental batch data were used to develop a detailed process model of an industrial scale, continuous membrane filtration system. The open-source model has several independent process inputs, such as the concentration of target compounds, feed flow rate, volume recovery, and membrane selectivity. This process model was used to show that the system has a low estimated energy demand (0.75 kW h m−3 permeate) and was used to identify primary cost drivers, including the membrane material cost. These results offer a key step towards a scalable, low energy, and cost-effective lignin MW fractionation method with implications for both improving product isolation from lignin and improving carbon yields across the biorefinery.
- This article is part of the themed collection: 2022 Green Chemistry Hot Articles