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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Recovery of Sugars from Ionic Liquid Biomass Liquor by Solvent Extraction


The dissolution of biomass into ionic liquids (ILs) has been shown to be a promising alternative biomass pretreatment technology, facilitating faster breakdown of cellulose through the disruption of lignin and the decrystallization of cellulose. Both biological and chemical catalysis have been employed to enhance the conversion of IL-treated biomass polysaccharides into monomeric sugars. However, biomass-dissolving ILs, sugar monomers, and smaller carbohydrate oligomers are all soluble in water. This reduces the overall sugar content in the recovered solid biomass and complicates the recovery and recycle of the IL. Near-complete recovery of the IL and the holocellulose is essential for an IL-based pretreatment technology to be economically feasible. To address this, a solvent extraction technique, based on the chemical affinity of boronates such as phenylboronic acid and naphthalene-2-boronic acid for sugars, was applied to the extraction of glucose, xylose, and cellobiose from aqueous mixtures of 1-ethyl-3-methylimidazolium acetate. It was shown that boronate complexes could extract up to 90% of mono- and disaccharides from aqueous IL solutions, 100% IL systems, and hydrolysates of corn stover containing IL. The use of boronate complexes shows significant potential as a way to recover sugars at several stages in ionic liquid biomass pretreatment processes, delivering a concentrated solution of fermentable sugars, minimizing toxic byproducts, and facilitating ionic liquid cleanup and recycle.

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