The kinetics of inhibitor production resulting from hydrothermal deconstruction of wheat straw studied using a pressurised microwave reactor

Roger Ibbett, Sanyasi Gaddipati, Darren Greetham, Sandra Hill, Greg Tucker

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17 Citations (Scopus)


Background: The use of a microwave synthesis reactor has allowed kinetic data for the hydrothermal reactions of straw biomass to be established from short times, avoiding corrections required for slow heating in conventional reactors, or two-step heating. Access to realistic kinetic data is important for predictions of optimal reaction conditions for the pretreatment of biomass for bioethanol processes, which is required to minimise production of inhibitory compounds and to maximise sugar and ethanol yields. Results: The gravimetric loss through solubilisation of straw provided a global measure of the extent of hydrothermal deconstruction. The kinetic profiles of furan and lignin-derived inhibitors were determined in the hydrothermal hydrolysates by UV analysis, with concentrations of formic and acetic acid determined by HPLC. Kinetic analyses were either carried out by direct fitting to simple first order equations or by numerical integration of sequential reactions. Conclusions: A classical Arrhenius activation energy of 148 kJmol-1 has been determined for primary solubilisation, which is higher than the activation energy associated with historical measures of reaction severity. The gravimetric loss is primarily due to depolymerisation of the hemicellulose component of straw, but a minor proportion of lignin is solubilised at the same rate and hence may be associated with the more hydrophilic lignin-hemicellulose interface. Acetic acid is liberated primarily from hydrolysis of pendant acetate groups on hemicellulose, although this occurs at a rate that is too slow to provide catalytic enhancement to the primary solubilisation reactions. However, the increase in protons may enhance secondary reactions leading to the production of furans and formic acid. The work has suggested that formic acid may be formed under these hydrothermal conditions via direct reaction of sugar end groups rather than furan breakdown. However, furan degradation is found to be significant, which may limit ultimate quantities generated in hydrolysate liquors.

Original languageEnglish
Article number45
Number of pages14
JournalBiotechnology for Biofuels
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 29 Mar 2014
Externally publishedYes


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