Catalytic Conversion of Lignocellulose-Derived Sugars to Polyols

Grant # 01-02
Principal Investigator: Dr. Brent H. Shanks
Organization: Iowa State University
Technical Area: Renewable Energy

Background and Significance
As the processes for industrial commodity chemicals mature, the ability to further decrease manufacturing costs is diminished. To reset the costs associated with these products, new less expensive feedstocks must be developed. The potential exits to shift to bio-based feedstocks derived from low-cost and plentiful lignocellulose, such as corn stover. While lignocellulose is an inexpensive feedstock, processing of the material is difficult. A number of thermal, chemical and biological processes have been examined for breaking down lignocellulose into chemical species that can be more easily processed. We are interested in sugars and sugar mixtures that can be liberated from lignocellulose by fast pyrolysis or dilute acid hydrolysis. The proposed project involves catalytic conversion of these sugars to ethylene glycol and propylene glycol. These polyols are attractive since the annual U.S. production of ethylene glycol is 5.5 billion pounds ($0.30-0.50/pound) and for propylene glycol is 1.1 billion pounds ($0.45-0.65/pound).

Project Objectives
The main objectives of the catalytic conversion work are to demonstrate the feasibility of processing lignocellulose-derived sugar feedstock and to determine the resulting yield of ethylene glycol and propylene glycol. The ability to process these feedstocks without significant pretreatment to high yield of the glycols will be a key factor in determining the viability of the process.

The experimental work will be performed in a batch reactor since the feasibility and yield information can be most expeditiously obtained with this experimental setup. A broad range of reaction conditions can be rapidly screened with batch reactions.