Optimization and Certification of Hydrous-Ethanol Fumigation System

Grant # 98-02
Principal Investigator: Walter S. Trahanovsky
Organization: Iowa State University
Participants: Kirk Arvidson, Kevin Revell
and Yu Wang
Technical Area: Renewable Energy

Background and Significance
Practical methods for deriving economically useful fuels and chemicals from renewable plant material, biomass, are desirable since they make it possible to use biomass instead of petroleum as the source of fuels and chemicals. There has been considerable effort focused on developing methods to convert biomass to useful fuels and chemicals, but much of it has emphasized the production of fuels rather than chemicals. The conversion of biomass to a useful fuel would be significantly more economically favorable if the conversion produced high-value chemicals in addition to fuel.

Most biomass, including material derived from wastes, is composed of nonracemic chiral molecules, i.e., molecules whose image and mirror image are not the same. Many drugs and other biologically active compounds are complex organic compounds that are chiral and often only one of the chiral forms has the desirable biological effects. Nonracemic chiral compounds can be used to synthesize these complex organic compounds with the proper chirality. Many relatively small nonracemic chiral organic compounds used in synthesis are very expensive, with chemical catalog prices of greater than $10/gram. Some attention has been focused on developing methods to obtain small nonracemic chiral compounds from biomass. For example, methods to prepare levoglucosan and levoglucosenone from glucose and its derivatives have been reported.

However, the production of these compounds from biomass has not been fully developed and it should be possible to obtain significant yields of other potentially useful nonracemic compounds from biomass.

Our primary objective is to develop methods to obtain significant yields of high-value nonracemic chiral compounds from plant biomass. Another objective is to enhance the value of these nonracemic chiral compounds by developing their chemistry. An additional objective is to understand the mechanisms of the formation of the compounds with the purpose of gaining more control of their formation.