Ligno-cellulosic biomass is widely accepted as a sustainable and renewable resource that can be an alternate to synthetic resources such as crude oil, natural gas, and coal. Forest residues, residues from agricultural fields and agricultural processing, specialty crops, and bioenergy crops are some of the biomass resources. Utilizing renewable resources to produce fuels (“biofuels”) is advantageous from the perspectives of the environment, process integration and economics, as well as energy independence and national security. Forest management, agriculture, and agricultural processing are keys to economic development and employment in the U.S. The U.S. has several world-scale processing facilities to convert grain and other commercial crops to food products, sugars, alcohols and spirits, dietary fibers, industrial proteins, etc. The principal focus of our research at Biomass Processing and Biofuels Group at Conn Center works is to cost effectively produce various biofuels, biochemicals and other bioproducts through regionally appropriate biomass crops and landscape design, novel separation techniques, innovative process integration schemes, and value added co-product strategies. We seek, develop, and nurture strong collaboration with farmers, process industry, National Labs, other Universities, and other departments within the University of Louisville in order to accomplish the goal.
Our group works with a variety of biomass types: multi-purpose bast fiber crops such as kenaf, industrial hemp, and flax; industrial biomass sources such as soy hulls from soybean processing, rice hulls from rice milling, corn fiber from wet milling or dry milling, bagasse from sugarcane processing, pulp from sugar beets processing, etc.; agricultural crop residues such as corn stover, rice and wheat straw, plantain / banana. Palm, etc.; waste wood such as forest residue and saw mill waste.
Figure 1. Soy Hulls (L) and Sugarcane Bagasse (R)
Selective extraction of hemicellulose (C5) and cellulose (C6) based sugars from biomass and their conversion to C5 and C6 platform of products. For example, we developed a boron chelation chemistry based isolation process for xylose from a variety of biomass and developed synthetic pathway conversion of xylose to value added products. The isolation process delivers a dry form of pure xylose from a hydrolyzate containing mixed sugars.
Production of biocoal, biochar, and high surface area carbons from the residual fiber after selective hydrolysis. Our process work includes torrefaction and other novel carbonization techniques; densification of the torrefied biomass; and various natural binders. Our application research includes energy storage applications such as batteries and capacitors; electrodes in photo voltaic (PV) cells; Hydrogen storage applications for hydrogen fueled vehicles; carbon supports for catalysts; biocoal for energy generation; and biochar for agricultural applications.
Figure 3. Corn Kernel Fiber (L), Hydrolyzed Fiber (C), and Activated and Carbonized Fiber (R)