Lignocellulosic biomass is an abundant and sustainable feedstock that can be used to produce biofuels and bioproducts. However, the low price of crude oil and the challenges in applying biorefinery technologies at scale hamper the commercial production of biofuels from biomass. Another option for biorefineries to become more profitable is to produce high value commodity chemicals that are expensive to synthesize from petroleum-derived feedstocks. α,ω-diols, like 1,4-butanediol (1,4-BDO) and 1,6-hexanediol (1,6-HDO), are such chemicals with projected market prices of $1,600—2,800 ton-1 and $2,500—4,500 ton-1, respectively. These α,ω-diols are widely used for industrial polyester, elastic fiber, and polyurethane production. 1,5-pentanediol (1,5-PDO) can be an alternative to these conventional α,ω-diols because of analogous molecular structure and physical properties.
We study catalytic processes for converting biomass into oxygenated commodity chemicals (1,5-PDO and 1,6-HDO), which are difficult to produce from petroleum derived feedstocks (see Figure 1). We use process systems engineering methods to assess the economic feasibility of the proposed strategies as well as identify areas where further technology improvements are needed [1-4]. The objective is to synthesis detailed reaction, separation and utility subsystems; develop process simulation models based on experimental data; perform techno-economic and life cycle analyses; and, ultimately, suggest future research directions.
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