Conversion of sugarcane bagasse to carboxylic acids under thermophilic conditions
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With the inevitable depletion of the petroleum supply and increasing energy demands in the world, interest has been growing in bioconversion of lignocellulosic biomass (e.g., sugarcane bagasse). Lignocellulosic biomass is an abundant, inexpensive, and renewable resource. Most of current conversion technologies require expensive enzymes and sterility. In contrast, the patented MixAlco process requires no enzymes or sterility, making it attractive to convert lignocellulosic biomass to transportation fuels and valuable chemicals. This study focuses on pretreatment and thermophilic fermentation in the MixAlco process. Ammonium bicarbonate (NH4HCO3) was discovered to be a better pH buffer than previously widely used calcium carbonate (CaCO3) in anaerobic fermentations under thermophilic conditions (55?C). The desired pH should be controlled within 6.5 to 7.5. Over 85% acetate content in the product was found in paper fermentations and bagasse fermentations. Hot-lime-water-treated bagasse countercurrent fermentations buffered by ammonium bicarbonate achieved 50?60% higher total product concentrations than those using calcium carbonate. It was nearly double in paper batch fermentations if the pH was controlled around 7.0. Ammonium bicarbonate is a ?weak? methane inhibitor, so a strong methane inhibitor (e.g., iodoform) is still required in ammonium bicarbonate buffered fermentations. Residual calcium salts did not show significant effects on ammonium bicarbonate buffered fermentations. Lake inocula from the Great Salt Lake, Utah, proved to be feasible in ammonium bicarbonate buffered fermentations. Under mesophilic conditions (40?C), the inoculum from the Great Salt Lake increased the total product concentration about 30%, compared to the marine inoculum. No significant fermentation performance difference, however, was found under thermophilic conditions. The Continuum Particle Distribution Model (CPDM) is a powerful tool to predict product concentrations and conversions for long-term countercurrent fermentations, based on batch fermentation data. The experimental acid concentrations and conversions agree well with the CPDM predictions (average absolute error < 15%). Aqueous ammonia treatment proved feasible for bagasse. Air-lime-treated bagasse had the highest acid concentration among the three treated bagasse. Air-lime treatment coupled with ammonium bicarbonate buffered fermentations is preferred for a ?crop-tofuel? process. Aqueous ammonia treatment combined with ammonium bicarbonate buffered fermentations is a viable modification of the MixAlco process, if ?ammonia recycle? is deployed.