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Keywords:

  • catalysis;
  • cellulose;
  • hydrolysis;
  • ionic liquids;
  • polymerization

Abstract

Cellulose is a renewable and widely available feedstock. It is a biopolymer that is typically found in wood, straw, grass, municipal solid waste, and crop residues. Its use as raw material for biofuel production opens up the possibility of sustainable biorefinery schemes that do not compete with food supply. Tapping into this feedstock for the production of biofuels and chemicals requires—as the first-step—its depolymerization or its hydrolysis into intermediates that are more susceptible to chemical and/or biological transformations. We have shown earlier that solid acids selectively catalyze the depolymerization of cellulose solubilized in 1-butyl-3-methylimidazolium chloride (BMIMCl) at 100 °C. Here, we address the factors responsible for the control of this reaction. Both cellulose and solid acid catalysts have distinct and important roles in the process. Describing the depolymerization of cellulose by the equivalent number of scissions occurring in the cellulosic chains allows a direct correlation between the product yields and the extent of the polymer breakdown. The effect of the acid strength on the depolymerization of cellulose is discussed in detail. Practical aspects of the reaction, concerning the homogeneous nature of the catalysis in spite of the use of a solid acid catalyst, are thoroughly addressed. The effect of impurities present in the imidazolium-based ionic liquids on the reaction performance, the suitability of different ionic liquids as solvents, and the recyclability of Amberlyst 15DRY and BMIMCl are also presented.