The plant product cellulose is the most abundant form of biomass globally and can be converted into useful products such as biofuels.
The plant product cellulose is the most abundant form of biomass globally and can be converted into useful products such as biofuels. However, the processing of this biopolymer is cumbersome, owing to its rigid, water-insoluble structure. To overcome this, scientists in Japan recently developed a novel laser-based technique that makes cellulose degradation easier. Because this reaction does not require harsh conditions, it can lead to efficient application of cellulose across various industries, especially environmental technology.
With the imminent threat of a climate crisis hanging over our heads, it has become crucial to develop efficient alternatives to fossil fuels. One option is to use clean sources of fuels called biofuels, which can be produced from natural sources such as biomass. The plant-based polymer cellulose is the most abundant form of biomass globally and can be converted into raw materials such as glucose and xylose for the production of bioethanol (a type of biofuel). But, this process is challenging owing to the molecule’s rigid and dense structure, which makes it insoluble in water. Chemists and biotechnologists globally have used conventional techniques like microwave radiation, hydrolysis, and ultrasonication to degrade this polymer, but these processes require extreme conditions and are thus unsustainable.
To this end, in a new study published in Energy & Fuels, a research team in Japan, including Dr Takayasu Kawasaki (Tokyo University of Science), Dr Heishun Zen (Institute of Advanced Energy, Kyoto University), Prof Yasushi Hayakawa (Laboratory of Electron Beam Research and Application, Institute of Quantum Science, Nihon University), Prof Toshiaki Ohta (SR Center, Ritsumeikan University), and Prof Koichi Tsukiyama (Tokyo University of Science), developed a novel technique for cellulose degradation. This technique was based on a type of laser called the infrared-free electron laser (IR-FEL), whose wavelength is tunable in the range of 3 to 20 μm. This new method is a promising green technology for the zero-emission degradation of cellulose. Dr Kawasaki says, “One of the unique features of the IR-FEL is that it can induce a multiphoton absorption for a molecule and can modify the structure of a substance. So far, this technology has been used in the basic fields of physics, chemistry, and medicine, but we wanted to use to spur advances in environmental technology.”
Read more at Tokyo University of Science
Image: A novel laser-based strategy for the effective degradation of cellulose into useful products (Credit: Tokyo University of Science)