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Technical Performance and Economic Evaluation of Evaporative and Membrane-Based Concentration for Biomass-Derived Sugars

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journal contribution
posted on 2017-09-18, 00:00 authored by David A. Sievers, Jonathan J. Stickel, Nicholas J. Grundl, Ling Tao
Several conversion pathways of lignocellulosic biomass to advanced biofuels require or benefit from using concentrated sugar syrups of 600 g/L or greater. While concentration may seem straightforward, thermal sugar degradation and energy efficiency remain major concerns. This study evaluated the trade-offs in product recovery, energy consumption, and economics between evaporative and membrane-based concentration methods. The degradation kinetics of xylose and glucose were characterized and applied to an evaporator process simulation. Although significant sugar loss was predicted for certain scenarios due to the Maillard reaction, industrially common falling-film plate evaporators offer short residence times (<5 min) and are expected to limit sugar losses. Membrane concentration experiments characterized flux and sugar rejection, but diminished flux occurred at >100 g/L. A second step using evaporation is necessary to achieve target concentrations. Techno-economic process model simulations evaluated the overall economics of concentrating a 35 g/L sugar stream to 600 g/L in a full-scale biorefinery. A two-step approach of preconcentrating using membranes and finishing with an evaporator consumed less energy than evaporation alone but was more expensive because of high capital expenses of the membrane units.