The role of ionic liquid pretreatment and recycling design in the sustainability of a biorefinery: a sugarcane to ethanol example

F. A. Ferrari, G. P. Nogueira, T. T. Franco, M. O. S. Dias, C. K. N. Cavaliero, Geert Jan Witkamp, L. A. M. van der Wielen, Marcus Bruno Soares Forte

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


The use of lignocellulosic (LC) materials, especially residues, as feedstock in biorefinery applications is a promising alternative to the oil refinery production of fuels, power and chemicals, reducing the global warming potential (GWP) related to these activities. The conversion of LC's carbohydrates into useful sugars is entirely dependent on the efficiency of the pretreatment (PT) step. Ionic liquids (ILs) have been explored as tailored solvents for the solubilization of LC's complex structure during PT, which can overcome the existing hurdles related to PT. This work assesses the impact of PT variables and the IL recycling through freezing concentration (FC) in an IL-based biorefinery. The influence of temperature, solid loading and IL dilution was systematically studied and the mass and energy balances, economic and environmental outcomes calculated. Life cycle analysis (LCA) was employed in a cradle-to-gate approach. Results showed that solid loading and IL dilution, rather than PT temperature, have the major influence on the energy requirements to produce 1 kg of ethanol. IL make up is a critical parameter to minimize the environmental impact and operational costs associated with the process. Product selling price and IL recycling were the most impacting variables concerning profitability. Extra investment for improved IL recycling is advantageous up to 99% of recovery. Product diversification can improve the economic feasibility even if it is associated with increased capital expenditure. The results show the importance of the pretreatment design and solvent recycling from an integrated perspective, thus challenging the criteria defined while assessing these steps alone.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)9126-9139
Number of pages14
JournalGreen Chemistry
Issue number22
StatePublished - Oct 6 2021

Bibliographical note

KAUST Repository Item: Exported on 2021-11-25
Acknowledgements: The authors acknowledge BE-Basic Foundation for financial support. F. A. F. acknowledges Isabelle Sampaio, Marcos Watanabe and all staff from the National Laboratory of Biorenewables (LNBR) for the support in conducting this study. M. B. S. F. acknowledges Dr Antonio Bonomi and Dr Otavio Cavalett for the research support. Authors acknowledge the LNBR and National Center of Energy and Materials (CNPEM) for providing access to the virtual sugarcane biorefinery (VSB). This work was conducted as part of a Dual Degree Ph. D. project under the agreement between UNICAMP and TUDelft.
This work had the financial support from the São Paulo Research Foundation FAPESP (2015/50612-8, 2017/24520-4, 2019/19976-4, 2018/20173-0 and 2019/10439-6), Brazilian Federal Agency for Support and Evaluation of Graduate Education CAPES (finance code 001) and Be-Basic Foundation.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Pollution


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