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Glucose from woodchips in biorefinery

Published: 23 February 2017

Using an improved process from which the basics exist for a century, a group of companies is going to build a test plant that has to convert wood into pure glucose, lignin and some other sugars. These products can be used for chemistry, fuel for electricity production or the food industry.

The core of the Zambezi process is the wood hydrolysis where high acid concentration and low temperature are used to extract the glucose from the wood.

A test plant is being built at Chemiepark Delfzijl. The woodchips are supplied from the surrounding area and are brought to the plant. The lignin can be used in the local power plant that also produces steam. The products that will be produced are on the market already as bulk products which would provide a business case soon.

Passive cooling with no energy input needed

Published: 20 February 2017

A fridge may have a COP of 5 or more, but it still needs electricity (or sometimes gas) to bring the temperature inside below ambient. A new development can do without. Most materials absorb visible and near-infrared light, thereby getting warmer. But a thin transparent plastic film, made of polymethylpentene, with tiny glass spheres embedded and combined with a mirror-like silver film, absorbs almost no visible light, yet pulls in heat from any surface it touches. It has been shown to cool whatever it sits on by as much as 10°C. If this seems to violate the second law of thermodynamics, remember how water on the roof of the shed can freeze on a clear night with no wind, even as the surrounding temperature does not dip below 4 or even 5°C. Radiation towards ‘the universe’ does the trick. (For calculation purposes, we used to assign a temperature of -40°C to ‘the universe’.) It is claimed that the film can be made in a roll-to-roll setup for a cost of only 0.25 – 0.50¢ per square meter. For more details start here.

Groningen becomes green

Published: 16 February 2017

In a typical self-congratulatory press release AkzoNobel revealed how they, together with Eneco – the energy provider – and Groningen Seaports took another step to make Groningen  a bit more green. So what is the big deal? Eneco already runs a power plant that uses wood chips for fuel, producing ‘Green electricity’. Like any power plant it runs at less than 50% efficiency, meaning that more than half the energy goes up the chimney or into the cooling water. By raising the back pressure of the turbine that drives the generator to 30 bars (thereby reducing the amount of ‘green electricity’) they made it attractive for AkzoNobel to use the exhaust steam in their brine evaporation plant. So now they can produce ‘green salt’. Al that was further needed was a 2.7 km steam line.

Lactic acid, succinic acid, FDCA, which acid comes next?

Published: 30 January 2017

It just might be malonic acid (CH2(COOH)2). The current production process requires sodium cyanide and chloroacetic acid; nasty stuff. Yeast and sugar as raw material would be much friendlier. You can guess the rest: Somebody has patented a way to scramble the DNA of a poor yeast cell so that it does something it would never have thought of doing. The ‘somebody’ in this case is Lygos, a spin-out of the University of California at Berkeley.
One of the nice things of malonic acid is that it contains 4 oxygen atoms for 3 carbon atoms. That is more than is present in the original sugar molecule, which makes the raw-material cost more favorable than for, for instance, ethanol. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory are presently engaged in a $300,000 project to scale up the process from bench scale to pilot scale. In a recent article the NYTimes has put the process in the context of a “comeback of clean tech”.

More on inorganic chemistry

Published: 27 January 2017

In our November 7th we mentioned the continuing importance of inorganic chemistry. Our neighbors to the East do not need to be convinced. Every year for the past 25 years they have held a conference on the subject and the next one will be on 23 – 24 February 2017: the 26th ATC 20.
The title stands for “Angewandte Technische Chemie” or applied inorganic chemistry in a technical or industrial context. If you first want to check the Lecture Program, click here.