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UD research finds alternative for petroleum

Courtesy of University of Delaware

Shampoos and cosmetics are created from petroleum. Researchers say that generates a lot of carbon emissions.


But a new study led by a University of Delaware researcher may have found a sustainable replacement for petroleum: sugar. 


“Anything we do relative to how we make this product from renewable sources that can produce less carbon dioxide or carbon emissions, we can have a huge impact on the environment,” said UD’s Basudeb Saha, the associate director of research with the Catalysis Center for Energy Innovation.


The researchers converted wood waste into sugar in just one step, using inorganic salt.  They dissolved the salt in water, making the water acidic.

Then, they added their food waste biomass in and heated the solution to 85 degrees celsius. They stirred the solution for one hour, and separated lignin — a complex polymer — from the solution, to produce a solution that has sugar.


Saha says their process takes a lower temperature and a short reaction time. Ultimately, it uses less water and energy to get more sugar.


And he says speeding up this process could be lucrative for rural areas, competing with food prices and value.


“Most of these cellulosic biorefineries are located in rural areas where the [agricultural residue and] energy crops are usually available, because transportation of those from rural areas to the city are too expensive,” Saha said.


The sugars they’re making could be used in ethanol production, or in making ingredients for detergent or car lubricants, for example. 


Saha says now that researchers have taken sugars from wood waste, they’ll focus on figuring out how to make ingredients for shampoos and cosmetics from them. 


Journal Reference: Sunitha Sadula, Abhay Athaley, Weiqing Zheng, Marianthi Lerapetritou, Basudeb Saha. Process Intensification for Cellulosic Biorefineries. ChemSusChem:  10:12. DOI: 10.1002/cssc.201700183.


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