Production and distillative recovery of valuable lignin-derived products from biocrude
Value-added chemicals present in liquid products from direct liquefaction of biomass can be recovered as bioproducts in an integrated biorefinery to enhance the economic viability of biomass-to-liquid fuel technologies and afford a higher return on investment. In recent efforts, RTI International is exploring and developing processes that could be used to produce bioproducts in addition to liquid fuel from biocrude intermediates. The present study focused on the production and recovery of high-value lignin-derived compounds from biocrude. Catalytic pyrolysis with a nonzeolite, alumina-based catalyst was used to produce the biocrude from loblolly pine in RTI's 1-tonne per day pilot-scale plant. Distillation was evaluated as a potential separation method given that the biocrude is relatively thermally stable and distillable compared to raw pyrolysis oils. The distillation studies were performed with a laboratory distillation unit (PETRODIST 300 CC) and the biocrude was fractionated into four distillate cuts: cut 1 (IBP-110 degrees C), cut 2 (110-200 degrees C), cut 3 (200-300 degrees C), and cut 4 (300-400 degrees C). In a case study, cut 3 was distilled further to concentrate the lignin-derived chemicals boiling between 200 and 270 degrees C. The results showed that a biocrude containing about 10 wt% guaiacols could be concentrated to about 35 wt% of guaiacols (representing 75% recovery) in the first distillation step. The second distillation step increased the concentration of guaiacols to about 53 wt% (representing 80% recovery). These findings suggest that it is possible to isolate and concentrate the lignin-derived products using a distillation column with a number of plates/trays. The yields, physicochemical properties, and chemical composition of the fractions, as well as the overall distillation separation efficiency, are reported.