Novel Approach Increases Sugar Production from Plants

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Researchers from Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) developed a method that can more than double the yield of sugars from plants

Production of fuels and chemicals from biomass such as wood, grasses, and others offers promising solutions for building a renewable source of energy. The process involves breaking down plants to produce single carbohydrates that are majorly in the form of simple sugars such as xylose and glucose. However, current processes for plant deconstruction often degrade the sugar. Now, a research led by Jeremy Luterbacher at EPFL developed a chemical method that stabilizes simple sugars to prevent them from degradation. The findings published in the journal Nature Chemistry on September 17, 2018, offer a novel approach in which balancing the deconstruction of the plant is not required thereby avoiding degradation of the product.

The novel method latches aldehydes onto the sugars and changes the chemical vulnerability of the sugars to dehydration and degradation. Moreover, as the process is reversible, the sugars can be retrieved after deconstruction. In an experiment, the researchers applied the novel approach on beechwood. Using a paper-making technique called organosolv, the team turned the beechwood into pulp. The technique solubilizes wood into acetone or ethanol. The team later mixed the beechwood with formaldehyde to latch aldehydes onto the sugars.

The novel approach led to recovery of over 90% of xylose sugars as opposed to only 16% xylose without formaldehyde. The carbohydrate yield was over 70% as the remaining pulp was broken down to glucose. The yield in similar case was 28% without formaldehyde. “Before, people had always been looking for often expensive systems that limited sugar degradation. With stabilization, you worry less about this degradation and this frees you up to develop cheaper and faster transformations for plants, potentially accelerating the emergence of renewable consumer products,” says Jeremy Luterbacher.

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