Efficient Depolymerization of Cellulosic Paper Towel Waste Using Organic Carbonate Solvents

Shanta Dutta, Iris K.M. Yu, Daniel C.W. Tsang*, Jiajun Fan, James Hanley Clark, Zhicheng Jiang, Zhishan Su, Changwei Hu, C. S. Poon

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Efficient depolymerization of lignocellulosic biomass is a prerequisite for sugar production and its subsequent upgradation to fuels and chemicals. Organic carbonate solvents, i.e., propylene carbonate (PC), ethylene carbonate (EC), and dimethyl carbonate (DMC), which are low in toxicity and biodegradable, were investigated as "green"co-solvents (PC/H2O, EC/H2O, DMC/H2O, solvent ratio 1:1) for depolymerization of cellulosic paper towel waste. PC/H2O and EC/H2O enhanced the depolymerization of paper towel waste and improved the total sugar yield (up to ∼25 C mol %) compared to H2O only (up to ∼11 C mol %) under mild reaction conditions (130 °C, 20 min). The higher performance of PC/H2O and EC/H2O can be attributed to higher availability of reactive protons in the catalytic system that facilitates efficient acid hydrolysis of recalcitrant cellulosic fibers. Moreover, a substantial buildup of in-vessel pressure by CO2 release during the microwave-assisted reaction because of decomposition of PC or EC might have accelerated the conversion of paper towel wastes. PC and EC are prospective solvents for lignocellulosic biomass conversion considering their green features and notable catalytic performance, which have a good potential for substituting conventional organic solvents such as dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) and tetrahydrofuran (THF) that are often considered hazardous in terms of health, safety, and environmental implications.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13100-13110
Number of pages11
JournalACS Sustainable Chemistry and Engineering
Issue number34
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 31 Jul 2020

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  • ethylene carbonate
  • green solvent
  • lignocellulose valorization
  • propylene carbonate
  • sustainable biorefinery
  • waste management

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