The ionic liquid (IL) 1-ethyl-3-methylimidazolium acetate ([EMIM]Acetate) has been widely used for biomass processing, i.e., to pretreat, activate, or fractionate lignocellulosic biomass to produce soluble sugars and lignin. However, this IL does not achieve high biomass solubility, therefore minimizing the efficiency of biomass processing. In this study, [EMIM]Acetate and three other ILs composed of different 3-methylimidazolium cations and carboxylate anions ([EMIM]Formate, 1-allyl-3-methylimidazolium ([AMIM]) formate, and [AMIM]Acetate) were analyzed to relate their physicochemical properties to their biomass solubility performance. While all four ILs are able to dissolve hybrid poplar under fairly mild process conditions (80 °C and 100 RPM stirring), [AMIM]Formate and [AMIM]Acetate have particularly increased biomass solubility of 40 and 32%, respectively, relative to [EMIM]Acetate. Molecular dynamics simulations suggest that strong interactions between IL and specific plant biopolymers may contribute to this enhanced solubilization, as the calculated second virial coefficients between ILs and hemicellullose are most favorable for [AMIM]Formate, matching the trend of the experimental solubility measurements. The simulations also reveal that the interactions between the ILs and hemicellulose are an important factor in determining the overall biomass solubility, whereas lignin-IL interactions were not found to vary significantly, consistent with literature. The combined experimental and simulation studies identify [AMIM]Formate as an efficient biomass solvent and explain its efficacy, suggesting a new approach to rationally select ionic liquid solvents for lignocellulosic deconstruction.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Physics and Astronomy(all)
- Physical and Theoretical Chemistry