A collaboration of Japanese scientists has used laser technology called infrared-free electron laser (IR-FEL) to facilitate the conversion of cellulose into biofuel. Cellulose is the most abundant form of biomass on the planet and though it can be converted into raw materials such as glucose and xylose for the production of bioethanol, technologies to do so have been limited up until now.
The Japanese research team includes Dr. Takayasu Kawasaki (Tokyo University of Science), Dr. Heishun Zen (Institute of Advanced Energy, Kyoto University), Professor Yasushi Hayakawa (Laboratory of Electron Beam Research and Application, Institute of Quantum Science, Nihon University), Professor Toshiaki Ohta (SR Center, Ritsumeikan University), and Professor Koichi Tsukiyama (Tokyo University of Science). Their findings were published in Energy & Fuels.
IR-FEL offers a zero-emissions technology for the conversion of cellulose. The laser can be tuned to wavelengths between 3 and 20 μm, which align with the wavelengths of the bonds of cellulose polymers.
Dr. Kawasaki explains, saying, "One of the unique features of the IR-FEL is that it can induce a multiphoton absorption for a molecule and can modify the structure of a substance. So far, this technology has been used in the basic fields of physics, chemistry, and medicine, but we wanted to use it spur advances in environmental technology."
"This was the first method in the world to efficiently obtain glucose from cellulose by using an IR-FEL. Because this method does not require harsh reaction conditions such as harmful organic solvents, high temperature, and high pressure, it is superior to other conventional methods."
Dr. Kawasaki thinks that this development has implications not only for the conversion of cellulose, but also for other wood constituents that could provide an option for recycling forest biomass. He concludes, "We hope that this study will contribute to the development of an 'oil-free' society."
In addition to the potential that cellulose holds for biofuels, it can also be utilized in biomaterials such as biocompatible cell membranes, antibacterial sheets, and hybrid paper materials. IR-FEL technology will thus open doors for myriad uses of cellulose in countless industry niches.