Removal of the fermentation inhibitor, furfural, using activated carbon in cellulosic -ethanol production
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Commercial activated carbon and newly polymer-derived carbon were utilized to selectively remove the model fermentation inhibitor, furfural, from water solution during bio-ethanol production. Morphology, pore structure and surface chemistry of the sorbents were characterized. The oxygen groups on the carbon surface were believed to have contributed to the decrease on the selectivity of activated carbon between furfural and sugars (Sugars are the valuable source of bio-ethanol production and should not be separated from solution). Oxidization of activated carbon by nitric acid generated more information which supports the above assumption. Different adsorption isotherm models and kinetic models were studied to fit commercial activated carbon and polymer-derived carbon individually. Bacterial cell growth, sugar consumption, and ethanol yield during the fermentation were investigated after inhibitors were selectively removed from the broth. The fermentation time was reduced from one week to one day after inhibitor removal. Different methods of sorbent regeneration were investigated, including thermal regeneration, pH adjustment and organic solvent stripping. Low ethanol-containing water solution appears to be the most cost-effective way to regenerate the spent sorbent in the industrial application. A sorption/desorption cycle was designed and the sorbents were regenerated in a fixed-bed column system using ethanol-containing liquid from fermentation. The results were stable after running 20 times of sorption/desorption cycle.