Catalytic Membrane for Bio-Fuels


Technology # 12-08


A Membrane Reactor For Use in Bio-Fuels Production


Alcohol fuels, distilled from sugars derived from plant matter, is one of the leading renewable energy candidates for replacing fossil fuel.  Bio-fuels offer an environmentally healthy and sustainable replacement for fossil fuel with zero carbon footprint.


Obtaining the sugars from plants is easy if the source is a food plant, such as corn or sugar cane, however bio-fuels obtained from these sources are not energy efficient as the energy cost to prepare ground, plant, cultivate and harvest requires more energy than can be obtained from the bio fuel.  That is why current research is focused on using cellulose, a constituent in all plants, as a source of bio fuel.  Chemically, cellulose is a string of glucose molecules linked together by chemical bonds.  When the chemical bonds are broken, the result is glucose, which can then be fermented into alcohol.

Using cellulose to make bio fuel has the advantage that many plant species are available that occur naturally and therefore no energy is required to cultivate them.  Even harvesting energy can be minimal as agricultural waste and other sources that would otherwise be waste can be used as a feedstock.


There are several difficulties involved in making bio-fuel from cellulose.  To break down the cellulose into glucose requires breaking the chemical bonds that hold cellulose together, and currently the most common pre-treatment uses sulfuric acid.  Sulfuric acid is corrosive, expensive to handle and is environmentally hazardous, so that pretreatment with sulfuric acid is problematic. Another difficulty is the fact that the chemical breakdown of the cellulose not only creates glucose, but also other products that are themselves harmful to the bacterial organisms that ferment the sugar into alcohol, and therefore have to be removed.

Yet another problem is that the sugars that are released by breaking down the cellulose can easily be re-combined with each other and other chemical products of the process.  This recombination of sugars into materials that cannot be fermented reduces the total output of sugar that can be produced by the process.


Solutions to these problems have been developed through the use of a catalytic membrane reactor.  In this system, the sulfuric acid is replaced with an environmentally friendly acidic polyionic liquid that is grafted onto the membrane.  The membrane has holes that are sized such that only the sugar molecules can pass through them.  Therefore, the breakdown of the cellulose happens next to the membrane surface so that the resulting sugars are immediately filtered away from the reacting mixture so that they will not re-combine.  Thus the membrane reactor solves the problems of making bio fuels from cellulose.




. Hydrolysis of lignocellulosic biomass, processes which require separation of reaction I products in order to maximize product yield




* Reduced pre-treatment costs

* Enhanced sugar yields


Catalytic membranes overcome the following "[imitations associated with conventional technologies.


* Loss of sugars due to degradation during hydrolysis

* No need to use expensive enzyme cocktails

* Heterogeneous catalysis means no catalyst recovery steps required

* Simpler biomass detoxification steps

* Membrane is reusable




The Catalytic Membrane Reactor for Bio-fuels is protected by patent applications and is available for license.

For additional information about the technology, see the published patent application at the following link:



The invention is patent pending and is available for license. 

For interested parties seeking further information, feel free to contact:


Mark Allen Lanoue

Technology Manager / Tech Ventures

University of Arkansas

(479) 575-7243   

Patent Information:
App Type Country Serial No. Patent No. File Date Issued Date Expire Date
Nationalized United States 14/355,364 9,339,803 4/30/2014 5/17/2016  
Nationalized Europe 12783811.8   5/1/2014    
For Information, Contact:
Mark Lanoue
Technology Manager
University of Arkansas
Ranil Wickramasinghe
Xianghong Qian
Mathias Ulbricht
Qian Yang
David Grzenia
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