Ionic liquids have high thermal stability and good conductivity, as well as other properties that make them an attractive alternative to molecular solvents. One application where they have particular suitability is the extraction of specific compounds, such as lignin, from biomass. However, although they have been shown to help the biofuel conversion process, the ionic liquids themselves are expensive to produce and purify.
This study focusses on a potential solution to this problem: using ionic liquids made of naturally occurring biochemicals. The researchers studied the liquid nanostructure of one such ionic liquid at different concentrations, and in the presence of a model lignin residue. Their results allowed them to understand how the amount of water present influences the conformation adopted by molecules in solution. The relative positions of the molecules then determine what bonding is available for biomass breakdown and solvation, which influences the effectiveness of an ionic liquid for this application.
Related publication: Liquid Nanostructure of Cholinium Argininate Biomass Solvents, ACS Sustainable Chem. Eng. 2021, 9, 7, 2880–2890 DOI: 10.1021/acssuschemeng.0c08829