Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Engineering (PhD)

Degree Level



Chemical Engineering


S. Ranil Wickramasinghe

Committee Member

Ryan Tian

Second Committee Member

Xianghong Qian

Third Committee Member

Ravi Barabote

Fourth Committee Member

Tom Spicer


Biofuel, Continuous Enzymatic Hydrolysis, Detoxification, LbL Polyelectrolyte Deposition, Membrane, Nanofiltration


The overall objective of this study was identification and development of a sugar concentration/separation membrane filtration unit to improve the bioconversion of lignocellulosic biomass into chemicals and fuels. This thesis is divided into three main parts. The first part is about our studies on the use of nanofiltration membranes for concentration of sugars in a lignocellulosic biomass hydrolysate. In addition, the feasibility of simultaneous removal of acetic acid, 5-(hydroxymethyl)furfural and furfural from the hydrolysate has also been investigated. The results obtained indicate that both concentration of sugars and removal of hydrolysis degradation products is feasible. However, careful selection of the membrane and operating conditions will be essential. Dead end filtration experiments have been used to test a number of commercially available nanofiltration membranes under a range of operating conditions. Model feed streams as well as real hydrolysates have been tested. The method developed here could be used to quickly screen membranes. Promising membranes and operating conditions could then be more rigorously tested in tangential flow operation.

The second part of this work focuses on recycle of cellulase enzyme (biocatalyst) used to catalyze the biopolymers of cellulose to monomeric soluble sugars. The enzyme represents one of the main costs in bioconversion of lignocellulosic biomass into biofuel. But exploration and development of efficient ways to reuse and recycle the enzyme are of great interest. Here we explore the use of microfiltration and ultrafiltration membranes for enzyme recycle and reuse.

Third part of this work is about modification of membranes using Layer-by-Layer (LbL) deposition of polyelectrolytes. Deposition of ultra-thin hyperbranched anionic and cationic polyelectrolytes on top of polysulfone ultrafiltration membranes results in a porous modified membrane showing nanofiltration characteristics. Deposition of polyelectrolytes on top of the polysulfone membrane substrate is confirmed by ATR-FTIR spectra, SEM images and filtration tests. We carried out several nanofiltration tests with 20 mM model feed streams containing sucrose, glucose and xylose. Results show that these membrane are capable of separating mono- and disaccharides.

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