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Ionic liquids for extracting materials from wood

The discovery paves the way for the development of enzymatic refining processes of cellulose to produce important molecules used in the production of industrial products

ionic liquids. Photo: Umea University, Sweden
ionic liquids. Photo: Umea University, Sweden

[Translation by Dr. Nachmani Moshe]

Recently, two research teams discovered how enzymes are able to carry out their catalytic processes in a switchable ionic liquid. The discovery paves the way for the development of enzymatic refining processes of cellulose to produce important molecules used in the production of industrial products. The research findings have long been published in the scientific journal ChemSusChem.

Ionic liquids are salts in a liquid state at room temperature - this is compared to ordinary cooking salt (sodium chloride) which is melted at a temperature of 800 degrees Celsius. This property means that ionic liquids have unique properties that make them important solvents in the field of "green" and sustainable chemistry. In a previous study, chemistry professor Jyri-Pekka Mikkolas and his research team discovered that hemicellulose, cellulose and lignin can be selectively separated and dissolved using a new type of switchable ionic liquid. Recently, the team also discovered that enzymes can function within this ionic liquid. This finding is particularly interesting in light of the work, because enzymes have evolved over the years to operate in aqueous environments only. "Our discovery is a real breakthrough! The finding will allow us to extract important and small molecules directly from wood."

The main technology used by the research team was nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy. A main component of the research was the development of a completely new method for determining and measuring enzyme activity. The system is based on real-time measurements of a chemical reaction using NMR spectroscopy of phosphorus atoms. "Our development will be particularly important for measuring the enzymatic catalysis in complex solutions, and in addition, the method is already used today in innovative projects," notes the lead researcher.

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