SBIR Phase I 2010 Department of Energy:
Catalytic Fractionation of Biomass in Ionic Liquids

Lignocellulose has a remarkable resistance against chemicals and microbial attacks due to its complex structure. For the production of biofuels and chemicals the aim is to cleanly fractionate biomass and to utilize the lignin, cellulose, and hemicellulose individually. The current pretreatment methods are either energy intensive or cause severe degradation of the components. A more efficient pretreatment method for biomass fractionation is in great demand which requires low energy, modest conditions, and recyclable solvents. New and efficient solvents and process technologies are needed to help unlock the promise of lignocellulosic biomass, and in this regard, the field of ionic liquids (ILs) might live up to its tremendous potential as a new class of solvents by direct dissolution of the components of biomass with mild conditions. By using a selected catalyst to break the lignin-carbohydrate bonds, clean separation of the three major components is possible based on IL processes.
Commercial applications and other benefits: the immediate outcomes will be used to selectively cleave lignocellulosic bonds allowing the ready isolation of pure cellulose, lignin, and hemicellulose fractions and thus overcoming one of the Grand Challenges in the utilization of lignocellulosic biomass. This could have profound effects on the availability of reproducible biomass feedstocks for further chemical processing and lead to additional utilization of these biopolymers in advanced materials.

New Chitin/Alginate Biocomposites by Homogeneous Processing in Ionic Liquids: Disruptive Technology for Wound Care Application

This Small Business Technology Transfer (SBIR) Phase I project will utilize patent pending technology that allows direct dissolution and reconstitution of natural biopolymers to prepare chitin/alginate composite fibers with embedded additives for use in wound care products. The technology allows for solution blending and spinning of alginate and chitin (both known to speed wound healing, stimulate cell recovery, and be antibacterial) with therapeutic additives to produce composite fibers. This unique technology embeds the additives into the fibers during spinning, leading to slow release of the additives into the wound as the fiber absorbs water and becomes less rigid, and thus allowing the delivery of physiologically relevant doses of a therapeutic agent to the wound over an extended period of time. These fibers will a) possess the inherent properties of the biopolymers that increase wound healing and cell recovery, b) localize delivery of beneficial additives, and c) slowly release the additives over an extended period of time.
In Phase I, the goals are to develop an understanding of the relationship between the relative chitin/alginate/additive composition and spinning conditions on mechanical and rheological properties (strength, elasticity, viscosity), water absorption, and additive release rates under simulated conditions as needed for the diabetic skin ulcer markets. The broader impact/commercial potential of this project will be the potential to reduce the duration (by ~40%) and cost (by 20-50%) of wound care treatment by developing a unique composite fiber with additives both on the surface and evenly distributed within the fiber, thereby allowing not only for extended release of the additives, but also less frequent dressing changes and decreased healing time compared to the current spray-coated fibers. The targeted skin ulcer treatment market is predicted to generate revenue of $7.4 billion by 2013, an increase caused by the rising diabetic population. A subset of this market where produced fibers are most applicable, the moist dressing treatment, achieved revenue of $315.4 million in 2008 and is expected to grow to $424.8 million by 2013. There is an urgent need for products that can improve healing rates and novel dressings incorporating innovative fibers that can be applied less frequency, last longer, and contain additives to promote healing, thus reducing patient care cost. The successful development of these specialty fibers for the diabetic ulcer market will provide scientific insight allowing for the customized production of composite fibers for other wound care and health markets.

SBIR Phase I Department of Energy:
Designing a mini-pilot scale unit for extraction and electrospinning of chitin as an adsorbent for uranium from seawater

With the 4 billion tons of uranium estimated to be dissolved in the oceans, an essentially unlimited resource is available to those with easy and affordable access. With decades of research towards the extraction of uranium from seawater, focus has been directed towards the selectivity of the adsorbent material, the cost of the material, and the ability of the adsorbent to be recycled. Cost analysis indicates that 47 % of the total cost of extracting uranium from seawater is directed at the cost of manufacturing the adsorbent material. It has recently been proven, through the use of ionic liquid technology, that chitin can be dissolved and electrospun into nanofibers directly from a shrimp shell extract in ionic liquid. The ability of being able to produce a high surface area, easily functionalized, and strong material from a waste product could have significant impact on decreasing the costs of an adsorbent. With minimal effort following, chemical surface modification can provide a natural, renewable, and highly selective adsorbent for the extraction of uranium from seawater. Using this recently proven technique, in collaboration with Professor Robin Rogers from The University of Alabama, we intend to design and manufacture a mini pilot-scale plant for the microwave-assisted dissolution of chitin from shrimp shell waste and the subsequent electrospinning of high surface area chitin nanofibers in a continuous fashion for the extraction of uranium from seawater. With the production of this mini pilot scale plant, we could provide cheap, affordable adsorbents for increased scale seawater testing and deployment. The success of this adsorbent could provide additional opportunities for the seafood industry with increased revenues and job creation through decreased waste disposal costs and a marketable product for sale.

SBIR Phase II 2014 Department of Energy:
Bench to pilot scale prototype for electrospinning biorenewable chitin sorbents for uranium from seawater: Process development, cost, and environmental analysis

525 Solutions will manufacture highly economical and biodegradable uranium-from-seawater sorbents from fishing industry waste, and provide them to government-designated mining companies, at the same time leveraging the governmental funds to create a sustainable chitin products business, enabling economic growth and job creation in both the chitin products and fishing industries.