Sweet success: Swiss breakthrough drastically increases sugar yields from biomass

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In Switzerland, researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne have significantly increased the amount of sugar that can be extracted from plants. The breakthrough could enable more economical production of fuels and chemicals from biomass, a key element to the success of the bioeconomy.

Previous methods of extracting sugars like xylose and glucose from plants often degraded much of the sugars available. EPFL’s method adds an aldehyde to the sugars, effectively stabilizing them. Once the sugars are retrieved, the aldehyde can easily be removed.

An experiment with beechwood showed recovery of over 90% of xylose—compared with only 16% without the aldehyde-adding step.

“Before, people had always been looking for often expensive systems that limited sugar degradation,” says Jeremy Luterbacher, head of the laboratory. “With stabilization, you worry less about this degradation and this frees you up to develop cheaper and faster transformations for plants, potentially accelerating the emergence of renewable consumer products.”