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The peroxyformic process is based on the action of a carboxylic acid (mainly formic acid) and the corresponding peroxyacid. The influences of processing time (60–180 min), formic acid concentration (80–95%), temperature (60–80°C), and hydrogen peroxide concentration (2–4%) on peroxyformic pulping of agave leaves were studied by surface response methodology using a face-centered factorial design. Empirical models were obtained for the prediction of yield, κ number (KN) and pulp viscosity as functions of the aforementioned variables. Mathematical optimization enabled us to select a set of operational variables that produced the best fractionation of the material with the following results: pulp yield (26.9%), KN (3.6), and pulp viscosity (777 mL/g). Furthermore, this work allowed the description and evaluation of changes to the agave fibers during the fractionation process using different microscopic and spectroscopic techniques, and provided a comprehensive and qualitative view of the phenomena occurring in the delignification of agave fibers. The use of confocal and scanning electron microscopy provided a detailed understanding of the microstructural changes to the lignin and cellulose in the fibers throughout the process, whereas Raman spectroscopy and X-ray diffraction analysis indicated that cellulose in the pulp after treatment was mainly of type I.
Recently, the use of different types of natural fibers to produce paper and textiles from agave plants has been proposed. Agave atrovirens can be a good source of cellulose and lignin; nevertheless, the microstructural changes that happen during delignification have scarcely been studied. The aim of this work was to study the microstructural changes that occur during the delignification of agave fibers by means of microscopy techniques and image analysis. The fibers of A. atrovirens were obtained from leaves using convective drying, milling, and sieving. Fibers were processed using the Acetosolv pulping method at different concentrations of acetic acid; increasing acid concentration promoted higher levels of delignification, structural damage, and the breakdown of fiber clumps. Delignification followed by spectrometric analysis and microstructural studies were carried out by light, confocal laser scanning and scanning electron microscopy and showed that the delignification process follows three stages: initial, bulk, and residual. Microscopy techniques and image analysis were efficient tools for microstructural characterization during delignification of agave fibers, allowing quantitative evaluation of the process and the development of linear prediction models. The data obtained integrated numerical and microstructural information that could be valuable for the study of pulping of lignocellulosic materials.
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