University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology occasional seminars > Bio-mass Pyrolysis - a cog in the changing energy and chemicals economy

Bio-mass Pyrolysis - a cog in the changing energy and chemicals economy

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Petroleum (crude oil) is the source of the majority of the Nation’s liquid fuels and chemicals. Everything from gasoline to pharmaceuticals contains carbon that originated in the ancient plant matter that make-up crude oil. As petroleum resources are depleted and as our Nation embraces policies to slowly wean us off of foreign sources of crude oil, we must seek technologies that will enable a transition from a petroleum-based to a bio-mass-based fuels and chemicals economy. While natural gas and coal are tempting alternative sources of carbon, the continued use of fossil carbon is not sustainable. Bio-mass is the only alternative. And, while we have an ethanol-centric fuels history, production of ethanol from corn and grains appears to be equally unsustainable. Furthermore, the US Government has recognized the need to force the issue by mandating that 16 Bgal of renewable fuels be produced by 2020 of which none can come from corn or grains. This presents the research community with the challenge of converting lignocellulosic bio-mass, our only other tangible option, into large volumes of fuels. The bio-refinery and associated bio-chemical complex of the near future will likely be driven by component processes including enzymatic digestion and conversion of cellulose to ethanol and pyrolysis of whole, separated or residual bio-mass streams. Pyrolysis, of cellulose and its mechanistic steps are yet poorly characterized. The complexity of the degradation process even for pure phase crystalline cellulose is recognized in terms of a virtually unknown number of pyrolysis products likely numbering in the hundreds. At this time a multi-scale approach involving computational and experimental strategies that range in length- and time-scales from those governing molecular to macroscopic events are presently ongoing at TTU and in other research labs around the world. The TTU team has chosen to pursue a novel micro-scale reactor approach in combination with micro-characterization and meso- and molecular-scale modeling.

This talk is part of the Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology occasional seminars series.

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