Center of Renewable Resources CoRR
Faculty of Bioscience Engineering - Ghent University
Departement of Biosystems Engineering  
The research group of bioresources processing is part of the department of biosystems engineering. It is new and has started with the appointment of Wolter Prins on the 1st of May 2008. The ambition is to develop projects and erect a laboratory for thermochemical conversion of biomass within the coming five to ten years.  
Thermochemical conversion of biomass is referring to processes in which the biomass is decomposed at high temperatures to produce char/ash and vapors that can either be:

completely burnt simultaneously to produce heat: combustion T > 800 °C
partially burnt to produce a combustible or synthesis gas: gasification T < 900 °C or T > 1250 °C
or separated as bio-char and/or bio-oil (condensed vapors): pyrolysis T > 300 °C

Research in the new laboratory for Bioresources Processing will be focused on both the improvement of traditional, and the development of new gasification and pyrolyis processes. Special emphasis will be put on production routes for second generation biofuels and green chemicals. Links will be made with biological routes in integrated process concepts, often indicated these days as biorefineries.

The first research project, supported by Albemarle Catalyst Company bv in Amsterdam and BTG Biomass Technology Group bv in Enschede, The Netherlands, is concerned with the role of catalysis in biomass fast pyrolysis.

Fast pyrolysis of biomass is the process of thermal decomposition, in absence of oxygen at atmospheric pressure, with the aim to produce a high quantity of liquid product (bio-oil) that can be easily stored, transported and further processed. The technology has developed to a level of large scale demonstration and, could be commercialized within the next five years. Potential applications of bio oil are manifold but, apart from direct combustion or co-combustion, up to now insufficiently developed. There are however a number of drivers that create an increasing interest in the technology.

One of the reasons why food/ feed industries, refinery companies and catalyst companies show a distinct interest these days, is the need for second generation biofuels. Fast pyrolysis is, to a large extent, a non-selective biomass conversion technique that accepts a wide variety of lignocellulosic feedstock materials such as forestry, agricultural or plantation residues, and industrial waste streams from e.g. food/feed , bio-ethanol or bio-diesel production. On the other hand, this fairly simple liquefaction technique offers significant logistic advantages, allowing shipping to central sites (refineries, chemical plants, power stations) for large scale conversion to final products. In fact, fast pyrolysis has the potential to become a key process in various biorefinery concepts.

It has been recognized already in the early days of fast pyrolysis R&D, that the application of catalysis could be of major importance in controlling the oil quality and its chemical composition. Without any catalyst involvement, the bio-oil derived from fast pyrolysis is a mixture of hundreds different, highly oxygenated chemical compounds. This chemical “soup” also has some unfavorable properties like a high acidity, an insufficient chemical stability and a low combustion value. Besides, none of the compounds is present in the oil in quantities above a few weight percent.

Catalysis could be applied for a number of reasons, and at a number of different positions in the process. Lower pyrolysis temperatures, a higher chemical and physical stability, high yields of target components, and an improved miscibility with refinery streams, are all goals strived for. Catalyst materials could be impregnated in the biomass feed, mixed into the pyrolysis reactor, built in the process after the reactor for upgrading of the primary pyrolysis vapors, or be used to modify the condensed liquids.

More information

Professor Prins used to work in Enschede, The Netherlands, as head of R&D in BTG Biomass Technology Group b.v., and as an associate professor at the University of Twente until the 1st of May 2008 when he was appointed by Ghent University in Belgium to start a laboratory in Bioresources Processing.
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