Understanding and controlling lignocellulosic pyrolysis for the production of renewable fuel and chemical precursors
Pecha, Michael Brennan
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Pyrolysis is a technology for producing fuels, chemicals, and engineered carbons from renewable feedstocks like lignocellulosic biomass. This work aims to address some of the scientific and technical hurdles that need to be overcome to control the products of pyrolysis. The first section aims to address knowledge gaps regarding primary pyrolysis reactions; in this study, pine wood was acid washed and small amounts of acid were impregnated into the biomass prior to pyrolysis. Results showed that the acid mitigated fragmentation reactions caused by residual metals and had further effect on production of sugars and oligomeric lignin products. The next section aims to address knowledge gaps regarding what reactions occur in the liquid intermediate phase in biomass pyrolysis; in these studies, a novel reactor system was built which could perform thin film fast pyrolysis studies at different pressures from 4 mbar to 1 atm with cellulose, milled wood lignin, and hybrid poplar wood. The reactor was carefully characterized to achieve comparable data between the different pressures. The use of vacuum allowed for control of the residence time of cellobiosan (one of cellulose oligomeric products) in the liquid intermediate. In the vacuum cellulose pyrolysis studies, a high resolution FT-ICR-MS was used for the first time to explore reaction chemistry for this system. The Van-Krevelen diagram of the resulting oligomeric products proved to be a powerful tool to study secondary reactions in the liquid intermediate. Our results show that the secondary reactions in the liquid intermediate are dominated by dehydration, fragmentation, and cross-linking reactions. The final section aims to address single particle external heat transfer problems; in this study, 500 µm long particles of pine and aspen poplar with realistic pore and surface morphologies were modeled in COMSOL to determine how microstructure effects the external heat transfer coefficients in the laminar flow regime. Results showed that microstructure did indeed affect heat transfer and that heat transfer correlations based on basic geometric shapes (sphere, cylinder, slab) were not accurate enough to estimate heat transfer coefficient for the conditions studied.