Peter Halloran

Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

Faculty Advisor: Jason Hicks

Investigation of the Fast Pyrolysis of Lignocellulosic Biomass to Increase Bio-Oil Yield

Countless chemical transformations have been enabled by the discovery and development of catalysts. Catalysts have revolutionized chemical and petroleum processing because they allow the creation of desired compounds more efficiently and effectively than non-catalytic processes.  In fact, nearly 90% of chemical manufacturing processes employ catalysts, including production of polymers, pharmaceuticals, plastics, bulk chemicals, and specialty chemicals.  Catalysts lower process energy demands, allow access to products otherwise unattainable from given starting materials, decrease the production of undesired side products, decrease process waste/pollution, and decrease the cost of goods.

Despite the discovery and increased production of shale gas, development of renewable energy technologies to mitigate various long-term issues associated with fossil fuel use must continue in order to achieve a stable, sustainable energy future.  Biomass is the only renewable resource capable of directly providing liquid carbon compounds for conversion into transportation fuels or chemicals. The Hicks group has been particularly interested in synthesizing new, stable catalysts for the C-C bond coupling of aldehydes and carboxylic acids (e.g. aldol condensation and ketonization) as a means to enhance the stability of biomass derived oils and the selective hydrogenation of biomass derived compounds to valuable fuels/chemicals. This project will directly work on the synthesis, characterization, and evaluation of new catalysts for biomass conversion reactions, providing an alternative route to fuels and chemicals.

This 2020 project has been postponed to Summer 2021.