This 1st Grant EPSRC funded project investigates the effect of microwave heating on the quantity and quality of liquids obtained from biomass pyrolysis.

At a glance

  • Dates1st September 2017 – 28th February 2019
  • Sponsor1st Grant EPSRC
  • Funded£125,000 (RC contribution £100,000)
  • Partners

Fast pyrolysis is considered a promising route for conversion of non-edible biomass into a liquid fraction, known as bio-oil, which can be used as precursor of 2nd generation biofuels. However, the use of bio-oil as feedstock for the production of advanced biofuels is not consolidated. The problem is that the bio-oil has a much higher content in oxygen than the crude oil, which makes it incompatible with the petroleum-derived fuels and infrastructure currently used. Disruptive innovation is required now to develop upgrading technologies to remove the oxygen from the bio-oil so it can be an economic and sustainable feedstock of 2nd generation biofuels. This project sets out a new approach: using microwaves to heat more efficiently biomass-to-liquid processes and to achieve products with a better composition than those obtained from conventionally-heated processes (burning fuels, electric heating…).

Similar to the experience that everybody has from heating food in the microwave oven or on the stove at home, microwave heating applied to industrial processes makes them faster and cleaner. In particular, the application of microwaves to biomass pyrolysis produces bio-oil with lower oxygen content. But the advantages of using microwave pyrolysis have not been systematically studied. So in this project we aim to understand how changes in the microwave-assisted process have an influence on the amount of the produced bio-oil and its composition. We are also testing the hypothesis that microwaves can aid the removal of oxygen from the bio-oil to yield a better biofuel precursor.

The potential outcome of this work is the demonstrated microwave-assisted production of upgraded bio-oil with low oxygen content. This work would achieve a new technological understanding for the application of microwaves on biomass-to-liquid processes, which could be extendable to several industry sectors, from pharmaceutical synthesis to production of plastics. Overall, the knowledge gathered during this project would impact the development of microwaves applied to industrial manufacturing and chemical conversion.

Further Information

A 1-year PDRA contract to work on the project will be advertised soon. If you want to put forward your candidature please contact Dr Beatriz Fidalgo.