Low-Temperature Material Synthesis
Nanocatalytic Conversion of Biomass into Second-Generation Biofuels
Up to 100 million tons of lignin/year may be produced as a byproduct of cellulosic ethanol manufacture – a source of feedstock that has the potential to replace or supplement much of the US petrochemical demand. Recently, Oak ORNL successfully demonstrated biocatalytic and catalytic conversion of lignin to small molecular weight compounds of commercial value: including the aromatics benzene, toluene, styrene, xylenes, and substituted alkyl phenols. These represent building block feedstocks for commodity chemical manufacture and hence a major avenue for bringing new technology based on alternative chemical pathways into the domestic chemical industry. Methods for processing lignin still pose technological barriers that need to be addressed.
Nanocatalysts have been proposed as effective tools for cracking large refractory organic molecules. In particular, submicron layered heterogeneous particles have been developed, maximizing the surface area and hence sites available for catalytic reactions to occur. This concept project will investigate the use of clay-based nanocatalysts to facilitate the breakdown of refractory organics from unconventional sources: primarily lignin into feedstocks that can be used for fuel and for the chemical industry. A bench-scale experimental study will be carried out to test the efficacy of layer clay-based nanocatalysts in the breakdown of lignin into aromatic building block molecules. The results of these experiments will be used in an economic and feasibility analysis of this approach.