Challenges and Advances in Catalytic Fast Pyrolysis of Biomass using Zeolites

Meeting Program – January 2015

Dr. Julia Valla
Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Department
University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT

Thermochemical conversion of biomass to energy, fuels and chemicals is an attractive technology for the transition from fossil resources to a renewable-based economy. Catalytic Fast Pyrolysis (CFP) of biomass is a particularly interesting technology for biomass conversion considering the already extensive infrastructure for hydrocarbons production. However, many challenges remain unsolved before the deployment of the biomass CFP can be realized, including: a) char and coke formation, which causes rapid catalyst deactivation; and b) high oxygen content in the bio-oil, which makes it incompatible with today’s hydrocarbon fuels. With respect to the first challenge, it is imperative to first understand the origin and the formation of char and coke during CFP. Considering the second challenge, it is important to understand which catalyst properties can enhance the deoxygenation reactions and increase the bio-oil selectivity to hydrocarbons. ZSM-5 zeolites have been recognized as one of the most promising zeolites for CFP due to their shape selectivity and their deoxygenation ability. However, their micropore structure can limit the accessibility of heavy compounds to the active sites of their framework. Modifying the zeolite pore architecture to create hierarchical structures could provide a solution to this challenge. Furthermore, the CFP process design itself (in situ or ex situ) can alter the product yield and selectivity and, thus, the bio-oil quality. During this presentation we will discuss how the zeolite properties and location within the CFP process (in situ or ex situ) can affect the coke/char formation and the deoxygenation reactions for enhanced bio-oil quality.
Julia Valla
Ioulia (Julia) Valla is an Assistant Professor in the Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering Department at the University of Connecticut. She received her PhD in the field of the development of new zeolites for the decomposition of sulfur compounds in naphtha and the production of environmental gasoline from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece. She has served in a leadership role with Rive Technology, Inc. on the commercialization of a novel zeolite with ordered mesoporous structure for refinery applications. Dr. Valla’s research focuses on the modification of zeolites structure and their application in catalysis, adsorption and energy. She is the author/co-author of 9 papers in peer-reviewed journals, 1 book chapter and 2 patents. Dr. Valla is the recipient of the European Award “RUCADI, Recovery and Utilization of Carbon Dioxide” for her study on the role of CO2 on the reforming of natural gas for the production of methanol. At the University of Connecticut, Dr. Valla received an award sponsored by the National Science Foundation for the study “Turning Tars into Energy: Zeolites with Hierarchical Pore Structure for the Catalytic Removal of Tars”. The study is focused on a novel application of hierarchically structured mesoporous bifunctional catalysts for the thermochemical upgrading of undesirable tars from biomass pyrolysis or gasification to valuable hydrocarbons.