Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

'Mini-cellulose' molecule unlocks biofuel chemistry

Date:
February 16, 2012
Source:
University of Massachusetts at Amherst
Summary:
Chemical engineers have discovered a small molecule that behaves the same as cellulose when it is converted to biofuel. Studying this "mini-cellulose" molecule reveals for the first time the chemical reactions that take place in wood and prairie grasses during high-temperature conversion to biofuel.

The "mini-cellulose" molecule, called -cyclodextrin, solves one of the major roadblocks confronting high-temperature biofuels processes such as pyrolysis or gasification.
Credit: Image courtesy of University of Massachusetts at Amherst

A team of chemical engineers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst has discovered a small molecule that behaves the same as cellulose when it is converted to biofuel. Studying this 'mini-cellulose' molecule reveals for the first time the chemical reactions that take place in wood and prairie grasses during high-temperature conversion to biofuel.

The new technical discovery was reported in the January 2012 issue of the journal Energy & Environmental Science and highlighted in Nature Chemistry.

The "mini-cellulose" molecule, called α-cyclodextrin, solves one of the major roadblocks confronting high-temperature biofuels processes such as pyrolysis or gasification. The complex chemical reactions that take place as wood is rapidly heated and breaks down to vapors are unknown. And current technology doesn't allow the use of computer models to track the chemical reactions taking place, because the molecules in wood are too large and the reactions far too complicated.

Paul Dauenhauer, assistant professor of chemical engineering and leader of the UMass Amherst research team, says the breakthrough achieved by studying the smaller surrogate molecule opens up the possibility of using computer simulations to study biomass. He says, "We calculated that it would take about 10,000 years to simulate the chemical reactions in real cellulose. The same biofuel reactions with 'mini-cellulose' can be done in a month!"

Already his team has used insight from studying the "mini-cellulose" to make significant progress in understanding wood chemistry, Dauenhauer says. Using the faster computer simulations, they can track the conversion of wood all the way to the chemical vapor products. These reactions include creating furans, molecules that are important for the production of biofuels.

The discovered reactions occurring within wood will serve as the basis for designing advanced biofuel reactors, Dauenhauer says. By creating reaction models of wood conversion, the scientists can design biomass reactors to optimize the specific reactions that are ideal for production of biofuels. For biofuels production, "We want to maximize our new pathway to produce furans and minimize the formation of gases such as CO2," says Dauenhauer.

The discovery of "mini-cellulose" was enabled by a new experimental technique for studying high-temperature biomass chemistry called "thin-film pyrolysis." It involves creating sheets of cellulose, which makes up 60 percent of wood biomass, that are very thin, just a few microns thick. When the sheets are very rapidly heated at over one million degrees Celsius per minute, they create volatile chemicals which are the precursors of biofuel.

Dauenhauer joined the university in 2009 and conducts his research as part of the Catalysis Center for Energy Innovation in collaboration with the University of Delaware and funded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). His research team includes Professor Dion Vlachos and graduate students Matt Mettler, Alex Paulsen and Samir Mushrif.

Dauenhauer has received several high-profile grants in the past year. In May 2011, he awarded a five-year, $800,000 Early Career Award in Basic Energy Sciences from the DOE. The grant provides support for his research on understanding the catalysts that control the process of breaking down plant matter into chemicals and fuel byproducts.

In February 2011, he was awarded a one-year, $80,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to conduct basic research on pyrolysis. Additionally in 2011, he was awarded a three-year Young Faculty Award from the 3M Corporation.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal References:

  1. Anne Pichon. Cellulose conversion: A promising pyrolysis. Nature Chemistry, 2012; 4 (2): 68 DOI: 10.1038/nchem.1259
  2. Matthew S. Mettler, Samir H. Mushrif, Alex D. Paulsen, Ashay D. Javadekar, Dionisios G. Vlachos, Paul J. Dauenhauer. Revealing pyrolysis chemistry for biofuels production: Conversion of cellulose to furans and small oxygenates. Energy & Environmental Science, 2012; 5 (1): 5414 DOI: 10.1039/C1EE02743C

Cite This Page:

University of Massachusetts at Amherst. "'Mini-cellulose' molecule unlocks biofuel chemistry." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 16 February 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/02/120216165757.htm>.
University of Massachusetts at Amherst. (2012, February 16). 'Mini-cellulose' molecule unlocks biofuel chemistry. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 19, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/02/120216165757.htm
University of Massachusetts at Amherst. "'Mini-cellulose' molecule unlocks biofuel chemistry." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/02/120216165757.htm (accessed September 19, 2014).

Share This



More Matter & Energy News

Friday, September 19, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

MIT BioSuit A New Take On Traditional Spacesuits

MIT BioSuit A New Take On Traditional Spacesuits

Newsy (Sep. 19, 2014) The MIT BioSuit could be an alternative to big, bulky traditional spacesuits, but the concept needs some work. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Virtual Reality Headsets Unveiled at Tokyo Game Show

Virtual Reality Headsets Unveiled at Tokyo Game Show

AFP (Sep. 18, 2014) Several companies unveiled virtual reality headsets at the Tokyo Game Show, Asia's largest digital entertainment exhibition. Duration: 00:48 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Apple's iOS8 Includes New 'Killswitch' To Curb Theft

Apple's iOS8 Includes New 'Killswitch' To Curb Theft

Newsy (Sep. 18, 2014) Apple's new operating system, iOS 8, comes with Apple's killswitch feature already activated, unlike all the models before it. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Stocks Hit All-Time High as Fed Holds Steady

Stocks Hit All-Time High as Fed Holds Steady

AP (Sep. 17, 2014) The Federal Reserve signaled Wednesday that it plans to keep a key interest rate at a record low because a broad range of U.S. economic measures remain subpar. Stocks hit an all-time high on the news. (Sept. 17) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins