The role of catalytic iron in enhancing volumetric sugar productivity during autothermal pyrolysis of woody biomass

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Rollag, Sean
Lindstrom, Jake
Peterson, Chad
Brown, Robert
Brown, Robert
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Mechanical EngineeringChemical and Biological EngineeringAgricultural and Biosystems EngineeringBioeconomy Institute (BEI)

Passivation of naturally occurring AAEM in biomass enhances sugar yields from the fast pyrolysis of biomass by preventing these metals from catalyzing the fragmentation of pyranose rings in cellulose and hemicellulose. However, because AAEM also catalyzes lignin depolymerization, its passivation can be accompanied by undesirable char agglomeration. Pretreatment of biomass with ferrous sulfate both passivates AAEM and substitutes ferrous ions as lignin depolymerization catalysts. This pretreatment has been particularly successful for high ash biomass like corn stover, but of limited value for low ash biomass like wood. This study explores the reasons for this discrepancy and offers a combined pretreatment of ferrous sulfate and ferrous acetate pretreatment to overcome char agglomeration in wood. This new pretreatment increased sugar yields from 4.4 wt% to 15.5 wt% and 5.4 wt% to 19.0 wt% for hardwood and softwood biomasses, respectively. This pretreatment produces an iron-rich biochar that catalyzes oxidation of the biochar under the oxygen-rich conditions of autothermal pyrolysis, which is preferentially consumed to provide the enthalpy for pyrolysis, preserving bio-oil as a more desirable energy product. Instead of producing carbon monoxide, which dominates oxidation of biochar from untreated biomass, the iron catalyzes oxidation to carbon dioxide, producing more energy per mole of oxygen consumed. In fact, oxygen demand to support autothermal pyrolysis of red oak and southern yellow pine was reduced 15% by the presence of iron in the biochar.


This is a manuscript of an article published as Rollag, Sean A., Jake K. Lindstrom, Chad A. Peterson, and Robert C. Brown. "The role of catalytic iron in enhancing volumetric sugar productivity during autothermal pyrolysis of woody biomass." Chemical Engineering Journal 427 (2022): 131882. DOI: 10.1016/j.cej.2021.131882. Posted with permission.