An experimental and modeling study on the catalytic effects of select metals on the fast pyrolysis of hardwood and softwood lignin

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Rollag, Sean A.
Jeong, Keunhong
Peterson, Chad A.
Kim, Kwang Ho
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Royal Society of Chemistry
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Mechanical Engineering
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Bioeconomy Institute
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Chemical and Biological Engineering

The function of the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering has been to prepare students for the study and application of chemistry in industry. This focus has included preparation for employment in various industries as well as the development, design, and operation of equipment and processes within industry.Through the CBE Department, Iowa State University is nationally recognized for its initiatives in bioinformatics, biomaterials, bioproducts, metabolic/tissue engineering, multiphase computational fluid dynamics, advanced polymeric materials and nanostructured materials.

The Department of Chemical Engineering was founded in 1913 under the Department of Physics and Illuminating Engineering. From 1915 to 1931 it was jointly administered by the Divisions of Industrial Science and Engineering, and from 1931 onward it has been under the Division/College of Engineering. In 1928 it merged with Mining Engineering, and from 1973–1979 it merged with Nuclear Engineering. It became Chemical and Biological Engineering in 2005.

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1913 - present

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  • Department of Chemical Engineering (1913–1928)
  • Department of Chemical and Mining Engineering (1928–1957)
  • Department of Chemical Engineering (1957–1973, 1979–2005)
    • Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering (2005–present)

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Naturally occurring alkali and alkaline earth metals (AAEM) play an important catalytic role in the pyrolysis of lignin. Other metals also potentially play a role in the catalytic deconstruction of lignin but have only been qualitatively investigated. A combination of experiments and computational modeling were performed to explore the catalytic activity of ferrous iron in comparison to AAEM. Pyrolysis experiments with extracted lignin and density functional theory (DFT) calculations for model lignin dimers showed agreement between theory and experiment. Ferrous iron proved to be a stronger catalyst than either potassium or calcium. The activity order of the AAEM cations was less clear as model and experiments agreed for hardwood lignin but disagreed for softwood lignin. DFT predicted calcium to be a stronger catalyst than potassium for breaking β-O-4 ether bonds while experiments indicated potassium to be more catalytically active as a result of higher turnover frequency. Pyrolysis of softwood lignin had a lower apparent activation energy (9.2 kcal mol−1) than for hardwood lignin (15.3 kcal mol−1). Of the catalysts tested only ferrous iron prevented the melting of lignin during pyrolysis due to its low apparent activation energy of 3.6 kcal mol−1 and 8.6 kcal mol−1 for softwood and hardwood lignin, respectively.
This article is published as Rollag, Sean A., Keunhong Jeong, Chad A. Peterson, Kwang Ho Kim, and Robert C. Brown. "An experimental and modeling study on the catalytic effects of select metals on the fast pyrolysis of hardwood and softwood lignin." Green Chemistry 24, no. 16 (2022): 6189-6199. DOI: 10.1039/D1GC04837F. Copyright 2022 The Royal Society of Chemistry. Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC 3.0). Posted with permission.