The current world energy and economic infrastructure is heavily reliant on fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas. The limited availability of fossil fuels along with environmental effects and economic uncertainties associated with their use has motivated the need to explore and develop other alternative sources of energy. Lignocellulosic biomass like fossil fuels is carbon-based and has the potential to partly supplant the energy supplied by fossil fuels.
Lignocellulosic biomass is a complex mixture of polymers such as cellulose, hemicellulose, lignin along with small concentrations of inorganics and extractives. Recent research has shown that lignocellulosic biomass and biomass model compounds can be processed autothermally by catalytic partial oxidation in millisecond residence times over noble metal catalysts at high temperatures (600-1000 °C) to syngas (a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen) [1-3]. The syngas stream can then be upgraded to fuels and chemicals.
In Chapter 2, spatially resolved concentration and temperature profiles of methane and dimethyl ether, a model compound for biomass, are compared. Dimethyl ether can be produced renewably through syngas upgrading. Maximum temperature and concentration gradients were found within the oxidation zone. Most of the oxygen (∼ 95 %) was converted within the first 2.2 mm and syngas formation was observed despite the presence of oxygen.
The catalytic partial oxidation process has been demonstrated using compounds which, unlike most biomass sources, contain negligible quantities of inorganics. Some of these inorganics have catalytic properties themselves and some may act as poisons for the Rh-based catalyst. The effects of common biomass-inorganics (silicon, calcium, magnesium, sodium, potassium, phosphorus, sulfur) on rhodium-based catalysts in autothermal reactors have been studied.
To understand the effects of biomass inorganics on Rh catalysts, two sets of experiments surveying common inorganics were performed - in the first set, inorganics were directly deposited on the rhodium catalyst and tested using steam methane reforming as a model reaction (Chapter 3); whereas in the second set, inorganics were introduced to a clean catalyst in an ethanol feed to simulate actual inorganic-containing biomass (Chapter 4). In both sets of experiments, performance testing, catalyst characterization and regeneration were carried out to probe the mechanism of inorganic interaction with the rhodium-based catalyst. Large decreases in reforming activity were observed on phosphorus- and sulfur-doped catalysts. Deactivation due to calcium and magnesium was primarily due to blocking of active sites. Potassium and silicon were volatile at the high temperatures within the reactor. Potassium introduced alkaline chemistry promoting acetaldehyde formation from ethanol while phosphorus introduced acid chemistry promoting formation of ethylene from ethanol.
The effects of potassium and phosphorus on catalytic partial oxidation of methane and ethanol at different concentrations and temperatures have been studied in Chapter 5. The synergistic effects of potassium and phosphorus were studied by distributing the inorganics together on the catalyst as monobasic potassium phosphate. The effects of both potassium and phosphorus were observed in the catalytic partial oxidation of methane on a potassium phosphate-doped catalyst at low temperatures. At high temperatures, only effects due to phosphorus were observed because of potassium volatilization.
The results show that biomass-sources containing low concentrations of inorganics can be processed autothermally to a high selectivity syngas stream. The distribution and interactions of the inorganics within the catalyst can be used to design better pretreatment, processing, and regeneration strategies to minimize catalyst deactivation during biomass processing.
Alcohols represent an important intermediate in different biomass upgrading routes. Chapter 6 discusses the behavior of butanol isomers, 1-butanol, isobutanol, 2-butanol, and tert-butanol over four different catalysts; Rh, Pt, RhCe, and PtCe at different fuel to oxygen (C/O) ratios. At low C/O ratios, equilibrium species such as CO, CO<sub>2</sub>, H<sub>2</sub> and H<sub>2</sub>O were obtained while non-equilibrium species such as carbonyls and olefins were dominant at high C/O ratios. Low reforming activity was observed on Pt and PtCe catalysts. All isomers decompose primarily by dehydrogenation through a carbonyl intermediate except tert-butanol which decomposes by dehydration to isobutene; however, the reactivity of tert-butanol was unaffected.
In Chapter 7, isobutanol autothermal reforming is integrated with a water gas shift stage downstream to produce hydrogen containing low concentrations of carbon monoxide for portable fuel cell applications. A RhCe-based catalyst was selected to carry out autothermal reforming of isobutanol while a PtCe catalyst was selected for the water gas shift stage. This staged reactor produced high yields of hydrogen (> 120 % selectivity) containing low concentrations of CO (< 2 mol %) in less than 100 ms making the effluent ideal for portable high temperature PEM fuel cell applications. The water gas shift stage also reduced the concentration of non-equilibrium products formed in the autothermal reforming stage by over 50 %. Thermodynamic analysis of the system showed that staged autothermal reforming of isobutanol integrated with a fuel cell can potentially lead to 2.5 times more efficient energy usage when compared to burning isobutanol in a conventional combustion engine.
The results in this thesis give an insight into the mechanisms and processing challenges involved in converting renewable feedstocks to syngas by catalytic partial oxidation. Further experiments based on the conclusions of this thesis are discussed in Chapter 8. Spatial profile experiments to determine roles of mass transfer, steam reforming, and dry reforming during catalytic partial oxidation of oxygenates are proposed. Spatial profile studies for catalytic partial oxidation over inorganic-doped catalysts and feed are proposed to determine their concentrations and nature on the catalyst surface during reactor operation.