Biomass pyrolysis is a promising thermochemical method for producing fuels and chemicals from renewable sources. Development of a fundamental understanding of biomass pyrolysis chemistry is difficult due to the multi-scale and multi-phase nature of the process; biomass length scales span 11 orders of magnitude and pyrolysis phenomena include solid, liquid, and gas phase chemistry in addition to heat and mass transfer. These complexities have a significant effect on chemical product distributions and lead to variability between reactor technologies. A major challenge in the study of biomass pyrolysis is the development of kinetic models capable of describing hundreds of millisecond-scale reactions of biomass into lower molecular weight products. In this work, a novel technique for studying biomass pyrolysis provides the first- ever experimental determination of kinetics and rates of formation of the primary products from cellulose pyrolysis, providing insight into the millisecond-scale chemical reaction mechanisms. These findings highlight the importance of heat and mass transport limitations for cellulose pyrolysis chemistry and are used to identify the length scales at which transport limitations become relevant during pyrolysis. Through this technique, a transition is identified, known as the reactive melting point, between low and high temperature depolymerization. The transition between two mechanisms of cellulose decompositions unifies the mechanisms that govern low temperature char formation, intermediate pyrolysis conditions, and high temperature gas formation. The conditions under which biomass undergoes pyrolysis, including modes of heat transfer, have been shown to significantly affect the distribution of biorenewable chemical and fuel products. High-speed photography is used to observe the liftoff of initially crystalline cellulose particles when impinged on a heated surface, known as the Leidenfrost effect for room-temperature liquids. Order-of-magnitude changes in the lifetime of cellulose particles are observed as a result of changing modes in heat transfer as cellulose intermediate liquid droplets wet and de-wet polished ceramic surfaces. Introduction of surface macroporosity is shown to completely inhibit the cellulose Leidenfrost effect, providing avenues for surface modification and reactor design to control particle heat transfer in industrial pyrolysis applications. Cellulosic particles on surfaces consisting of microstructured, asymmetric ratchets were observed to spontaneously move orthogonal to ratchet wells above the cellulose reactive Leidenfrost temperature (>750 °C). Evaluation of the accelerating particles supported the mechanism of propelling viscous forces (50-200 nN) from rectified pyrolysis vapors, thus providing the first example of biomass conveyors with no moving parts driven by high temperature for biofuel reactors. Combined knowledge of pyrolysis chemistry, kinetics, and heat and mass transport effects direct the design of the next generation pyrolysis reactors for tuning bio- oil quality and design of improved catalytic upgrading technology.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. June 2016. Major: Chemical Engineering. Advisor: Paul Dauenhauer. 1 computer file (PDF); x, 135 pages.
Finding the Chemistry in Biomass Pyrolysis: Millisecond Chemical Kinetics and Visualization.
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