Mechanistic Modeling of Fast Pyrolysis of Cellulose to Predict Bio-Oil Composition

Sustainable Engineering Forum
2011 AIChE Annual Meeting
AIChE Annual Meeting
October 16, 2011 - 8:00pm

Fast pyrolysis, a potential strategy for the production of transportation fuels from biomass, involves a complex network of competing reactions, which result in the formation of bio-oil, non-condensable gaseous species, and solid char. Bio-oil is a mixture of anhydro sugars, furan derivatives, and oxygenated aromatic and low molecular weight (LMW) compounds. Currently, the successful modeling of fast pyrolysis reactors for biomass conversion is hampered by lumped kinetic models, which fail to predict the bio-oil composition. Hence, a fundamental understanding of the chemistry and kinetics of biomass pyrolysis is important to evaluate the effects of process parameters like temperature, residence time and pressure on the composition of bio-oil.

We have recently developed a comprehensive mechanistic model to characterize the primary products of fast pyrolysis of pure cellulose. The model incorporates the following condensed phase reactions with ionic and electrocyclic fragmentation mechanisms for the formation of various LMW products in bio-oil: glucosidic bond scission, retro-aldol, retro-Diels-Alder, 1,2-dehydration, 1,3-dehydration, hydrolysis, cyclic Grob fragmentation and enol-keto transformation reactions. The kinetic rate coefficients for most of the above reaction steps were obtained from the literature, based on either experimentally determined Arrhenius parameters for cellulose and model compounds, or theoretically computed values of activation energies using quantum chemical calculations. A computational framework based on continuous distribution kinetics was constructed to solve the kinetic model. The model tracks 96 distinct polymer species and 25 LMW products, and incorporates over 350 reactions. The model predictions compare well with the experimental data (Patwardhan et al., J. Anal. Appl. Pyrolysis 2009, 86, 323-330) for the formation of important products like levoglucosan (60 wt.%), glycolaldehyde (6 wt.%), 5-hydroxymethyl furfural (3 wt.%), furfural (1 wt.%) and formic acid (6 wt.%). Levoglucosan was found to be formed by the initiation of ionic chain ends by mid-chain glucosidic bond scission, followed by end-chain ionic unzipping. Some of our efforts in extending the kinetic model of pyrolysis of pure cellulose to cellulose with mineral matter and hemicellulose will also be discussed in this presentation.

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