Novel Route to Produce Hydrocarbons from Woody Biomass Using Molten Salts

Balaji Sridharan, Homer C. Genuino, Daniela Jardan, Erwin Wilbers, Henk H. Van De Bovenkamp, Jozef G.M. Winkelman, Robbie H. Venderbosch, Hero J. Heeres*

*Corresponding author for this work

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The thermochemical decomposition of woody biomass has been widely identified as a promising route to produce renewable biofuels. More recently, the use of molten salts in combination with pyrolysis has gathered increased interest. The molten salts may act as a solvent, a heat transfer medium, and possibly also a catalyst. In this study, we report experimental studies on a process to convert woody biomass to a liquid hydrocarbon product with a very low oxygen content using molten salt pyrolysis (350-450 °C and atmospheric pressure) followed by subsequent catalytic conversions of the liquids obtained by pyrolysis. Pyrolysis of woody biomass in molten salt (ZnCl2/NaCl/KCl with a molar composition of 60:20:20) resulted in a liquid yield of 46 wt % at a temperature of 450 °C and a molten salt/biomass ratio of 10:1 (mass). The liquids are highly enriched in furfural (13 wt %) and acetic acid (14 wt %). To reduce complexity and experimental issues related to the production of sufficient amounts of pyrolysis oils for further catalytic upgrading, model studies were performed to convert both compounds to hydrocarbons using a three-step catalytic approach, viz., (i) ketonization of acetic acid to acetone, (ii) cross-aldol condensation between acetone and furfural to C8-C13products, followed by (iii) a two-stage catalytic hydrotreatment of the latter to liquid hydrocarbons. Ketonization of acetic acid to acetone was studied in a continuous setup over a ceria-zirconia-based catalyst at 250 °C. The catalyst showed no signs of deactivation over a period of 230 h while also achieving high selectivity toward acetone. Furfural was shown to have a negative effect on the catalyst performance, and as such, a separation step is required after pyrolysis to obtain an acetic-acid-enriched fraction. The cross-aldol condensation reaction between acetone and furfural was studied in a batch using a commercial Mg/Al hydrotalcite as the catalyst. Furfural was quantitatively converted with over 90% molar selectivity toward condensed products with a carbon number between C8and C13. The two-stage hydrotreatment of the condensed product consisted of a stabilization step using a Ni-based Picula catalyst and a further deep hydrotreatment over a NiMo catalyst, in both batch setups. The final product with a residual 1.5 wt % O is rich in (cyclo)alkanes and aromatic hydrocarbons. The overall carbon yield for the four-step approach, from pinewood biomass to middle distillates, is 21%, assuming that separation of furfural and acetic acid after the pyrolysis step can be performed without losses.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)12628-12640
Number of pages13
JournalEnergy and Fuels
Issue number20
Publication statusPublished - 20-Oct-2022

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