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Producing hydrogen from biomass based alcohols



Lefferts explains that the problem with utilizing biomass to replace fossil fuels is its considerably higher oxygen content.

“In order to produce anything resembling modern fuels or chemicals, we must upgrade the biomass to reduce its oxygen content. Most upgrading processes require hydrogen. This hydrogen should be produced as sustainably as possible, and we are looking at one of the options.”

Lefferts’s research group is currently developing noble metal catalysts for the reforming of butanol, which can be produced from lignocellulosic biomass. The challenge is to understand the complex coke formation processes plaguing the reforming of heavier bio based components with traditional catalysts, and to develop catalysts which can avoid or tolerate these reactions. The researchers make the catalysts themselves, which enables better control over the catalyst properties. 

Alternatives for fossil fuels

According to Lefferts, it is important to study all options for replacing fossil fuels.

“On the broader scope it is clear that our society needs alternative ways to produce energy, fuels and chemicals. Biomass is but one of the possible solutions and no one can say yet which option is going to be the winner. Therefore, we as a society cannot afford to overlook any alternative.

“Of course, in the end there will be no universal solutions, but the best processes will depend on locations and available natural resources.”

The group consists of professor Lefferts and PhD student Heikki Harju and, starting in August 2012, post-doc researcher Lokesh Kesavan. The group is working within the Industrial Chemistry group at the Department of Biotechnology and Chemical Technology.