Sustainable generation of energy is arguably the biggest challenge facing society. Investment into energy research is considerable with one key goal being the production of fuels from renewable resources. Various options are available such as solar, wind and hydro- electricity. However all these options are restricted mainly due to the high cost of the materials involved and problems with long term storage. An alternative approach, is converting biomass-a renewable and CO2 negative resource- into transportable and storable chemical fuels.
There are several possibilities: 1. Fermentation of biomass to bioethanol ; 2. Production of biodiesel from trigylderides; Biomass upgrade to biogas either via Fischer–Tropsch, thermal liquefaction or aqueous phase reforming , and 4. Production of fuels from various partially deoxygenated biomass contained chemical platforms.
While considerable advances have been made in the production of bioethanol and biodiesel, now commercially available, there is some concern related to the feedstocks used for producing such biofuels as being not sufficiently available to satisfy the demands presently met by petroleum, in addition to being edible biomass fractions, thereby impacting the supply of food for humans and animals.
A much sustainable option is represented by the forth category, which uses lignocellulosic biomass residues available at almost no cost. However, the catalytic production of biochemicals and biofuels from lignocellulosic biomass is still facing several challenges. These relate mainly to the multistep technologies, high production cost and poor yield and selectivity, which translate into the lack of efficient, and sustainable heterogeneous catalysts for selective biomass conversion.
In our group we study the hydrothermal upgrade of biomass to tailored chemicals such as hydroxy-methylfurfural (HMF) or levulinic acid (LA). We also design environmentally friendly heterogenous carbon catalysts/supports based on renewable precursors and abundant metals for converting HMF or LA into interesting biochemicals and biofuels according to the reactions below: