Project title: Acid-catalysed conversion of algal biomass into value added small molecules
Supervisor: Prof Bradley Williams Co-supervisor: Dr Unnikrishnan Kuzhiumparambil
Project background: Algae are being developed as renewable sources of hydrocarbons for the industrial production of functional products and materials. However, with the growth of industrialised algal aquaculture, and the focussed extraction of selected products from the algal harvest, there is a rising need and opportunity to valorise the residue, which is mainly cellulosic material. This argument also applies to many food crops, such as maize, wheat, and sugar cane, where the production leaves the bulk of the crop material (the non-edible portion) as a low value or waste product. Acid-catalysed conversion of residual cellulose into organic building block chemicals (platform molecules) is a promising pathway towards a large portfolio of value added molecules as renewable replacements for petrochemicals. Despite the abundance of cellulosic waste streams and recent advances to the chemistry, current methods suffer from a lack of selectivity toward highly desirable products. The state-of-the-art requires improved approaches to the processes to lead to desirable reaction outcomes, and this project aims to address this pressing issue.
- Investigate the application of alternative solvents for the dissolution of cellulosic materials, such as algal biomass and lignocellulosic biomass.
- Detail the activity of metal triflates and their Brønsted acid-assisted analogues as promising recoverable catalysts for the conversion of carbohydrates in various media (including water, ionic liquids, deep eutectic solvents and metal halide hydrate systems).
- Optimise reaction conditions for the simultaneous hydrolysis-conversion of polysaccharide substrates into target compounds, such as sugar monomers, hydroxymethylfurfural and levulinic acid.
- Apply the optimised sets of reaction conditions (catalysts, solvents, additives, temperature, etc.) to the conversion of algal biomass and other biomass.