Lead Research Organisation: University of Liverpool
Department Name: Chemistry


There has been a global shift towards the use of biomass as a source of fuels and chemicals necessitated by decreasing fossil reserves, increasing oil prices, security of supply and environmental issues. It has also become clear that the manufacturing industry is embracing this change and has clearly stated its aims to develop sustainable and efficient routes to manufacturing products and hence reducing their dependence on fossil feedstocks and environmental impact. To academics, this represents a huge opportunity to generate new scientific advances in the knowledge that their application will have strong industrial support. In addition to be motivated by scientific curiosity, we scientists need to acknowledge our social responsibility to partner with the manufacturing industry to contribute to a better society and more sustainable future.

Advances in the development of routes to renewable chemicals have been observed in recent years, however there are still major issues remaining regarding the efficiency and viability of these routes to deliver renewable chemicals economically. Very importantly, many recent advances in biorefinary technologies have been based on feedstocks that compete with food or feed such as starch or vegetable oils. Large-scale implementation of these technologies can have disastrous consequences for food security worldwide. Therefore, it is paramount that new biorefinary technologies are based upon sources of biomass that do not compete with food production. The overarching aim of this proposal is to develop the next generation of structured polymeric materials that will enable to efficiently produce platform chemicals and bio-surfactants from waste biomass, integrating state of the art technologies for biomass activation and separation in one-pot processes. This project is built upon the expertise in green chemistry, biomass activation, catalysis and materials science from the partners in York and Liverpool and their strong engagement with industry. State of the art facilities in high-throughput materials discovery and characterisation will be utilized, and advanced techniques in biomass activation, such as supercritical CO2 (scCO2) extraction, and microwave pyrolysis and hydrolysis reactors up to scales of 100L will be used.

Planned Impact

The UK needs to consider the utilisation of biomass for manufacturing due to economic and environmental issues and in order to keep its international competiveness. Considering the availability of biomass in the UK and the higher costs of manufacturing compared with other countries, the UK needs to position itself in the development and commercialisation of new advantageous technologies (IP). These technologies could then be implemented in the UK, or alternatively in other countries as required, as U.K. multinational companies already do (i.e. Unilever and AB Sugar). Overall, the generation of the new IP and associated technologies is fundamental for the competiveness of a large part of the UK manufacturing sector. The depolymerisation of biomass to its constituent components and the integration of this process with biomass pre-treatment and subsequent reactions to yield the platform chemicals and biosurfactants is the main technological challenge facing the viability of the biorefinery concept. Advances in this area will yield new IP and commercial processes that will define the future of the biorefinery and biorenewables sector. At the present time, the EU, Germany and Japan are leading this research field and we believe that the UK research sector needs to increase its efforts based on its current areas of excellence (such as Materials Science, Catalysis and Green Chemistry). This must be done in order to position the UK at the top of this area and to support the future of the UK manufacturing industry. By joining the expertise of York and Liverpool Universities in biomass transformations, high-throughput experimentation, catalysis and new materials design, this research proposal tackles the core of the current limitations in biomass transformation: the creation of methods for fast and efficient screening and the development of the new materials and technologies that this new area of research requires. In particular:
- The academic partners involved will be benefiting from creating an unprecedented line of interdisciplinary research and critical mass, and have access to state of the art facilities in both institutions. Overall, the results of this research will be relevant to academics working in biorefineries, biomass, catalysis and surfactant chemistry worldwide. The integration of techniques as described here is a largely unexploited direction for biorefinery work and could have a very large impact on the academic research community by opening up a range of novel possibilities.
- Industrial partners (Unilever, Croda, AB Sugar and Starbons) will benefit from the knowledge exchange with academics and the potential commertialisation of the IP and ideas generated in this project. The potential application of the routes described can potentially lead the industrial partners (and potential partners to be reached via the CI KTN representative) to gain substantial competiveness in the sector. The development of new catalysts and porous materials for catalysis and separation will benefit the UK companies that will commercialise these materials.
- The UK academic community and the manufacturing sector will benefit from the formation of highly skilled professionals (PDRA) with a cross-disciplinary knowledge and expertise in a growing industrial area. The North Region and particularly Merseyside can potentially be benefited with the creation of jobs in the renewables sector via our industrial partners.
- Millions of consumers worldwide could benefit from improved product performance for personal care products, as it is been demonstrated that naturally derived biosurfactants rheology modifiers are less aggressive with the skin and produce less allergies and dermatological problems. The successful commercialisation of the processes proposed here will benefit the environment, reducing CO2 emissions and the UK economy will benefit by reducing dependence on fossil fuels for energy generation and manufacturing of goods.


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Description We have made a few key discoveries which impact we are still investigating and publishing. Summarising: 1) the extraordinary synergy between microwaves and catalysis to accelerate the valorisation of biomass derivatives 2) selective photocatalysis of biomass derivatives 3) unprecedented new polymericx materials for the catalytic valorisation of biomass 4) new organic carbonates
Exploitation Route The fast hydrolysis of cellulose and hydrogenation/oxidation reactions can now furtehr explore by Engineering and Chemical companies in order to develop more competitive processes for the valorisation of biomass.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Chemicals,Energy,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections