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Fast Analysis of Biomass Pyrolysis Gas Phase

EMSL Project ID


While the slow bulk pyrolysis of biomass has been characterized to some extent, commercial pyrolysis conditions involve heating rates that are one or two orders of magnitude faster than those used in most published works. Furthermore, the grand majoring of fast pyrolysis research has and continues to utilize experimental techniques that obscure time-domain pyrolysis events and so are not easily amenable to the extraction of kinetic rate laws and associate parameter estimation. Woody biomass, including deliberately grown energy crops and agricultural and forestry residues, is targeted for production of “Advanced Biofuels” as defined by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which mandates the production of 16 Bgal of cellulosic-derived fuels by 2020. The PI, TTU researcher J. J. Biernacki, has developed a novel reactor and way to prepare microgram samples of raw or refined lignocellulosic-derived biomass for the purpose of developing time domain kinetic information. These experiments will involve matching and coupling EMSL mass spectroscopy instruments with the PI’s reactor so that the time-domain data can be captured. Bulk gas analysis experiments using a fast Flame Ionization Detector (fast-FID) indicate that the fastest pyrolysis events occurs on a timescale of about 0.1 s (at 1173 K) whereas events at lower temperatures (823 K) take an order of magnitude longer. Such events produce gas phase concentrations on the order of 1000s of PPM and should be easily observed with a mass spectrometer. Fast scan rates, however, are critical so that time resolution of the events can be captured. The proposed work is part of end-stage research funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and is intended to establish proof of principle in two steps. Step I involves direct coupling of the PI’s reactor to a GC/MS systems to gather information regarding the range of mass numbers and sample suitability for other MS-based methods. Step II would then be to apply one or more emerging MS techniques to achieve fast MS characterization of time-resolved experiments. Timing is critical since the project is in its final year and the PNNL/EMSL is presently developing highly optimized MS-based techniques uniquely suited for this type of challenging problem.

Project Details

Project type
Limited Scope
Start Date
End Date


Principal Investigator

Joseph Biernacki
Tennessee Technological University

Team Members

Ronald Moore
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Related Publications

Zolghadr A., J.J. Biernacki, and R.J. Moore. 2019. "Biomass Fast Pyrolysis Using a Novel Microparticle Microreactor Approach: Effect of Particles Size, Biomass Type, and Temperature." Energy and Fuels 33, no. 2:1146–1156. PNNL-SA-139365. doi:10.1021/acs.energyfuels.8b03395