The Green Chemistry Centre of Excellence has been involved for a number of years in research on the effects of microwave radiation on chemical compounds. This has provided new insight and understanding on how microwaves can accelerate chemical reactions. We have discovered that microwaves may be used to activate selectively components of biomass (trees, grasses, crops, agricultural and food waste, macro and micro-algae, etc.) leading to a much more controlled decomposition process than can normally be achieved, e.g., using acid treatment, and have proven this at scales from grams to tens of kilograms.
We have discovered through this understanding that we can use microwaves to selectively activate components of biomass (trees, grasses, crops, etc.) leading to a much more controlled decomposition process than can normally be achieved. In this way, we are able to make a range of valuable products including liquid and solid fuels, and chemicals from sustainable sources of carbon using green chemical technology. We have proven this at scales from grams to tens of kilograms.
Microwave technology for heating has been shown to be more energy efficient than conventional methods in many applications. Microwave irradiation is rapid and volumetric with the whole material heated simultaneously. In contrast, conventional heating is slow and the heat is introduced into the sample from the surface. This feature of microwaves is very important for processing poor thermal conducting materials such as wood.
Microwave heating can be controlled instantly and the power applied can be accurately regulated.
This allows safe and precise control, even when applying very rapid heating rates. Microwaves also promote novel reaction pathways and can greatly accelerate reaction rates as a result of specific interactions.
Benefits of Microwaves
The use of microwaves for the conversion of biomass to valuable products offers a number of very important advantages:
- Lower temperatures
- Mobile processors that can be located next to large concentrations of biomass (e.g. farms)
- Flexible processing enabling the production of liquid fuels, solid fuels and chemical products
- Reduced CO2 burden and low product carbon footprints
- Rapid, continuous processing and high energy efficiency.
We are establishing a new Biorefinery Microwave Demonstrator.
The facility will be established in a newly created area of the Green Chemistry Centre and will be equipped with batch and continuous microwave processors as well as other modern equipment. Work in the facility will be supported by excellent analytical and product characterisation facilities, including those in the Centre's of Excellence in Mass Spectrometry and NMR Spectrometry.
We will use this facility to:
- Conduct out world leading research on the controlled microwave decomposition of biomass.
- Optimize process conditions for the preparation of liquid fuel (intermediate), solid fuel and chemical products.
- Design associated microwave processing equipment.
- Prove processes in continuous mode and in production of multi Kgs quantities of products.
- Produce products and intermediates for testing and further work with industry and in collaboration with external organisations.
- We welcome enquiries from companies and other organisations. To find out more about our technology and the new facility contact the Green Chemistry Centre of Excellence.
Funding for this initiative has been provided the by the Carbon Trust, European Regional Development Fund, Royal Society and Wolfson Laboratory Refurbishment Scheme.
Microwave Brochure (PDF , 847kb)