Microwave Chemistry

beaker, grass, researcher working with microwave

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 selectively activate 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. In this way, we are able to make a range of valuable products including liquid and solid fuels, and chemicals from sustainable sources using green chemical technology. We have proven this at scales from grams to tens of kilograms.

Microwave Treatment

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.

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 have established a new Biorefinery Microwave Demonstrator.

The facility has been established at the Biorenewables Development Centre (BDC), a new scale-up facility at the University of York, which is equipped with batch and continuous microwave processors as well as other cutting edge equipment. Work in the facility is supported by excellent analytical and product characterisation facilities, including Mass and NMR Spectrometry.

Our open-access microwave pyrolysis scale-up equipment is capable of continuous flow up to 30 kg/hour at variable power (6 kW) and has been custom built by SAIREM. This facility is supported by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).

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 samples and products to allow for commercial decisions to be made

Microwave Brochure (PDF  , 463kb)

Microwave Commercialisation Club

The Microwave Commercialisation Club (MCC) has been created to help support the transition of microwave technology from the laboratory in to industry.


Microwave Chemistry Group Members

Dr Alice Fan Microwave Technology Platform Leader
Dr Hannah Briers Research Technician
Long Zhou Research Student