Microwave-assisted pyrolysis of biomass: Catalysts to improve product selectivity

Yiqin Wan, Paul Chen, Bo Zhang, Changyang Yang, Yuhuan Liu, Xiangyang Lin, Roger Ruan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

204 Scopus citations


This study was intended to evaluate the effects of catalysts on product selectivity of microwave-assisted pyrolysis of corn stover and aspen wood. Metal oxides, salts, and acids including K2Cr2O7, Al2O3, KAc, H3BO3, Na2HPO4, MgCl2, AlCl3, CoCl2, and ZnCl2 were pre-mixed with corn stover or aspen wood pellets prior to pyrolysis using microwave heating. The thermal process produced three product fractions, namely bio-oil, gas, and charcoal. The effects of the catalysts on the fractional yields were studied. KAc, Al2O3, MgCl2, H3BO3, and Na2HPO4 were found to increase the bio-oil yield by either suppressing charcoal yield or gas yield or both. These catalysts may function as a microwave absorbent to speed up heating or participate in so-called "in situ upgrading" of pyrolytic vapors during the microwave-assisted pyrolysis of biomass. GC-MS analysis of the bio-oils found that chloride salts promoted a few reactions while suppressing most of the other reactions observed for the control samples. At 8 g MgCl2/100 biomass level, the GC-MS total ion chromatograms of the bio-oils from the treated corn stover or aspen show only one major furfural peak accounting for about 80% of the area under the spectrum. We conclude that some catalysts improve bio-oil yields, and chloride salts in particular simplify the chemical compositions of the resultant bio-oils and therefore improve the product selectivity of the pyrolysis process.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)161-167
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Analytical and Applied Pyrolysis
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 2009


  • Aspen
  • Bio-oils
  • Biofuels
  • Catalysis
  • Catalysts
  • Corn stover
  • Microwave
  • Pyrolysis

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