Project Summary

NOVACAM will develop novel non-critical metal catalysts, to catalyse the upgrade of lignocellulosic into renewable industrial feedstocks.

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A significant volume of waste vegetative biomass is generated every day from a range of processes. This waste includes lignocellulose-based biomass which is difficult to convert to useful products but has huge unlocked chemical potential.

Traditional catalysts could be developed to catalyse the reactions needed to convert lignocelluloses into platform chemicals and fuels.  However, the current industrial petrochemical catalysts incorporate materials, such as platinum group metals and rare earth elements, which are deemed as critical by the EU. These petrochemical catalysts account for one sixth of the total use of critical metals and are also expensive and subject to supply disruptions. By developing catalysts that avoid the use of these critical components to process lignocellulose biomass we could derive fuels and chemicals from biomass that are cost competitive with fossil resources.

Objectives:

NOVACAM aims to harness the underutilised resource of lignocelluloses by developing novel catalysts which incorporate non-critical metals to catalyse the conversion of lignocellulose into industrial chemical feedstocks and bio-fuels. Such catalysts will reduce the overall cost of biomass conversion and make the uptake and conversion of such renewable feedstocks highly viable, which in turn should help to decrease the reliance on energy and petrolchemicals derived from fossil fuels. NOVACAM aims to scale up three ‘Proof of Concepts’ for these catalytic processes.

Approach

Achieving these objectives will require scientific leaps and technological breakthroughs: NOVACAM will take a ‘catalysis by design’ approach in the development of the nanoscale inorganic catalysts. This strategy involves in-depth examination of the atomic and molecular interactions of the reactant biomass molecules (i.e. the lignocellulose) and this information will then be taken into account when designing the inorganic catalysts to convert the biomass into fuels and chemical feedstocks.

The first phase goals of the NOVACAM project revolve around designing the catalysts and gaining insight into the reaction steps and stages needed to develop catalysts for the reactions:

  • Utilise the ‘catalysis by design’ approach to generate/ design suitable and high performing catalysts
  • Incorporate the use of theoretical and experimental methods into the catalytic design process
  • Define the properties and necessary steps required for the catalysts to produce the correct product
  • Design and develop novel nano-scale catalysts using solely non-critical novel materials for the catalytic upgrading of biomass
  • Gain further insight into how nanoscopic reactivity consequently affects behaviour at the macroscopic level
  • Gain further insight into how inorganic catalyst based systems accelerate elementary reactions

The second phase goals involve taking this knowledge forward to catalyse the production of fuels and chemicals from cellulose and carbohydrates by developing three robust laboratory scale ‘Proof of Concepts’:

1. The valeric platform  – catalysing the valorisation of cellulose and carbohydrates to produce g-valerolactone which can be used as a biofuel.

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2. Chemocatalytic glycolysis – using cheap metal oxides contained within porous zeolite structures to replace cellulose depolymerisation and glucose dehydration that are conventionally catalysed by an acid.

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3. Aqueous phase reforming – using cheaper metals to catalyse the production of hydrogen from biomass molecules in order to replace precious metal nanoparticles.

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Project Coordinator: Professor Emiel Hensen, E.J.M.Hensen@TUE.NL Project Manager: Dr Gabriela Dima, G.E.Dima@TUE.NL

NOVACAM is a coordinated EU-Japan project supported by the European Union and the Japan Science and Technology Agency. This project has received funding from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme for research, technological development and demonstration under grant agreement no 604319.