The composition of different types of biomass materials varies widely and may even vary within, say, a single species of wood. This is generally seen as an impediment to the large-scale roll out of biorefinery—meaning industrial operations designed to make a cascade of bio-based products such as biofuels, "green" chemicals or bio-based starting materials for products—since each biorefinery process may have to be adapted to biomass materials from a single source. This is especially true for lignocellulosic biomass, meaning biomass from wood or inedible parts of plants.
While the conclusions of Thyrel's work so far are based on testing on a laboratory scale, this has not stopped the Royal Swedish Academy of Agriculture and Forestry (KSLA) deeming it useful and novel enough to grant him an award for "best PhD thesis 2016" for the report in which he sums it all up: Spectroscopic Characterisation of Lignocellulosic Biomass. Thyrel is to receive a diploma from the hands of the Swedish prince Carl Philip, 28 January in Stockholm and has received a personal grant.
"As the [biorefinery] industry is trying to start up new methods are needed for the characterisation of biomass. Biomass is heterogeneous in nature. Especially targeted processes for producing chemicals are rather sensitive [to impurities in the biomass]. One batch of wood chips does not look the same as the other. We have to find a way to characterise them so that the polluting elements can be removed or handled", said Thyrel, who works at the Department of Forest Biomaterials and Technology of the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.
"I have shown that using X-ray fluorescence works rather well, but that was on a lab scale. More work is needed to get [the method to work on] a commercial scale. The biomass flows [in industrial operations] are incredibly large. Pellet producing factories may have 20 tonnes of biomass per hour transiting through its processes. There must be process integration. We will want to test other methods, as well, to see what works on a large scale. It is very important that we manage to involve industry as our partners in this", Thyrel went on.
In its award motivation, the KSLA for its part said that Thyrel’s thesis was "a creative mixture of fundamental science [drawing on] different analytical and multivariate methods, while at the same time taking into account the side of implementation and demonstration...
"Mikael Thyrel’s studies and applied methods are judged to be of great importance for future research and development [for the purpose of transitioning to] a bio-based society", the Stockholm-based academy concluded.
"It is nice to be acknowledged for one's work, especially since I am still at the beginning of my research career. It’s an honour", Thyrel said.
Report on New Method to Map Biomass Properties Receives Praise, but Author Warns Large-scale Testing, Industry Cooperation, Needed
- Written by Anna Strom