August 25, 2023
Journal Article

Comparison of the Chemical Composition of Liquids from the Pyrolysis and Hydrothermal Liquefaction of Lignocellulosic Materials


Major differences in thermal stability and hydrotreatment behavior of HTL and pyrolysis oils have been reported in the literature. However, little is known about the variations in the chemical composition of these oils that could explain such differences. Two commercial wood pyrolysis oils (Pyrovac and BTG), and their water-soluble (WS) and water-insoluble fractions (WIS) were analyzed and compared with the aqueous (WSWD-57) and oily (WISWS-57) fractions obtained from hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL) of Douglas-fir. The samples were characterized by GC/MS, Karl Fischer titration, carbonyl content, total acid number, elemental composition, calorific value, proximate analysis, Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR), Folin-Ciocalteu (FC), and UV fluorescence. All the fractions were also analyzed by Fourier Transform Ion Cyclotron Resonance Mass Spectroscopy (FT-ICR-MS) and by Electrospray Ionization (EI). The most prevalent class of compounds in the water insoluble phases were phenols derived from lignin. Water-soluble phases contain mostly the oxygenated compounds derived from cellulose and hemicellulose and were richer in carbonyl functional groups. The water content of the resulting aqueous phases were between: 65 (WSBTG) and 96 (WSPyrovac) wt. %. The bio-oil from BTG has higher water content and lower HHV, compared to Pyrovac oil. The GC/MS results of BTG oil show the presence of a more prominent acetic acid peak and higher TAN number than the Pyrovac oil. The GC/MS of Pyrovac oil showed more obvious mono-phenol peaks. The quantification of this family by Folin-Ciocalteu method confirmed higher content of monophenolic compounds compared with the BTG oil. The lower thermal stability of pyrolysis oils compared with HTL biocrudes can be partially explained by the fact that pyrolysis oils (BTG and Pyrovac) contain carbohydrates while HTL biocrude (WISWD-57) doesn’t. Thus, we decided to further investigate the chemical differences between the phenolic rich fractions insoluble in water and the holocellulose derived compounds soluble in water. Even after water extraction, the acid content of the water insoluble fraction from BTG (WISBTG) was higher than the acid content of the water insoluble fraction obtained by HTL (WISWSD-57). Likewise, the acid content of the aqueous phases derived from pyrolysis oils (WSPyrovac, WSBTG) was also higher than for the aqueous phase obtained by HTL (WSWSD-57). This result is in part due to the use of bases in the HTL process that neutralizes the acid formed in that process. Moreover, the starting feedstock may also influence the differences between the oils. Although, the UV-Fluorescence spectra, ICR-MS and the EI analyses showed some minor differences in the molecular weight and chemical make-up of the oligomers soluble and insoluble in water from pyrolysis and HTL; the differences observed were not large enough to justify the differences in behavior between these oils reported in the literature. Our results suggest that the differences observed between HTL biocrudes and pyrolysis oils are likely partially due to the presence of holocellulose derived products in the pyrolysis oils and higher acid contents.

Published: August 25, 2023


Pires A.P., M. Garcia-Perez, M.V. Olarte, W.R. Kew, A.J. Schmidt, K. Zemaitis, and M.D. Denson, et al. 2023. Comparison of the Chemical Composition of Liquids from the Pyrolysis and Hydrothermal Liquefaction of Lignocellulosic Materials. Energy and Fuels 37, no. 10:7221–7236. PNNL-SA-174549. doi:10.1021/acs.energyfuels.2c03239