Photo: Haldor Topsoe

PhD interview: New technology produces fuels with low carbon footprint

Wednesday 01 May 19
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The PhD students at DTU Chemical Engineering are always working on something new and exciting. In this interview, you can read about Magnus Zingler Stummann’s project, ‘Catalytic hydropyrolysis for green fuels’, which includes the use of new technology.

Wind and solar power are energy sources of the future but not every sector has the possibility of an easy transition away from liquid fuels. During his PhD at DTU Chemical Engineering, Magnus Zingler Stummann researched how to produce liquid fuels that are CO2 neutral.

What is the essence of your PhD project?
My PhD project was about thermochemical and catalytic conversion of biomass into liquid fuels. I used a new technology called catalytic hydropyrolysis, where the biomass is rapidly heated to approximately 450 degrees celcius in hydrogen in the presence of a catalyst. The high temperature decomposes the biomass to bio-oil, gas, and char. In traditional pyrolysis, the bio-oil has a low heating value, a high oxygen content and is very reactive. However, by conducting the pyrolysis in hydrogen and in the presence of a catalyst, hydrogen deoxygenates the bio-oil as soon as it is formed, which produces a stable oil with a low oxygen content that can easily be converted into diesel and gasoline in a refinery.

What did you discover during your research?
We showed that catalytic hydropyrolysis is a very efficient method for producing liquid fuels from biomass. We were able to convert 25 wt per cent of the biomass into an oxygen free mixture of gasoline and diesel, which corresponds to an energy recovery of 58 per cent. In addition, we showed that we could control the reaction pathway by modifying the catalyst and reaction conditions. One of our most interesting results was that instead of using expensive and toxic commercial molybdenum-based catalysts, we could use bog iron, which is both cheap and nontoxic, and get a higher liquid yield.

"Our research have shown that catalytic hydropyrolysis is one of the most efficient processes for the production of liquid fuels with a low carbon footprint, and it is therefore likely that this could be the method we will use in the future for production of aviation fuels."
Magnus Zingler Stummann, Research Assistant

What are the possible wider implications of your research for society?
Global warming is a well-known fact, and our society are currently trying to reduce CO2 emissions by increasing the energy production from wind and solar power. However, it is very unlikely that we will be able to fly commercially in electric aircrafts or have larger electric ships in the future. It is therefore crucial that we develop technologies that can produce CO2 neutral liquid fuels. Our research have shown that catalytic hydropyrolysis is one of the most efficient processes for the production of liquid fuels with a low carbon footprint, and it is therefore likely that this could be the method we will use in the future for production of aviation fuels.

What made you apply for a PhD position at DTU Chemical Engineering?
I did both my bachelor and master project at Haldor Topsoe within the field of hydrotreating, and I therefore saw this PhD project as an opportunity to combine my knowledge of hydrotreating and catalysis with pyrolysis, about which I had no prior knowledge. In addition, the PhD project was also in close collaboration between DTU and Haldor Topsoe. Thus, I was able to remain in contact with industry.

What does the future hold for you?
I started working at Haldor Topsoe in January 2019, where I work in refinery R&D in a research group called “distillate hydrotreating”. In this group, we work both with hydrotreating of diesel and renewable oils, making it possible for me to use some of the knowledge I obtained during my PhD in my current job.


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