December 14, 2012

NC State Study Offers Insight Into Converting Wood to Bio-Oil

New research from North Carolina State University provides molecular-level insights into how cellulose – the most common organic compound on Earth and the main structural component of plant cell walls – breaks down in wood to create “bio-oils” which can be refined into any number of useful products, including liquid transportation fuels to power a car or an airplane.

Using a supercomputer that can perform functions thousands of times faster than a standard desktop computer, NC State chemical and biomolecular engineer Dr. Phillip Westmoreland and doctoral student Vikram Seshadri calculate what’s occurring at the molecular level when wood is rapidly heated to high temperatures in the absence of oxygen, a decomposition process known as pyrolysis.