Potassium catalysis in the pyrolysis behaviour of short rotation willow coppice

Daniel J. Nowakowski, Jenny M. Jones, Rik M.D. Brydson, Andrew B. Ross

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Short rotation willow coppice (SRC) and a synthetic biomass, a mixture of the basic biomass components (cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin), have been investigated for the influence of potassium on their pyrolysis behaviours. The willow sample was pre-treated to remove salts and metals by hydrochloric acid, and this demineralised sample was impregnated with potassium. The same type of pre-treatment was applied to components of the synthetic biomass. Characterisation was performed using thermogravimetric analysis with measurement of products by means of Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (TGA-FTIR) and pyrolysis-gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (PY-GC-MS). A comparison of product distributions and kinetics are reported. While the general features of decomposition of SRC are described well by an additive behaviour of the individual components, there are some differences in the magnitude of the influence of potassium, and on the products produced. For both SRC and the synthetic biomass, TGA traces indicate catalytic promotion of both of the two-stages of biomass decomposition, and potassium can lower the average apparent first-order activation energy for pyrolysis by up to 50 kJ/mol. For both SRC and synthetic biomass the yields and distribution of pyrolysis products have been influenced by the presence of the catalyst. Potassium catalysed pyrolysis increases the char yields markedly and this is more pronounced for synthetic biomass than SRC. Gas evolution profiles during pyrolysis show the same general features for both SRC and synthetic biomass. Relative methane yields increase during the char formation stage of pyrolysis of the potassium doped samples. The evolution profiles of acetic acid and formaldehyde change, and these products are seen in lower relative amounts for both the demineralised samples. A greater variation in pyrolysis products is observed from the treated SRC samples compared to the different synthetic biomass samples. Furthermore, substituted phenols from lignin pyrolysis are more dominant in the pyrolysis profiles of the synthetic biomass than of the SRC, implying that the extracted lignins used in the synthetic biomass yield a greater fraction of monomeric type species than the lignocellulosic cell wall material of SRC. For both types of samples, PY-GS-MS analyses show that potassium has a significant influence on cellulose decomposition markers, not just on the formation of levoglucosan, but also other species from the non-catalysed mechanism, such as 3,4-dihydroxy-3-cyclobutene-1,2-dione.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2389-2402
Number of pages14
Issue number15
Early online date27 Feb 2007
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2007


  • biomass
  • pyrolysis
  • catalysis
  • potassium
  • mechanism


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