Uncatalysed and potassium-catalysed pyrolysis of the cell-wall constituents of biomass and their model compounds

Daniel J. Nowakowski, Jenny M. Jones

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Cell-wall components (cellulose, hemicellulose (oat spelt xylan), lignin (Organosolv)), and model compounds (levoglucosan (an intermediate product of cellulose decomposition) and chlorogenic acid (structurally similar to lignin polymer units)) have been investigated to probe in detail the influence of potassium on their pyrolysis behaviours as well as their uncatalysed decomposition reaction. Cellulose and lignin were pretreated to remove salts and metals by hydrochloric acid, and this dematerialized sample was impregnated with 1% of potassium as potassium acetate. Levoglucosan, xylan and chlorogenic acid were mixed with CHCOOK to introduce 1% K. Characterisation was performed using thermogravimetric analysis (TGA) and differential thermal analysis (DTA). In addition to the TGA pyrolysis, pyrolysis-gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (PY-GC-MS) analysis was introduced to examine reaction products. Potassium-catalysed pyrolysis has a huge influence on the char formation stage and increases the char yields considerably (from 7.7% for raw cellulose to 27.7% for potassium impregnated cellulose; from 5.7% for raw levoglucosan to 20.8% for levoglucosan with CHCOOK added). Major changes in the pyrolytic decomposition pathways were observed for cellulose, levoglucosan and chlorogenic acid. The results for cellulose and levoglucosan are consistent with a base catalysed route in the presence of the potassium salt which promotes complete decomposition of glucosidic units by a heterolytic mechanism and favours its direct depolymerization and fragmentation to low molecular weight components (e.g. acetic acid, formic acid, glyoxal, hydroxyacetaldehyde and acetol). Base catalysed polymerization reactions increase the char yield. Potassium-catalysed lignin pyrolysis is very significant: the temperature of maximum conversion in pyrolysis shifts to lower temperature by 70 K and catalysed polymerization reactions increase the char yield from 37% to 51%. A similar trend is observed for the model compound, chlorogenic acid. The addition of potassium does not produce a dramatic change in the tar product distribution, although its addition to chlorogenic acid promoted the generation of cyclohexane and phenol derivatives. Postulated thermal decomposition schemes for chlorogenic acid are presented.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)12-25
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Analytical and Applied Pyrolysis
Issue number1
Early online date28 May 2008
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2008


  • biomass
  • lignocellulose
  • pyrolysis
  • catalysis
  • potassium
  • mechanism


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