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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/J017833/1
Principal Investigator: Gavriilidis, Professor A
Other Investigators:
McMillan, Professor PF Dua, Dr V
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Department: Chemical Engineering
Organisation: UCL
Scheme: Standard Research
Starts: 01 July 2012 Ends: 31 December 2015 Value (£): 690,108
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Catalysis & Applied Catalysis Microsystems
Reactor Engineering
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
20 Mar 2012 Engineering Prioritisation Meeting - 20 March 2012 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
Humanity has enjoyed the benefits of the industrial revolution and has built a technologically sophisticated civilization based on oil. However, it is now waking up to the reality that the fossil fuels are not going to last forever. A paradigm shift, from reliance on fossil fuels to renewable resources, and a chemical industry transition to sustainable processes are needed to meet the challenges of resource depletion and climate disruption. Nature produces a vast amount of 170 billion metric tons of biomass per year by photosynthesis. Surprisingly, only a few percent is used by humans for food and non-food purposes. The size of this production is sufficient to supply virtually all of the raw materials now required for the chemical industry. Thus, biomass compounds are the most abundant renewable resources available, and they are currently viewed as a feedstock for the green chemistry of the future.

In direct analogy to a petroleum refinery, which produces fuels and chemicals from crude oil, a biorefinery is a facility that produces multiple products, including fuel, power, and bulk or fine chemicals, from biomass. Even though catalysis is regarded as a key enabling technology for biomass conversion, its deployment in biorefineries is still limited. More importantly, several of the catalysts used for biomass conversion are based on catalyst technology developed specifically for petroleum refining. Petroleum feedstocks are basically hydrophobic, in stark contrast to biomass hydrophilic, high oxygen content feedstocks. Hence, new catalytic processes are urgently needed with specifically tailored catalysts. This presents a unique opportunity which is yet to be exploited by the £12 Billion global catalyst market.

The complexity of the challenge cannot be met by single individuals, because innovation requires interdisciplinary research that integrates methods, skills and strengths of different disciplines. In line with this winning strategy, we intend to bring about a sizable step change in catalytic process development methodology by building on the diverse expertise of the team members, which includes catalytic chemistry, synthetic organic chemistry, microreactor technology, systems engineering, in situ spectroscopy. This approach will ensure a level of understanding of biomass conversion processes that would enable the rapid evaluation of novel catalyst and catalytic processes. One unique feature of this research project is that we will develop rapid reaction profiling methodologies based on close interaction of experimental and theoretical investigations.

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