Many reactions required for the upgrading of biomass into fuels and chemicals—hydrogenation, hydrodeoxygenation, hydrocracking—are ostensibly similar to those practiced in the upgrading of petroleum into fuels. But, repurposing hydroprocessing catalysts from refinery operations to treat bio-oil has proved to be unsatisfactory. New catalysts are needed because the composition of the biogenic reactants differs from that of petroleum-derived feedstocks (e.g. the low concentration of sulfur in cellulose-derived biomass precludes use of metal sulfide catalysts unless sulfur is added to the reaction stream). New processes are needed because bio-oils oligomerize rapidly, forming intractable coke and “gunk”, at temperatures so low that the desired upgrading reactions are impractically slow, and so low that the bio-oil upgrading must be handled as a condensed fluid. Ideally, the new catalysts and processes would exploit the properties of the multiple phases present in condensed bio-oil, notably the polarizability and structure of the fluid near a catalyst's surface in the cybotactic region. Molecular simulation results of the cybotactic region adjacent to different catalyst surfaces in the hydrogenation of phenol suggest that Pd catalysts supported on hydrophilic surfaces are more active than catalysts based on lipophilic supports because the former serve to enhance the concentration of the phenol in the vicinity of the Pd. The effect stems from thermodynamics, not the rate of mass transport.
- Cybotactic region
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