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“Green Gas” Research Leads to Prestigious Position

Dr. Ning Li, who just finished his post-doctoral research in the lab of George Huber of the Chemical Engineering Department, has accepted a job as a research professor in Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics in China, where he also earned his Ph.D. in 2004. The hire was based partially on Dr. Li's research at UMass Amherst, where he developed a new process called hydrodeoxygenation to make green gasoline from sugars. “Dalian is a very prestigeous institution,” says Dr. Huber, the Armstrong Professional Development Professor, “and shows the quality jobs that our students are getting.”

Dr. Li also did research from 2005 to 2008 at the Université Claude Bernard Lyon in France while working under a CNRS postdoctoral fellowship and a Marie Curie International Incoming Fellowship.

The results from Li’s research at UMass Amherst suggest that aqueous phase processing of biomass to sugars is a promising option for the production of fuels and chemicals from lignocellulosic biomass.

“Aqueous-phase hydrodeoxygenation (APHDO) is a promising technology to convert biomass-derived oxygenates into alkanes and oxygenates,” Li wrote about his research. “In the previous work by [another] group, it was shown that sorbitol can be converted to gasoline by APHDO over bifunctional catalysts that contain both metal and acid sites. However, the low octane number, high Reid Vapor Pressure, and low yield of gasoline range compounds produced in such a process limited the real application of this technology.”

Li’s research improved significantly on this technology by boosting the yield of gasoline and other factors. As the first part of this work, Li investigated the reaction chemistry for the APHDO of sorbitol over Pt/SiO2-Al2O3 catalyst. From the analysis of gas phase and liquid phase products, more than 40 different compounds were identified. Then he investigated the effect of reaction conditions (temperature, pressure, and sorbitol concentration) and different acidic support.

“Based on the experience we got in the above work,” Li explained, “we achieved up to 70 % gasoline product by APHDO of sorbitol and xylitol over Pt/Zirconium phosphate (Pt/ZrP) catalyst, which was proved to be the best among the catalysts we investigated. The octane number and Reid vapor pressure were also improved by the new catalytic process. As the application of this technology, we also studied the hydrodeoxygenation of glucose, xylose, and maple wood hydrolysis samples with a two-stage reactor.” (August 2010)

 
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